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Applying for Work Online (Applicant Tracking Systems Made Easy)

How to Format Your Resume for ATS Systems (Application Tracking Systems) Online

Searching for a job

Job searching is changing every day – and you need to stay on top of the latest. Being outdated is an automatic no-no for recruiters and prospective employers.

The job application world is highly competitive, and the Applicant Tracking System can be a serious obstacle if you don't know what you are doing. Once you know the rules, applying is EASY — so let’s get started!

Applicant Tracking System

What is an Application Tracking System (ATS)?

ATS is a timesaver for large and small companies. It means that your resume will go through an elimination process before it even has human eyes look at it. The ATS system will scan, process, and organize all applications to find the most relevant and qualified – weeding out the duds. ATS will rank your qualifications and job descriptions.

Job applications have changed on a large scale. Roughly 99% of fortune 500 companies have adopted ATS software into their recruiting process and a growing number of small and mid-sized businesses are following suit. If you have applied online through a form or portal your resume has most likely gone through an ATS.

Pro Tips on Creating an ATS Resume

Instead of an ATS submission, first, try to email your resume directly to the prospective employer. This way you can personalize your resume template and create an introduction with a cover letter.

How do you do this? 

Network, network, network!!! Check out your LinkedIn connections, call the company and ask for a direct email and name (it is very important to make sure the spelling is correct). You can even visit the company. An internal contact will always be better than submitting via ATS software.

If ATS submission is your only option, learn the best ways to beat the system. Thankfully, it is not difficult to land your resume at the top with a few EASY steps!

Be sure to check the file type needed for submission

Insider Applicant Tracking System Tips

1) Starting Your Resume

Create your ATS-friendly resume in word processing programs like Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, or Google Docs.

If you are not so computer savvy, start with an ATS-compatible resume template download. While there are many options online, just make sure they follow the rules below.

Need help getting your resume noticed? Try these great ATS resume designs.

2) The RIGHT Resume File Types 

Read the resume application instructions CAREFULLY. Often, systems cannot read files like a JPG file format. Microsoft Word and PDF usually standard. PDF format keeps your information intact while Microsoft Word files are more accurately parsed by an application tracking system. 

PRO TIP: If you do not have Microsoft Word use Google Docs or Apple Pages. They are free to download. You can also download a trial membership for free of Microsoft Word. You can “save as” or “export” your files into Word or PDF formatting.

3) How Make Keywords Matter

Use keywords and phrases in context – meaning incorporating into the body of your resume and not listed. Hint: look at any hard skills showing up in the job posting and match as many as you can to your skillset. "Hard skills" are abilities that you have acquired through learning. This includes specific software, technical skills, methodologies, languages, and licenses.


4) Customize Each Resume for Each Job Application

This is a typical no-no. You MUST create a new resume (or at least rewrite it) for each application. How do you do this? Incorporate targeted keywords and relevant phrases found in each job description. A generic resume will come up short with the ATS software and the company.

Making just one mistake can get your resume thrown out

5) Make No Mistake


ATS systems will not recognize misspelled words. And if it passes the test, a mistake will surely not pass the human review.

If the ATS doesn't notice, the hiring manager will notice if you try to cheat the system


6) No Shortcuts

Take your time to make your resume great. "Cheats" like pasting white keywords will be immediately discovered by application tracking systems and will show up in the same color for the recipient while “stuffing” your resume with keywords will only irritate the hiring staff or recruiter.

7) The Technical Side

Application tracking systems can only understand basics while reading your resume horizontally from left to right. Here are some things that might make your resume unreadable

  • Columns
  • Tables
  • Text boxes
  • Logos
  • Images
  • Background colors
  • Profile pictures
  • Headers and footers
  • Hyperlinks
  • Fancy fonts (or at least uncommon ones)
ATS Friendly Resume Templates

 8) ATS Resume Do’s

  • Bold your fonts
  • Italics
  • Underline
  • Font colors (colors should not be used for understanding your resume)
  • Basic bullets (circle or square will do) 
Fancy fonts are a NO but Bold a common font is a YES

Extra Professional ATS Tips

  • No special characters or accented words
  • Your name should not include any punctuations like -- () / - ,
  • Using columns will confuse ATS, as the software reads from left to right.
  • Avoid text boxes, columns, and tables
  • Use a simple standard font: Arial, Avenir, Tahoma, Georgia, Times, Calibri, or Verdana are good options
  • Do not use uncommon section titles. Use standard headers like: Education, Work Experience, Technical Skills, etc. Unusual titles can confuse the system
  • Include months when listing the dates of your employment (ex. 06/2002 – 07/2003)
  • Make sure you use proper capitalization and punctuation which can affect how the information is gathered and assigned by the ATS system.
  • Fully spell out abbreviations and acronyms (ex. CPA – Certified Public Accountant)
  • Use the exact job title on your resume application
  • Keep your resume in reverse chronological order
  • While ATS will not recognize the size of your resume, if it is selected, it will be read by a person – keep it to one or two pages in length
  • Do not list your credentials next to your name but underneath instead
  • Do not include skills that you do not have to trick the ATS as you will need to substantiate everything in an interview and/or on the job
  • Because your resume will eventually be seen by an interviewer, keep it looking attractive by using great ATS-friendly designs found here The Art of Resume template designs
It's easy, get noticed with an ATS-friendly resume

With these easy steps to stay informed, land yourself an interview with no problem. It's EASY. Best wishes and happy job hunting! 

1 comment


  • Great Article! Thank you. I did not understand why I was not getting any responses. Now that my resume is formated, I am getting callbacks.

    Larry on

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