Saturday, December 27, 2014

Q&A: Designing an ATS-Friendly Resume

Yesterday's blog post focused on the content of an ATS-friendly resume. Today's post tackles design considerations for resume writers when creating a resume that is likely to go through an Applicant Tracking System.

Q. How do I design an Applicant Tracking System-friendly resume?
A. The easiest way to ensure the client's resume will be accepted by an ATS is to design a resume that is both ATS-friendly and human-reader ready. 

The two are not mutually exclusive; however, ATS-friendly resumes are formatted much more simply, while human-reader resumes may contain graphic elements that make the document easier to read and more attractive to the reader.

Because the ultimate goal is to have the resume reviewed by a human, even an ATS-friendly resume needs to be readable — and attractive — to human eyes. (Be sure to tell clients: If they are given the choice to copy-and-paste the resume or upload a file, choose the upload option. This will ensure the human-read resume retains the formatting in your original design.)

Some applicant tracking systems can manage graphics (or simply ignore them), but since many systems can’t handle graphics of any type, it is best to omit them if you suspect an applicant tracking system may be used to handle the application.

The format of the main body of the resume is critical — some ATS software cannot read header/footer information, so if you include contact information in those sections, it may not be read. (And remember, geographic location can be used as a filter.)

Does an ATS-friendly resume have to be boring? Not necessarily — although formatting has to be carefully considered.

Format is extremely important. The employer name must appear before the date.

Work experience — the client's current and previous jobs — should appear in this format:
Company Name Date

The date should always appear to the right of the company name for optimum reading by the applicant tracking system. Dates can be included in almost any standard format — for example: November 2014, 11/2014, or Nov. 2014.

Work experience sections should also include the skills used in the role (including computer software and hardware, if relevant).

One nice thing about applicant tracking systems is that they are not sensitive to the length of the resume, so two or more pages are fine. However, they are sensitive to formatting issues.

Formatting a Resume For ATS Compliance:
  1. Open the file in Microsoft Word. Under the “File” menu, choose “Save As.” Rename the file (recommended format: LastNameJobTitle.txt) and save as “Text Only” (.txt) format. 
  2. Close the Microsoft Word window. Open the .txt file in Microsoft Word. 
  3. Fix any obvious formatting issues. 
  4. List the client's contact information at the top of the document, with each piece of information on a new line. Label the phone number with “Phone:” and email address with “Email:.” 
  5. Create section headings (if they did not previously exist in the resume). These can include “Summary,” “Work Experience,” and “Education.” Use one heading per section (do not combine “Education and Training,” for example), and include an extra return (an extra line) between sections. 
  6. Use simple bullets (•) or keyboard characters (*, -, or >). Do not use dingbats or other special characters, as these will not be read properly by the ATS. 
  7. Highlight the text and choose a more appealing font than Courier. (Suggested fonts are Arial, Georgia, Tahoma, or Verdana.) 
  8. Re-save the file as a .doc. (Under the “File” menu, chose “Save As.” Make sure you choose “Word Document” under the “Format” option.) 

Here's a checklist for an ATS-Friendly Resume:
  • Is saved in an approved format — resume is submitted as a .doc, .docx, or .txt (PDF, RTF, and JPG formats are not ATS-friendly)
  • Does not use fancy templates, borders, or shading.
  • Is in a single column format (no tables, multiple columns, or text boxes)
  • Uses simply formatted text of a reasonable size (10 point size or above)
  • Includes standard fonts (Arial, Georgia, Tahoma, Trebuchet, and Verdana are all “safe” choices)
  • Does not contain complex formatting (condensed or expanded text) — that is, don’t use extra spaces between letters, because the ATS can’t “read” it.
  • Include a few, clearly defined sections: Summary, Work Experience, and Education.
  • Does not contain images or graphics — or, if they do appear, they do not affect the single-column formatting (Be warned, however, that the simple inclusion of any graphics may be enough to “choke” some applicant tracking systems.)
  • Does not include any information in the headers or footers of the document (if saved in Microsoft Word format)
  • Has been thoroughly edited and spellchecked and there are no errors. (The ATS will not recognize misspelled words).
  • Does not include any special characters or accented words.
  • Contains proper capitalization and punctuation. Both of these can affect how information is parsed and assigned within the ATS database.
  • Uses the full, spelled-out version of a term in addition to abbreviations and acronyms — i.e., Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
  • Incorporates relevant, targeted keywords and phrases for the type of position being sought — i.e., “Photoshop” instead of “image-editing software”
  • Has been customized for the position being sought. “One-size-fits-all” does not work with applicant tracking systems.

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