best resume format for ATS

Best resume format for ATS (with resume template) – 2023 update

Check out our article on best resume format for ATS reviews.

Updated in 2023

Recruiters have a hard job. If you look at the job openings for technology positions, they number in the thousands. If there’s a recession coming, it certainly isn’t apparent. Companies need people who know how to make technology work effectively. Recruiters are swamped with resumes, and they don’t have enough time to review them all.

Graph of 98% of Fortune 500 companies use ATS

report from Jobscan showed that more than 98% of Fortune 500 companies, along with a growing number of small to midsize businesses (SMBs), rely on an applicant tracking system (ATS) to review resumes for target keywords. Such systems make it easier to narrow down the selection pool and reach the most promising applicants. For a job seeker, the key is using the proper resume format for an ATS.

What Is an ATS?

Applicant tracking systems are software systems that recruiters use across various industries, including big tech companies. They use keyword searches with specific criteria to locate qualified applicants. Recruiters typically perform searches for several positions at a time.

With applications sometimes numbering in the thousands for a single position, ATS platforms make it easier for recruiters to sift through resumes. Any resumes that match the qualifications for a role get passed on to a recruiter for a manual review.

One common misconception about ATS systems is that they immediately bypass all resumes that aren’t an exact match, but recruiters can program their ATS software to reject applicants only based on truly disqualifying information. For example, they could set parameters that skip over any applicants who don’t have the correct visa status.

How Does an ATS Work?

An ATS is designed to mimic the way the human brain functions. That means it looks at resumes in a similar way to a recruiter, who would perform a quick scan to see if the application contains phrases matching the qualifications they’re looking for in a candidate.

ATS platforms make the process faster, with extra functionality designed to save time with fewer errors. Someone who had a bad night’s sleep might miss critical phrases on a resume showing that the applicant is qualified, for instance, but ATS software can stop that resume from slipping through the cracks and ensure the person who submitted it gets a fair shot at a more in-depth review.

Another benefit to using an ATS platform is that it can make the first steps toward hiring easier. It helps with tailoring job descriptions to attract ideal applicants, ensuring that job postings include essential keywords and phrases.

Recruiters can also program the ATS to apply “knockout questions” to eliminate unsuitable applicants. The ATS draws up questions and asks candidates for a response. If they fail to provide a suitable response, the applicant is automatically removed from the system. Again, the goal is to perform the same action that a human would, but in a more efficient way.

What Are the Benefits of ATS Software for Companies?

Photo of Benefits of ATS softwares for companies

As an applicant, it can be difficult to wonder whether your resume will get skipped because of technology. Ideally, a human would put eyes on every application. But in an age when companies can post numerous positions in multiple places, recruiters have more resumes than ever coming their way.

Recruiters want to ensure they don’t miss out on anyone who might be a perfect fit for a job. However, they’re only human, so they need tools that help them move the process along. In addition to resume filtering, ATS platforms can automate tasks like sending follow-up messages and scheduling interviews.

Even at smaller companies, multiple people might be involved in the hiring process. If your resume fits the criteria of the ATS software, it can ensure that you make it in front of the individuals who are charged with making the final hiring decision. Recruiters can program in keywords that focus on education or technical skills, for example.

ATS platforms aren’t there just to eliminate candidates, though. They help hiring managers strike a balance between evaluating skills and determining whether an individual’s personality fits the company’s culture. They can perform assessments that go deeper than the information listed on a resume.

Finally, ATS software helps with sorting resumes. Top systems pull out essential data from a candidate’s resume and alert recruiters to its presence. A recruiter can then set up a hot list of the top candidates and include notes on each. From there, the hiring manager can track what’s happening with the resumes throughout the hiring cycle.

Try to think of ATS software as something other than a roadblock. Once you understand its purpose, leveraging an ATS to your advantage becomes easier. With the right format, you can get your resume past that first job search barrier.

Can an ATS Hurt Your Job Search?

ATS platforms are designed to streamline the entire hiring process. Standard features found in ATS software include the following:

  • Candidate sourcing
  • Email templates
  • Resume parsing
  • Advanced searches
  • Customer relationship management
  • Reporting
  • System and software integrations

If you’re applying to jobs at top companies, you’re likely to run into an ATS. Below are examples of the top systems various companies are using:

If you understand the best formats for ATS software, you can get your applications to pass through the system more efficiently. That way, you increase your chances of making it through to a human recruiter, improving your overall job search prospects.

What to Avoid in Resume Formatting

Candidates should avoid the temptation to make their application overly fancy. When it comes to ATS platforms, it’s better to be simple and boring. Using complicated formatting, such as multiple columns, tables, and graphics, can confuse the ATS, which could misread the application.
If your formatting is too complex, your cute icons can end up as dingbats, or words could end up in the wrong place after passing through the ATS. That means the recruiter would see gibberish when they finally review your resume.
Avoid using excess colors, images, and icons, and keep the layout simple. It’s much easier for both computers and humans to review your application if it’s in the correct format. Pathrise has handcrafted some ATS-friendly resume templates for you to use. Download one of ours if you’re unsure of whether your current formatting suits today’s job application process.
Below are some other items you should avoid including in your resume:
  • Text boxes and side panels
  • Underlines and italics
  • Headers and footers
  • Quotation marks
  • Serif fonts, or more than two fonts

Tips on Formatting Your Resume for an ATS

Here are some helpful formatting tips for creating an ATS-friendly resume:
Photo of Tips on Formatting your resume for an ATS
Your end goal should be to put together a resume that’s readable for both humans and machines. Now that we’ve covered the technical details, let’s look at the type of content you should include. Recruiters and ATS platforms look for similar things. They’re using the criteria provided by the hiring manager who set up the job posting, which typically includes:
  • The job title
  • Specific keywords
  • Skills needed to be successful in the role
Photo of Example of ATS friendly resume
Just like in the example above, you must ensure your resume gets through the system, make sure you include keywords that match the job description. While ATS platforms can do amazing things, they’re not necessarily that sophisticated. It’s easy for them to get confused by synonyms, slang, or technical jargon.
The same thing could happen to recruiters tasked with reading hundreds of resumes. They’re looking for certain things and may bypass anything that isn’t an exact match. You can keep that from happening by ensuring you use a resume format that’s suitable for ATS software.

How Keyword Matching Works

Let’s say a job profile is looking for someone who has experience working with JavaScript. If your resume lists only that you work with Java, it will be bypassed. That’s by design, as those are two different programming skill sets. However, if you indicate your experience working with Microsoft Office but the ATS is programmed to look only for “MS Office,” there could be a mismatch, even though they’re referring to the same thing in this case.
As we mentioned before, ATS platforms aren’t that sophisticated. To get around such issues, it’s a good idea to include a dedicated skills section in your resume. There, you can list different combinations of keywords in one place to improve your chances of getting picked up by the ATS.
Go over your resume and look for differences in how you describe your skills versus what’s listed in the job posting. You may have to adapt your resume to fit the keywords as closely as possible. You can use scanning software like Jobscan or Jobseeker to identify common keywords.

How Resumes Are Ranked

Certain ATS software automatically ranks an application based on how closely it fits the programmed keywords. The ATS can take as little as six seconds to rank your resume during the first pass. During that first-glance review, the ATS wants to see if you have experience that fits the job title and keywords the hiring manager provided. Any adjustments you made for the ATS system should also help you get past a human reviewer.
Check out our PDF resume templates to help your resume get past the ATS and make it to the next round of the recruitment process. After optimizing your resume for an ATS as well as the initial recruiter review, you should finally get to speak with a real person over the phone or pass through to a behavioral interview.

Additional Tips for Job Searchers

Recruiters typically have a healthy pipeline of candidates for prime job positions. Because of that, they may not get the chance to review every single application. Make sure you don’t give up if you don’t hear back immediately. Many opportunities are available, and you should do everything possible to increase your chances of landing one.
If you’re fresh on the job market after years at your previous company, the new reality of job searching might be a little disorienting. Although it’s easy to submit job applications through places like LinkedIn, the process can make you feel disconnected and like you’re being overlooked.
That’s why it’s important to understand the tools recruiters use to sort through applications. Having that knowledge on hand can make the challenges seem less insurmountable. Even the strongest resume often needs some optimization to catch the attention of recruiters.
Don’t forget about the basics, either. Make sure your resume doesn’t contain any grammatical or spelling errors that could detract from your skill set. While Microsoft Word has a great spell checker, it’s not infallible. Think about investing in other tools that are designed to review the grammatical structure of your resume.
The goal is to make it easy for an employer to locate you in a sea of applicants, regardless of the technology the company is using. Always use job descriptions to find keywords and phrases to include in your resume. Recruiters typically key in on the following:
  • Name
  • Current title and company
  • Previous title and company
  • Start and end date of a previous position
  • Start date of current position
  • Education
You should also have documentation prepared to back up anything you put on your resume. It’s a good idea to include a cover letter, and to tailor your cover letter to the specific job opportunity. Have transcripts and professional references ready when a recruiter asks to see them, and include a working link if you have a portfolio on GitHub or in another repository.
Be prepared to answer additional questions as soon as you submit your resume. Answer everything asked of you to the best of your ability. If you have your documentation prepared, it’s much easier to get through this section and avoid getting held up in digital limbo.
Finally, set up a folder on your computer to track the progress of your job search. Keep track of the variations of your resume and cover letters you send to different companies. It’s also a good idea to set up a spreadsheet to track the jobs you applied for, the dates you applied, and other important information.

What’s Next?

Once you join Pathrise you can speak with a mentor if you have questions about submitting resumes or need further guidance. As a member of your team, they can provide you with advice on navigating the job search process from start to finish. Our goal is to provide practical, actionable advice that helps yield tangible results during the job-hunting process.
If you’re interested, click here to apply and talk with our team! We can get you started on your career transformation journey.
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Alex MacPherson

Hi I'm Alex! Since graduating from UC Berkeley in 2019, I have worked on the growth team for Pathrise helping job seekers hone their skills to land their dream role through curated content on interview prep, resume building and more.

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