Creating an ATS-Friendly Resume

Creating an ATS-friendly resume is a crucial first step in today’s competitive job market. With numerous companies employing Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to manage job applications, your ability to create a resume that these systems can easily parse and favorably rank can significantly impact your job prospects. These powerful software systems can determine whether your resume lands on a hiring manager’s desk or gets lost in the digital shuffle. As such, understanding the mechanics of ATS and how to tailor your resume accordingly is the key that can open the door to a multitude of interview and job opportunities.

Understanding ATS:

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) have become a mainstay in the recruitment process for companies across the globe. According to JobScan, 98.8% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS platform to manage their hiring process, and even smaller companies are increasingly adopting these systems. The primary goal of an ATS is to streamline the recruitment process, helping companies to efficiently sort through the high volume of applications they receive, and identify the most suitable candidates quickly and effectively. ATS platforms first emerged in the late 1990s, revolutionizing the way companies handle recruitment. Since their introduction, they’ve continued to evolve, integrating advanced features like AI and machine learning to further improve their efficiency and effectiveness. In today’s digital age, the prevalence of ATS is a testament to the increasing importance of technology in human resources and recruitment. Some of the largest ATS platforms include Workday, Taleo, and Greenhouse.

What does this mean for job seekers? Simply put, if your resume isn’t optimized for ATS, it may not make it past this initial digital gatekeeper to be seen by human eyes.

The Art of Creating an ATS-friendly Resume

Creating an ATS-friendly resume isn’t just about stuffing it full of keywords. It’s about creating a balance between a resume that both an ATS and a human recruiter can understand and appreciate.

First, think about the structure of your resume. ATS systems prefer standard resume formats, so avoid fancy fonts, graphics, or unusual layouts. Stick to traditional headings for each section like ‘Professional Experience’, ‘Education’, ‘Certifications’, etc., as the ATS looks for these familiar phrases when scanning.

Second, pay attention to the job-related and industry-specific keywords. These are words or phrases that are specific to the job you’re applying for. They could be skills, tasks, or any relevant terminology. For example, if you’re applying for a marketing job, relevant keywords might include ‘SEO’, ‘content creation’, or ‘digital marketing’.

The Role of Resume Keywords

Resume keywords are the bread and butter of ATS. They are terms and phrases that relate directly to a specific job. They can be job titles, skills, certifications, or any other terms that a recruiter might use to search for a candidate.

Identifying the right keywords for your resume isn’t always straightforward. A good place to start is the job description itself. Look for specific skills or qualifications listed, and make sure you include these in your resume where relevant. Additionally, a quick scan of like-job titles and a Internet search on critical functions for a specific title can provide additional insight into which keywords would be best aligned to the role.

Incorporating keywords into your resume should be done thoughtfully. Stuffing your resume with keywords can come across as unnatural and might even be flagged by ATS. Instead, aim to weave them naturally into your descriptions and ensure they align with your skills and experiences.

Remember, while your resume needs to get past the ATS, it also needs to impress the human recruiter who reviews it. So, make sure it reads naturally and clearly demonstrates your suitability for the job.

Optimizing Your Resume for ATS

Optimizing your resume for Applicant Tracking Systems is a crucial step in landing your dream job. Remember, your resume’s primary goal is to be ATS-friendly and of course, pass the ATS and impress the human recruiter on the other side. So, how do we optimize our resume for ATS?

Firstly, ensure you are using a simple and clean layout. ATS can have a hard time reading fancy fonts or complex formats. Stick with standard fonts like Arial, Times New Roman, or Calibri and avoid using headers, footers, or text boxes which might not be recognized by all ATS. Graphics are oftentimes unreadable – at least today. Taking away space for a graphic may not be the best way to optimize your resume. Consider instead to use graphics in a networking document (aka, one pager) that is used more for networking or as a ‘leave behind’ resume after the interview.

Secondly, tailor your resume to each job application. Using the same generic resume for all jobs won’t cut it. Take time to read through each job description, identify the resume keywords, and incorporate them into your resume where relevant. Just remember to keep it natural and authentic – ATS are getting smarter at spotting keyword stuffing!

Lastly, make sure you proofread thoroughly. Any spelling or grammatical errors can confuse the ATS and reduce your ranking. Also, make sure all your contact information is up-to-date and correctly spelled. There’s no point in acing the ATS if the hiring manager can’t get in touch with you!

Case Study: Successful ATS-friendly Resumes

To illustrate what we’ve discussed, let’s look at a real-world example. Imagine a job posting for a Digital Marketing Manager. The job description includes keywords like ‘SEO’, ‘Google Analytics’, ‘content creation’, and ‘social media strategy’.

A successful ATS-friendly resume for this position would not only include these keywords but would weave them into the descriptions of the applicant’s work history, professional development, certifications, and skills. For example, under ‘Work Experience’, it might say: “Developed and implemented a comprehensive social media strategy, leading to a 20% increase in website traffic,” or “Utilized Google Analytics to track performance and optimize SEO strategies.”

Under Professional Development, you may have taken a Google Analytics course through LinkedIn Learning.

This applicant has optimized their resume for the ATS by using the right keywords and presenting them in a way that’s both natural and relevant to their experience.


Navigating the intricacies of Applicant Tracking Systems may appear complex, but by leveraging a strategic approach, ATS can serve as a crucial asset in your job search journey. By comprehending the mechanisms of ATS, identifying relevant resume keywords, and optimizing your resume for ATS compatibility, you position yourself prominently in the competitive job market.

The objective remains to craft a resume that seamlessly bridges the technological sophistication of ATS platforms, like Workday, Taleo, or Greenhouse, with the discerning human recruiters who utilize them. By adhering to a straightforward, keyword-enriched, and authentic resume composition, you elevate your candidacy for your desired position.

Always remember, the overarching goal of ATS is not to hinder your job search, but to streamline the hiring process. Your expertise and skills are of utmost importance. So, remain authentic, be patient, and continue to learn and adapt to the evolving recruitment landscape.

About Simply Great Resumes

Simply Great Resumes is an Executive and Professional Resume Writing Service located in Milwaukee (previously Minneapolis) who partners with business leaders and emerging professionals within Global Fortune 500, large private, mid-sized, and start-up enterprises since 2012.

A solopreneur business, Simply Great Resumes is owned by Kerry Gustafson. Kerry is a recognized, award-winning professional who holds industry-leading certifications – Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), Certified Career Coach (CPCC), and Certified Interview Coach (CIC) through the first association for career professionals in the world, PARW/CC. Dedicated to partnering and delivering on client career goals and branding strategies, Kerry holds an incredible industry-high referral rate. Year over year she exceeds 90%. This is a testament to the results she delivers and the value she provides to her high-performing clients.