Applying to jobs can be daunting. Studies show you may be competing against 250 other applicants for each job and the first application is received in just 200 seconds of the job position being posted. With those statistics, you don’t want to miss your shot at your resume being seen by employers.

One way to ensure your resume gets in front of hiring managers is by having an ATS-optimized resume. To help you craft the best resume possible, we’ll cover how applicant tracking systems work, how they scan resumes, and how you can create an ATS-friendly resume that gets seen by hiring managers.

What is an ATS?

An applicant tracking system, or ATS for short, is software that helps hiring teams gather, screen, and manage applicants through the entire recruitment process. More than 95% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS to manage their hiring workflow and assist hiring managers in the process.

Common features found in applicant tracking systems include job posting, email communication, resume parsing, and candidate ranking/tracking. Having these tools in one place increases efficiencies for every hiring team.

Examples of Applicant Tracking Systems

There are dozens of applicant tracking systems in the market today, but there are a few popular ones that are used by large companies:

  • Greenhouse: Companies like Airbnb and Pinterest use this ATS software.
  • Taleo: Taleo is an Oracle-owned ATS used by Starbucks, Boeing, and Nintendo.
  • iCIMS: iCIMS is a leading ATS software platform used by companies like Petsmart, 7-Eleven, and Canon.
  • Jobvite: This applicant tracking system is used by companies like LinkedIn and JCPenney.
  • SmartRecruiters: Visa and Sketchers use this talent acquisition software.
  • Workday: This ATS software combines finance, HR, and planning for companies like QuickenLoans and Carmax.
  • Lever: Used by companies like Shopify, Change.org, and Quora.

How does an applicant tracking system scan resumes?

When you apply to a job posting online, your resume may be parsed and stored in the ATS database — specifically, your contact information, experience, education, skills, and possibly additional content depending on the ATS software’s configuration. Once inside the database, your information can be easily viewed, searched, and filtered by the ATS software.

This next part is important: ATS systems that have integrated parsing features extract key elements from resumes to ensure the system is easy to use for recruiters — helping them organize and rank candidates based on their qualifications. If your resume isn’t ATS-optimized, you could be one of the 75% of qualified applicants whose resumes get missed due to poor ranking results or possibly rejected because of formatting issues.

Your best bet for getting past applicant tracking systems? Make sure your resume is as optimized as possible with easy-to-read formatting and related keywords. Check out our eight recommended steps below.

How to write an ATS-optimized resume in 8 steps

Step 1: Use a professional resume builder.

Resume builders are great tools to assist with creating a new resume or improving a resume you already have. This is because they can offer streamlined formatting and structure, so you can concentrate on the content.

But beware: not all resume builders are ATS-optimized. Many builders claim they are suited for applicant tracking systems; however, they don’t actually follow formatting best practices that are often needed to be successfully scanned by the software nor do they clearly state which template to use for ATS-optimized resumes.

Fortunately, Rezalu has been vetted by recruiters and tested by various applicant tracking systems, so it actually is an ATS-optimized resume, from formatting to file type. You can get started building your ATS-friendly resume right now with Rezalu.

Step 2: Add the exact job title.

When applicable, add the exact job title to your resume at least once. The parser can rank your resume higher if it finds the exact or similar job title within your experience more than once. It can also help to add the job title within your Summary section, especially when it doesn’t exist as one of your job titles.

Step 3: Include the right keywords.

Keywords, also known as hard and soft skills, are a critical part of writing an ATS-friendly resume. This is because ATS systems scan your resumes for keywords, then hiring managers and recruiters use this information to find qualified candidates. For best practices, add the skill to your resume exactly as it’s used in the job description. For example, if a job description asks for “search engine optimization” experience, but you only put “SEO,” your resume may be overlooked for not including an exact keyword, even though you may have decades of experience. To avoid any issues, we recommend that you spell out abbreviations and add the abbreviation as a suffix. (e.g., Project Management Institute (PMI)) For best ranking results, hard and soft skills should be added to your experience and skills sections with context. A resume parser may score your resume and your level of experience based on the last time a skill was used and how long it was used for. This is why it is critical to add skills to your experience section.

It’s important to note that soft skills can be just as relevant as hard skills. Soft skills are traits relating to your personality and work ethic. Hiring managers are looking for qualified applicants based on their work experience, but they may also be looking for applicants with skills that can’t always be taught, like “self motivation,” “communication,” “leadership,” and “attention to detail.”

The best resume builders will have built-in capabilities to ensure you’re including all of the right keywords for each job. For example, Rezalu leverages a job parser tool and resume to job ranking tool, trusted by some of the top ATS software, that help detect job requirements and assist you in tailoring your resume with keywords that will get read by ATS systems.

While we’re on the topic of tailoring resumes, we recommend not submitting the same exact resume for different job descriptions. This is because an ATS determines how qualified you may be for a certain position based on how closely your resume aligns with its job description. That means if one job is for a “medical sales representative” and the other is for a “software sales representative,” an ATS system may not deem you qualified for using a universal resume for both positions — it wants to see that you have “medical” or “software” sales experience specifically.

Bottom line: tailor each resume to a specific job with important (and exact) keywords and requirements from the job description.

Step 4: Add all applicable job requirements.

Along with keywords and job titles, you will also need to add all other applicable requirements from the job description to increase your chances of getting an interview. These specifications may include, but are not limited to, certifications and education. We suggest that candidates always thoroughly read the job description to make sure they are including all the requirements.

Step 5: Use the right formatting.

From typography and colors to section titles and resume structure, Rezalu has researched, implemented, and tested its resume formatting so you don’t have to. However, we still want to fill you in on the reasons why formatting is so important. ATS systems are more likely to accept resumes that abide by certain formatting rules because it is easier to parse and organize. Keep in mind that not every ATS system is the same, so use this as a guideline.

When structuring your resume, be sure to follow common titles for each section. For instance, instead of saying “Latest Work” to describe your work experience, simply label the section as “Work Experience.” ATS systems will have an easier time parsing your document and storing the information in its database.

You should also keep it simple. Using fancy and colorful resumes may be tempting but studies have found highly designed resumes may get rejected by the system or be poorly ranked. This may also mean avoiding detailed tables, images, and logos within resume sections. If you don’t follow these rules and you have created a resume that’s poorly structured, an ATS can have difficulty reading your resume and may merge resume sections together, with unexpected results. There are some situations where a table may be suitable; but instead of learning the ins and outs of formatting resumes, have confidence in Rezalu and let us handle this step of the process for you.

Lastly, some research has found using traditional resume fonts like Arial, Helvetica, Garamond, and Georgia are better supported by an ATS.

Step 6: Don’t cheat the system.

Crafting resumes and tailoring them to the job post’s requirements is essential to getting hired, but it’s also important to avoid cheating the system. What we mean by cheating is anything that may be considered falsifying information or overstuffing keywords. It’s never a good idea to give false information because, at the end of the day, you are just wasting your time and the time of the hiring manager. Overstuffing keywords in your resume can also have negative effects. ATS software is smart and can usually detect when a resume is spamming the application. It also makes it harder for humans to read. While it’s important to include all applicable keywords, you need to make sure your resume is still easily readable.

Step 7: Choose the right file type.

One study found that out of 1,000 resumes submitted through an ATS, 43% were an incompatible file type. That means almost half of applicants submit a resume that won’t even get uploaded to a database!

That’s why Rezalu auto-generates ATS-accepted file types including Word, TXT, and PDFs. These documents are optimized for applicant tracking systems and follow industry standards, so you don’t have to worry if they will make it through the systems or not.

Step 8: Apply!

Once you have your final ATS-optimized resume, all that’s left to do is apply. Rezalu makes that part easy too, with personal URLs so you can share your unique resume link with employers via LinkedIn, email or even a text!

After you apply to your job, stay prepared in case the recruiter or job poster reaches out to you to learn more. Remember to keep track of all the jobs you apply to within Rezalu.

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