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How to create an ATS-compliant resume and earn your place in resume tracking systems

Here’s a secret for you. Did you know that recruiters initially review not all resumes? Yes, recruiters are busy people, and sometimes they don’t have time to check the resumes manually. That’s when the applicant tracking system comes to help. And to make your resume noticed, you need to ensure that ATS identifies its sections. Let’s learn how you can do this.

What is an ATS resume, and why it’s important to have it

The job seekers market is currently changing. According to Zippia, up to ¾ of large companies (and about 98.8% of Fortune 500 companies) use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to automatically sort, scan, and rank resumes for keywords. Most resumes don’t make it past this software. That’s not all. Up to ¾ of qualified candidates have been rejected by an applicant tracking system (ATS) because the software couldn’t read their resumes. So, if you want to increase the job interview chances, you need to know how to write a CV both for humans and applicant tracking systems.

So what is the ATS optimized resume? It’s a resume that contains keywords related to the job description that the tracking system can easily scan. Usually, these keywords relate to the job titles and hard skills necessary for the job position.

ats compliant resume

Pro tip: Pay attention to rare, high-quality keywords to get a top-ranking resume. Some keywords weigh more than others, and your resume will instantly stand out if you include them. To find these keywords, check out the job description and interviewer’s LinkedIn profile.

That’s not about keywords only. ATS sometimes compares your resume to the job description and compares how it matches its requirements. Your CV should have a high match rate. In another way, it will not be accepted by resume scanning software.

Resumes are also scanned for the style of formatting, looking for specific headings and formatting structures. That’s why it’s better to keep your formatting simple, use short paragraphs, and avoid tables and columns. 

Now when you know about what ATS resume is, let’s learn more about the applicant tracking system that scans it.

How ATS works: Things you need to know

Applicant tracking systems are not about resume scanning only. Usually, they include different hiring and AI recruitment tools, and resume scanning is just one of them.

In simple words, the applicant tracking system is a human resources software that contains a database of resumes. Companies use it to organize, sort, and search for CVs and narrow the applicant pool and make the hiring process more efficient and reach your hiring goals.

"When you apply through an ATS, you will most likely be asked to answer what are called “knockout questions. Knockout questions can be in the style of checkboxes or short answer questions. Their purpose is to narrow the pool of applicants."

Tejal Wagadia, JobScan’s Career Expert with a background in corporate recruiting

The fact is: it’s not possible to trick ATS. If you can’t answer any of the knockout questions, the resume will either be flagged or auto-rejected by the ATS. Even if you pack it with keywords, when the human recruiter looks through it, it will be rejected later on. 

Here is how ATS works:

  • Recruiters take a glance at the applications to find relevant skills and job positions
  • ATS ranks each applicant based on how well their resume scores based on the job description
  • Recruiters search for key skills and titles to isolate candidates that have the relevant job experience

The main goal of ATS is to exclude the least-qualified candidates rather than identify the applicants who suit the job position best. That’s why if a resume template is formatted with the applicant tracking system in mind, even a qualified candidate can be rejected. So don’t miss your chance and spend a lot of time creating an ATS-compatible resume.

How to write an ATS optimized resume

Meeting  ATS resume format requirements is not difficult. You just need to read the job description carefully and highlight the main keywords it contains. Let’s review how to do this.

Customize the resume based on the job description

Look at the first 3-5 qualifications and 3-5 duties in the job description and ensure that you include them on your resume. Use the keywords from the job description several times, as some of the ATS systems also check the frequency of keyword use. Pay special attention to the job title, as resume scanning software scans candidates who have held similar job positions before. Also, don’t put important information in the footer or header of your resume.

According to the research, 25% of the resumes analyzed had at least a portion of their contact information considered ‘unidentifiable’ by the ATS. So avoid placing important information such as your name, phone number, or email address in the header or footer of your resume.

Don’t submit your resume in PDF format

Choosing an ATS-friendly file type is crucial for making your CV ATS compliant. It’s better to submit the resume as a Word doc. Note that ATS cannot read headers, footers, text boxes, tables, columns, or color ink. Also, if you like to rate your skills, it’s better to avoid it, as ATS will mark it as an error.

Use standard sections and a clean layout

When it comes to creating a resume for ATS software, sometimes it’s better to calm down your inner creativity. Include standard resume sections such as "Work experience," "Education," "Skills," and "Certifications." Also, list the company and location on one line and put your job title and start and end dates in the next line.

Use bullet points

Bullet pointing is a king. You can use them to highlight your skills, qualifications, and accomplishments. To make bullet points readable by ATS, stick to the standard options, such as a solid circle, open circle, or square.

Use ATS scan tools for your resume

There are a lot of free ATS scan tools you can run your resume through. For example, TopResume allows you to scan your resume and receive feedback on your resume's content, as well as its ATS compatibility.

Now, let’s take a look at the examples of ATS-friendly resumes.

ATS friendly resume examples that work

Here are examples of ATS resume structure. Use them as a reference to beat the ATS systems.


This resume is focused on the qualifications for the job. It includes as many qualifications as possible to show expertise to perform in this field of work. It uses bold text and bullet points so that the recruiters will take notice of those details.

“You might be the best candidate out there, Perkins Jane - CEO at Insider says, but if you submit a resume in the wrong format, your application won't get read by anyone."

Remember that you can have the best skills ever, but if you don’t know how to structure and represent them, it may all be in vain.

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