ATS-Friendly Resume

this is how your resume should look

This Is How Your Resume Should Look

If your resume looks as boring as this guy, you’re doing it right.

All the usual cliches apply: “Don’t judge a book by its cover” — “Looks can be deceiving” — “Trust not too much to appearances”. Your resume is not supposed to be eye candy. It is supposed to be an informational document. When all is said and done, this is how your resume should look…

Have you seen these new “modern” resumes? If you’ve been looking online for resume help, you probably have. This is generally what they look like:

The modern resume is certainly more interesting to look at than the boring old traditional resume, but guess what?

Recruiters, hiring managers, and ATSs hate them

Here’s what you need to know about these so-called modern resumes — they’re crap. Employers and recruiters hate this resume format and, far, far more importantly, ATSs don’t understand it.

ATSs are easily confused. Blocks, shapes, symbols, and columns make it hard for ATSs to parse the information they’re looking for.

The ATS’s job is to convert resume documents to text-only files so it can pick out keywords. Having to scan through too many design elements confuses the ATS and it won’t put in the effort to figure out what’s going on. It will simply pass right on by and all of your pretty design touches will never be seen by a human, along with none of the rest of your resume.

Modern resumes have about a 1% chance of making it past an ATS and landing in front of human eyeballs. Even then, a modern resume will get only a quick skim (less than the usual 6 seconds) before getting rejected. Why?

Because it takes only a glance for any recruiter or hiring manager to recognize the absence of anything of value in these “creative” resume documents.

Recruiters top 3 complaints about modern resumes

  1. Huge lack of information. Modern resumes don’t contain enough meaningful and relevant information. At a glance, a trained eye notices immediately when there is too little information.
  2. Waste of space. Whether horizontal or vertical, colored areas are a big waste of prime real estate. This will become obvious when you compare these modern resume formats to the sensible chronological resume format (coming up).
  3. Useless and distracting graphics and columns. Colored blocks, symbols, icons, and sliders provide ZERO information and disrupt the reader’s normal way of reading. The two-column layout goes against nature and causes confusion for both the human reader and the ATS.

Here’s what you should never include in your resume:

  • Tables, Columns, and Text boxes
  • Logos, Images, Graphics, and Symbols

The resume format recruiters, hiring managers, and ATSs love

The Chronological Resume Format. It’s the one most employers and recruiters want to see, and it’s the one that makes the ATS’s job more efficient.

Since there is an estimated 86% chance your resume will be scanned by an ATS, you’ll want to be sure to do everything humanly possible to make the ATS’s job more efficient. Here is a beautiful example of a Chronological Resume. This how your resume should look.

Notice this is a two-page resume. There’s a lot of back and forth out there about two pages versus one page, but here’s the truth of it. Recruiters and hiring managers are perfectly happy with two-page resumes as long as the information contained in the pages is relevant, meaningful, and useful to them.

Recruiters have no time for distractions or guesswork

The first crucially-important thing a recruiter or hiring manager will notice about the chronological resume is the clean and simple layout with efficient use of space. They like clean and simple — it allows the eyes to flow naturally from left to right across the page absorbing the information given. There are no distractions or confusion about where to look next — nothing to avert the eye from the important information, and information is all the recruiter is looking for.

The next thing they’ll love is that the resume goes immediately into work history. This is the beauty of the chronological format and recruiters love it.

They are not interested in lists of bullet points or clumps of colored blocks containing the applicants claims of Key Skills or Core Competencies. Nor are they interested in your Resume Objective.

Never put an objective statement on your resume! No one cares about your objective. Employers and recruiters care only about their own objective, which is to find a qualified employee. The way they do that is to disseminate the meaningful and relevant information contained in the resumes they read.

Other resume formats recruiters don’t like

You’ve probably heard of the Functional and the Hybrid resume formats.

In each of these formats, skills and accomplishments are placed before work history. Recruiters and hiring managers hate the Functional format and barely tolerate the Hybrid format.

The second they see Key Skills, Accomplishments, and Core Competencies highlighted at the top of the resume, they know the work experience will be lacking.

The purpose of the Functional and Hybrid resume formats is to de-emphasize the fact an applicant’s work history is less than impressive. Recruiters and hiring managers know that, and aren’t inclined to waste time reading Functional and Hybrid resumes.

However, when a job posting clearly lists the qualifications applicants must have to apply for the job, I often do a little spin of the Hybrid resume format . If you follow my lead, this is how your resume should look:

Qualifications aren’t like skills and competencies, which are little more than the applicant’s own personal claims. Qualifications are verifiable.

Qualifications are earned through education, training, certification, and in some cases, experience. Qualifications are important to the employer, so rather than go directly into work experience, I like to quickly and briefly list an applicant’s relevant qualifications.

This is meaningful information that shows the employer — bang! — this applicant is qualified for the job. They appreciate that.

Circles and bars don’t describe skills

Recruiters and hiring managers do not buy into this crap. In the modern resume, these kinds of sliders and symbols are meaningless.

By whose standard is the applicant “grading” their skills? If an applicant is truly excellent at something, they should be able to describe how they came to be excellent in that skill by describing work experiences wherein they used and cultivated that skill. That’s what recruiters and employers want to see — proof! Not colored bars, stars, symbols, and ridiculous, unsupported claims of excellence.

Useless waste of prime real estate

One of the worst things about modern resumes is that they waste space. Have you heard the term, Above the Fold?

It refers to information that is provided in the top one-third of the resume. It originated in the newspaper industry and means: give readers the scintillating information above the fold of the newspaper. The idea is to catch their attention and entice them to purchase the newspaper and “read all about it”.

It’s the same idea with resumes. Even though resumes are read largely online, the reader has to be enticed to scroll. Top-load your important information, which by the way, is not your name, contact info, and career objective. Just look at this massive waste of prime real estate above the fold.

Although your name and contact info does belong at the very top of your resume, it does not have to be 24 point font nor listed line-by-line. I see a lot of this (below), which is an incredible waste of space. Don’t do this:

The top one-third of your resume should look something like this

To entice the reader to scroll, this is how your resume should look. Your name and contact info goes on one line. That’s it. Name, city, email, LinkedIn, phone. There’s no need to give your street address — you can throw in your postal code if you think it matters to the employer to know what part of the city you live in.

Always put your phone number last on the line. Recruiters tell me all the time how they wish all job applicants would do this.

Recruiters are insanely busy people. They don’t have time to hunt through your contact info looking for your phone number. I even bold the phone number so it stands out. Your phone number is the most important information on your contact line.

Whether or not you have (or should have) a LinkedIn profile depends on your occupation and sometimes on your location. Some employers in some industries in some (smaller) towns don’t care about LinkedIn profiles. But rest assured, recruiters do, no matter the town or industry.

Recruiters will look you up on LinkedIn and here’s an important tip: it’s better not to have a LinkedIn profile at all than to have an outdated profile that doesn’t match the resumes you’re sending out.

1995 called — it wants its Objective Statement back

Time marches on. Things change. An Objective Statement has no place on today’s resume. Recruiters and hiring managers are looking for information about applicants’ suitability for the job they are applying for. No one gives a fiddler’s fart about what you want to do. They care about what you’ve done and what you can do for them. Give them a brief, fact-based Professional Profile that is relevant to the job posting.

The Professional Profile is a great place to use a couple of keywords from the job posting. ATSs don’t care how keywords are used in a resume, but humans do. Pop a few in your cover letter, a couple in your Profile, and the rest in your work descriptions.

Accomplishments beat “numbers” every time

Almost every blog out there that gives resume-writing advice says you must use numbers. It’s B.S.

If you’ve got meaningful numbers, by all means use them. If you don’t have numbers, don’t sweat it. There is far too much emphasis placed on this number thing.

Numbers matter in sales and certain other occupations where an applicant’s success is typically quantified by mere numbers. But not everyone has numbers and not every employer cares about numbers.

Big-time resume-writing expert, Kamara Toffolosays:

“As a resume writer, I’m always looking for ways to quantify the results my clients have created in their careers. But slapping a number on an accomplishment just to quantify it doesn’t suddenly make it more relevant and powerful. The use of a number needs to make sense, and often, it doesn’t. There are many situations where you can’t quantify an accomplishment, and some cases where you shouldn’t even try.“

Your resume is not an art project

Getting back to the overall appearance of the modern resume versus the traditional (sensible) chronological resume, what do you think?

The modern resume may be more interesting to look at, but what does it matter? This resume format goes against everything we know about appeasing the ATS.

Therefore, human eyeballs are unlikely to ever see it. Even when resumes are not subjected to an ATS but instead go to an email address, no one is impressed with these “creative-type” resumes.

Recruiters and hiring managers simply don’t like the modern resume, particularly with its Skills “grading” metric that is completely meaningless. Dots and bars indicating an applicant’s personal claim of excellence or inter-mediocrity is utterly useless and unimpressive. It tells the hiring manager nothing.

Plain white paper containing lots of useful, meaningful, and relevant information is the way to go. Plain and simple — this is how your resume should look. No bells ‘n whistles. Your resume is not an art project.

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terri at resumepro

Terri is an expert resume-writer and a pretty good job coach. During her 30 years in the conventional work force, Terri was fired from 11 jobs, got laid off from 2 jobs, quit 3 jobs, sued 1 employer (successfully), made another cry, and wrote over 100 resumes for herself alone! Since embracing the good old “take this job and shove it” attitude, Terri decided to put all of her shitty “workin’ for the man” experiences and life-lessons to good use, and thus was born Enjoy!

Why Resume Formatting is So Important & How To Do it Right

Before the advent of ATSs, most job-seekers’ greatest digital challenge was whether to email their resume as a Word document or as a PDF. Since the wide-spread institution of ATSs, things have changed.

Nowadays, almost every resume shot-off into cyberspace goes straight into an ATS, making our digital challenges in resume-writing a little more complex than choosing the best document format. ATSs, unlike humans who might opt to struggle through mosaic formatting to get to (hopefully) the good stuff, are unforgiving. Ultimately, we are at the mercy of a robot about as sophisticated as R2-D2.

A couple of weeks ago, I discussed this relatively new phenomenon known as the Applicant Tracking System (ATS), which by the way, is here to stay. ATS technology is rapidly becoming the convention in resume-screening and applicant-selecting among recruiters, hiring managers, and HR departments.

In my earlier article, I described (briefly) what an ATS is and how to make it love your resume. I focused on explaining why it’s so important to use the keywords and phrases from the job posting in your resume.

To help you out with that, I gave you the link to a very useful tool over at Jobscan. Today, I share with you another equally-important method for making sure your resumes are ATS-friendly. That method is proper formatting, and it is far more important to an ATS than you might realize.

What is Resume Formatting, Really?

The resume format is, essentially, the layout and features you incorporate into your document. Put another way, the resume format is what you’re left with when you remove all of the words from the page.

When you remove all of the words, what are you left with? Could be lines, bullets, shaded boxes, tables, dashes, vertical bars (or pipes), etc. Word processors offer lots of fun and creative styling tools you can use to fancy-up your resume. But, a word of caution.

ATSs aren’t impressed by fancy style. In fact, ATSs are confused by too many creative touches, and when an ATS gets confused, it eliminates the source.

Here’s the rule of thumb for ATS-friendly (and human-eyeball-friendly) resumes: keep it clean and simple.

While a touch of subtle creativity may be visually appealing to human eyeballs, the trick is to get your resume past the ATS. The humans will never see your unique styling if the ATS vaporizes your resume out of utter confusion.

In your resume-writing approach, always remember you are writing for the ATS first. Keep it clean and simple with ample white space. The white space is for the humans, because, believe it or not, even in 2020, interviewers print resumes and make notes on them, so indulge them by leaving room.

The best way to illustrate “clean and simple” is by illustration. And by the way, I’m talking about Traditional resumes, not Creative resumes for those in graphic design, website development, media/publishing/advertising, performing arts, etc.

Okay, here is the illustration contrasting the difference between “clean and simple” and too creative for the ATS to deal with.

Your Resume Is Not an Art Project

Job-seekers can find endless templates like the one above (left), offered online to help the masses create so-called modern resumes. But be aware, these templates are not ATS-friendly.

What the designers of these templates fail to appreciate are the ATS’s limitations. ATSs have a hard time parsing the critical information they are programmed to look for if the resume’s formatting is too complex.

Crazy bullets and icons, bars and shaded boxes, and especially tables, interfere with the ATS’s keyword search. Unlike a human who can look past the complex formatting, the ATS will simply become confused and vaporize these “artsy” resumes.

ATSs like “clean and simple” because it makes their keyword search easy and efficient. ATSs scan resumes, “parse” or pull out information, and rearrange the resume into a digital candidate profile.

But, ATS aren’t sophisticated enough to recognize, distinguish, and interpret some of the formatting features they come across. They are known to miss important information when the formatting is too “creative”. So, at the risk of sounding like a broken record – clean and simple is the way to go.

How to Format Your Resume for the ATS

Use ATS-friendly font. Times New Roman and Arial are ATS’s favourite, but they’re okay with these as well:

  • Cambria
  • Verdana
  • Trebuchet
  • Garamound
  • Calibri

Use one font consistently throughout your resume. Using different fonts isn’t necessary to make your Section Titles stand out. Bold and “ALL CAPS” your Section Titles, such as PROFILE, WORK EXPERIENCE, EDUCATION, and, you can slightly increase the font size as well (but I don’t think even that is necessary).

Use 10, 10.5, or 11 point font. When you are trying to keep your resume to one page, experiment with fonts and sizes. Cambria 10.5 will fit better than Times New Roman 10.5. Never go above 11, except for Section Titles. There, you can bump it up to 12, but keep the body of text to 10.5 or 11. I always recommend 10.5 for the body.

Use whole words ahead of acronyms. For example, spell out Licensed Practical Nurse and follow it with (LPN). A human will enter keywords into the ATS to search out viable candidates, often using the “spelled out” version of what they’re looking for. The ATS won’t necessarily know LPN is the same as Licensed Practical Nurse, and may not return resumes containing acronyms only.

Use round bullets exclusively. ATSs have a hard time parsing stars, diamonds, check marks, and icons. Don’t challenge it with fancy bullets – it won’t put in the effort.

Use sentences to describe your skills, not bulleted tables. ATSs have a hard time parsing information contained in a table. In the digital rearranging process, this info gets all messed up and becomes unsearchable by the humans. Anyway, you should be describing your skills in your work accomplishments, not in short bullet points. Tables like this one are friendly to neither the ATS nor to the humans.

Use spelled-out dates complete with months
. I get pushback on this one, but my recommendation is supported by the Recruiters I’m in constant touch with. Jobscan’s ATS research says 03/2020 can readily be parsed by ATSs, so that’s all good. But, humans prefer January 2010 to March 2015 instead of 01/2010 – 03/2015. ATSs read the months spelled-out as well, so use spelled-out words to make your resume both ATS-friendly and human eyeball-friendly.

Use your word processor’s “red flags” to correct spacing issues. ATSs aren’t sophisticated enough to figure out you accidentally put an extra space in one (or more) of your critical keywords. If you put an extra space in a multi-keyword, like “safety coordinator”, the ATS won’t recognize it, and that critical keyword gets omitted from your digital profile. The humans will never know you have experience as a safety coordinator. Most word processors will show a squiggly line indicating an extra space, so pay attention when you see them.

Use an appropriate file name. Not all ATSs are created equally. Some will pick up on keywords in the file name, and some won’t. But the file name is important to the humans, and, with the ATS, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Name your file with your name and the position: John Doe Safety Supervisor.docx.

Writing hundreds upon hundreds of resumes, day-in and day-out for years, I’ll admit I get bored with the “clean and simple” resume format. Years ago I did a creative resume for an ad-copy position and had a blast with it. It was fun, it turned out great, and it got the client the interview.

But, I know “clean and simple” works for traditional resumes that have to get past the ATSs, so I stick with it.

Why not grab your FREE copy of HOW TO WRITE A KILLER RESUME! to get access to the Resume Format Template that ATSs love!


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& Expert Advice on:

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terri at resumepro

Terri is an expert resume-writer and a pretty good job coach. During her 30 years in the conventional work force, Terri was fired from 11 jobs, got laid off from 2 jobs, quit 3 jobs, sued 1 employer (successfully), made another cry, and wrote over 100 resumes for herself alone! Since embracing the good old “take this job and shove it” attitude, Terri decided to put all of her shitty “workin’ for the man” experiences and life-lessons to good use, and thus was born Enjoy!