How to Make Your Resume ATS-Friendly (Template Included!)

How to Make Your Resume ATS-Friendly (Template Included!) was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.

Have you been applying for jobs on multiple platforms but never heard back from any employers? The problem may not be your work history or skills—but rather your non ATS-friendly resume preventing recruiters from ever reading it.

ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System, a software that scans resumes and helps companies filter candidates. It’s super helpful for recruiters dealing with thousands of applications everyday. But for job seekers who don’t know how it works, it can be a real pain.

“ATS-friendly resumes get reviewed,” says Muse career coach Lauren Wethers. “Resumes that aren’t formatted for an ATS risk collecting digital dust.”

So, here’s what you should know: 1) While this technology isn’t new, it has gained popularity recently—you’re definitely not alone if you’re still learning about it. 2) Don’t panic; crafting ATS-friendly resumes is quite simple. Just follow our step-by-step guide.

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What is ATS and how does it work?

An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is an automation software designed to sort and scan a large number of resumes quickly. Instead of recruiters or hiring managers manually handling this task, companies save time (and money) by using ATS to filter the first batch of resumes before they get to human hands.

The scanning process is pretty straightforward: an ATS looks for basic information like education, job titles, and skills to match the job posting. It typically uses keywords from the job description and requirements list. The closer your resume matches, the better your chances of getting selected.

What is “ATS-friendly resume”?

An ATS-friendly resume is tailored to match a job posting, incorporating relevant keywords from the requirements and job description of a specific role. But simply copying and pasting those keywords into a dedicated section isn’t enough; they should be naturally integrated throughout all parts of the resume.

For sake of illustration, picture a job posting for a customer service position that requires two years of customer-facing experience, client retention abilities, and strong communication skills. An ATS-friendly resume should include these exact keywords in key sections like the summary, work history, or skills section.

It doesn’t stop there: your resume format also impacts how an ATS scans it. It’s recommended to use simple resume templates with standard fonts, color and sizes, and avoid graphic elements. The simpler the better, because an ATS isn’t a conscious being that processes certain elements the same way we do.

How to make your resume ATS-friendly in 6 steps

Organizations across all industries are using ATS; virtually every company that gets job applications through jobs websites or their own “work with us” pages likely uses some version of this software. According to LinkedIn, even applications sent directly through their platform are processed by an ATS.

“You could be the perfect candidate, but if your resume isn’t properly formatted or doesn’t include the right keywords, the algorithm won’t flag it,” Wethers says. That’s why it’s crucial to learn how to tailor your resume to these machines.

1. Pick an ATS-friendly resume template

If you’re using a template instead of building your resume from scratch, pick one that’s ATS-friendly. Remember, less is more: your resume should have a minimalist design without headers, footers, multiple columns, charts, images, or other graphic elements. This makes it easier for the ATS to read and scan since some systems can only process plain text.

Make sure your resume has at least 1-inch margins on all sides to avoid overcrowding. ATSs usually don’t care how long your resume is, so you can write a two-pages resume if necessary. Just be mindful of including only information that’s relevant to your application. If you get past the ATS, a human recruiter will still read your resume and might disqualify you if it’s not appropriate.

Here’s our resume template, ATS-friendly. You can download it and fill it with your information. After opening the file, just click on File > Make a copy, then save it to your own drive.

2. Name the resume sections clearly

This isn’t the time to be creative. Your resume sections need to be easily identifiable for the ATS to scan through them. Be clear and straightforward with labels like “Professional Experience,” “Education,” “Summary,” and “Volunteer Work” when applicable.

3. Use keywords from the job posting

One of the most important aspects of an ATS-tailored resume is incorporating keywords from the job description when describing your experiences, accomplishments, and skills. “The more often they appear on your resume, the higher your resume ranks,” Wethers says.

Pick out the relevant keywords the employer uses to describe the role and use the same language. ATS robots and databases typically look for exact matches, so to increase your chances of getting selected, mix in exact keywords from the job description with some variations of them. (Here’s how to read a job description the right way.)

Imagine a company is looking for someone with event planning experience. You might think that simply adding “event planner” to your resume would be enough, but that’s not always the case. “Some systems only search for one thing at a time,” Wethers says. “So, if they search ‘event planning’ instead of ‘event planner,’ and ‘event planner’ is the only term on your resume, you might not pop up.”

This also applies to titles of certifications or degrees. For instance, if you’re using an acronym like “B.S in Accounting”, also include the full term “Bachelor of Science in accounting.” You could place one in your resume summary and the other in the education section, or vice-versa.

4. Add a skills section if necessary

If you can’t fairly distribute relevant keywords throughout sections like the resume summary, professional experience, and education, consider adding a skills section. “This helps to make sure that you’re repeating keywords without it being forced,” Wethers says. “It also provides a great at-a-glance view of your capabilities for a recruiter looking at your resume.”

5. Choose an ATS-friendly font and size

Font and font sizes are also important elements of an ATS-friendly resume format. Stick to standard, simple, and easy-to-read fonts like Arial, Calibri, Cambria, and Garamond. Avoid cursives and artistic fonts.

For font size, use 11 or 12 points for regular text and 14 to 16 points for titles. While there’s no restriction on using bold, italics, and underlining, only use these styles when necessary (e.g., to differentiate a title from regular text).

6. Submit the correct archive format

“It’s best to save your resume as a PDF, especially if you have formatting that you want to preserve,” Wethers says. “Documents that are saved as .doc or .docx run the risk of losing their formatting and being hard to read once they’re in an ATS text box.”

However, some companies want you to use a specific file format. In those cases, submit your resume in the requested format. To make things easier, have three versions of your resume saved in different formats ready to go.

You should also remember to save the file with your name. For example, use resume-jane-smith.docx or resume-jane-smith-sales.docx, or some variation of that. “Hiring managers can see it, so make sure it’s professional.”

What not to do in an ATS-friendly resume

Just as important as knowing how to make an ATS-friendly resume is knowing what to avoid so you don’t jeopardize your chances of getting selected.

Never try to fool the ATS

The internet is full of tips and tricks to fool the ATS, like copying and pasting the whole job description into your resume or adding a keyword section in white text to make it “invisible.” But these hacks totally underestimate the tracking system.

The ATS can spot these attempts of cheating—and if it doesn’t, the recruiters definitely will. “Do not do things like put keywords in white text to try to fool the ATS into thinking your resume should rank higher than it does,” Wethers says. “It will show up on the backend, and your resume will likely be tossed.”

Don’t overuse keywords

Another common mistake—and attempt to fool the ATS—is overusing keywords. Yes, you should use the same language as the job post, but “that doesn’t mean stuffing your resume with keywords in places where they don’t make sense,” Wethers says. Add keywords only where it makes sense and don’t repeat them exhaustively.

How to check if your resume is ATS-friendly?

To check if your resume is ATS-friendly, you can use artificial intelligence (AI) to your advantage. For example, you can paste your entire resume into Chat-GPT and ask it to check if it’s ATS-friendly. You can also ask the AI for suggestions on what to include or alter based on the job posting.

Another option is to work with a career coach, ideally a resume expert. Career coaches often have backgrounds on human resources and are up to date with new hiring technologies. Their insights on resume writing, job applications, and recruiting can be of much value, especially for those who are applying for a while with no success.