ATS Friendly Resume


75% of resumes don’t make it through an ATS, is yours one of them?

Both recruiters and job seekers are frustrated by Applicant Tracking systems (ATS). Some great candidates have not made it through the system and you may well be one of them!

The reality is that there are close to 200 different applicant tracking systems that companies are using to find candidates  and to make it even more challenging all these systems are customized to the specific companies needs. ATS systems are here to stay and as a job seeker you need to understand how they work so you can get through and have your resume get into the hands of a recruiter. In some cases, companies will only take resumes submitted through the system. Using an ATS system it automates tasks and manages talent, job postings and can do the work of 4 people.  Each year they are becomong more and more sophisticated.

The goal of this blog is to help you understand the ATS system and what you need to do understand in order to successful in submitting an online resume to an Applicant tracking system. I am sharing the knowledge I gained from taking a course through the Resume Writing Academy called “ATS & SEO Navigating Alphabet Soup to Get Clients Found”  by Marie Zimenoff and Dr. Cheryl Minninck.

But first…..

How does the ATS system work?

Applicant tracking systems or ATS scan and store information in files in order to manage talent and prioritize those who have applied who best fit the criteria. The recruiter will compile a list of hard skills and soft skills that are needed for the position and enter these (key words) into the ATS which will trigger the searches of resumes for the words and the one with the most key words that match range higher you rank and will move to the next level of being viewed by a human. The ATS system can generate lists with those that most closely match the skills required. However, if not enough of the key words are in the resume you don’t make it to the next level.

How do you know which key words the system is looking for?

To identify the keys words first look at the job posting. It will provide some of the key criteria for the job. Also standard industry lingo and certification will be added. The number of key words is up to the company and they can add as many as they choose for the criteria. It is important to note that very few resume would have 100% of the key words but the resumes are ranked based on the key words so the higher the ranking the more likely to be seen by a human once th scan is done. The key words should be interspersed throughout the resume but it is important to put them in the top first half page of the resume.

Some key words that could be used are:

Hard skills
Postal code or city –looking for some one who lives close
Legally entitled to work in country
Years of experience required for the job
Education level
Job title
Technical skills
Specific certification
Specific courses

Names of competitive companies (this can demonstrate similar experience)

* The words on the resume must match the key words chosen exactly. For example, if they are asking for a Programmer and you were called Software Developer you may not come up.

 Soft Skills
Project managed

What type of file should your resume be saved in? PDF, Word? Or Plain Text?         

ATS systems are constantly changing and evolving just like cell phones and so what was required five years ago is no longer required. When cell phones first came out you could not take pictures with your phone and today you can with most of the new models. This is exactly like what is happening with applicant tracking systems they are evolving and this is causing confusion in how to apply and get through the system.

In 98% of cases submitting, a resume in word.doc will be successful in making it through the ATS system. You do not need to save it in plaintext.

  • Five years ago you needed to submit resumes in plain text to be read by the ATS system you no longer need to do this.
  • In 2017 it is recommended that you save your resume in doc. to be 100% sure it can be read by all ats systems as opposed to pdf or plain text. Even if the systems states that you can submit in a pdf or a word choose word and choose word.doc although word has progressed to higher levels some of the ATS systems are still at word.doc. In some cases, even if it says PDF is acceptable some of the ATS systems do not read pdf which is in a picture format and not text format. (Within a very short time you will be able to save to word.docx )
  • If you are lucky enough to submit directly to and individual without going through an ats system and I strongly recommend submitting as a PDF so it cant be altered.

 About Dorothy Keenan of FutureWorks

Dorothy is a professional resume writer in Vancouver, British Columbia and career advisor with over 25 years’ experience in helping people find fulfilling work at all levels of the labour market. If you think your resume or LinkedIn profile needs a tune up or you are unsure how to even start contact Dorothy at  or go to Dorothy is constantly seeking the latest and most current information on trends in resumes, cover letters, linked in and also keeps abreast of the changing labour market.


How to get your resume past the robots – Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)


The world of looking for jobs has changed and how you apply for jobs has changed drastically. One important factor, especially in this digital, paper-free society, is to know how to craft a proper resume. Yes, we have moved on from newspaper ads and letters in the mail, with recruiters now using LinkedIn, Twitter and online job boards to find their ideal candidate, but the majority of recruiters will still ask you for a resume.

This move to e-recruiting has created somewhat of an obstacle for the traditional job hunter, however. Have you ever submitted numerous resumes to online job postings only to hear nothing back except the automated ‘Thank You for your Application’ email? Do you feel like your application is going into a resume black hole, never to be looked at by human eyes? You’re probably right.

Wise words

HR robots, or “Applicant Tracking Systems,” are indeed now used by both small and large organizations to filter out applicants whose resumes do not match a specified percentage of the key words identified by the employer. This is especially true for graduate, entry-level positions with reports suggesting that up to 75% of applications are automatically rejected. So, step one to keeping the HR robot happy is to make sure your resume includes key words from the specific job description.

But that’s not all.

Can you read this sentence? What about this one? I can, you can, but the HR robot can’t. If you underline a word on your resume, the system can’t read it; it may as well not be there. The same goes for anything in italics, in a table, diagram or a header or footer.

Six rules for formatting

Here are my top tips to create an ATS friendly resume:

  1. Do not use headers (even for contact information), footers, templates, graphs, charts, accents, shading, underlining or italics.
  2. You can still use bold, capitals, bullet points and some colour (although keep it minimal and professional).
  3. Place dates for education and employment at the right hand side of the document.
  4. Use standard name headings in the resume even if your company had a unique name ie Use “Software Developer” instead of “Software Nija” the ATS will not recognize Software Nijja as a job tittle.
  5. Customise each resume (time consuming, but worth it) for the specific position, using language from the job description.
  6. Edit carefully. The ATS will not recognize misspelled words.
Don’t forget the people

After all that, you also need to remember that your resume also has to be suitable for human evaluation! Don’t be tempted to include key words from the job description that you don’t actually possess, or create a completely stripped down text format document. If you survive the HR Robot, it will next be reviewed by a HR professional so must be visually appealing and error free.

I did say it wasn’t going to be easy. However it is possible and people do get work you just need to learn the new techniques.

Dorothy is a professional resume writer and career advisor with over 25 years’ experience in helping people find fulfilling work at all levels of the labour market. If you think your LinkedIn profile needs a tune up or you are unsure how to even start contact Dorothy at or go to your profile can lead to some great opportunities for growth or career change.