OUCH: 75% of online job applicants are rejected by the employer’s Applicant Tracking System (ATS)!
Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) have revolutionized the hiring process. Because they can check for person-job fit much more quickly than a human scan, ATS are used by over 90% of large companies and 50% of mid-sized companies.
So, just about any time you apply online for a job, your resume will be scanned by the company’s ATS before it is even seen by a human being. This makes passing the ATS resume screen one of the biggest obstacles that you will face in your job search because:
- An ATS doesn’t “read” your resume in the same way that a human does — instead of reading left to right, ATS scans resumes up and down.
- Plus an ATS removes all formatting in your resume — since an ATS uses OCR (optical character recognition) to scan resumes, it becomes very “confused” by unusual formats — or even font styles!
- Plus an ATS is programmed to search for key words that are relevant to the job for which you are applying — many are not able to “figure out” that an MBA is the same thing as a Master of Business Administration…or a Masters in Business Administration…or even an M.B.A.
- Plus an ATS “sorts” all the information on your resume into predetermined categories — if it is “confused” by your formatting, it assumes that the information is missing in that category.
- Plus an ATS scores your resume – and only the highest scored resumes move forward.
Even though most job candidates hate ATS, a growing majority of employers will continue to use ATS to help their recruiters and hiring managers sort through the huge number of online applications for a single job.
The following is a quick checklist of tips for creating a scannable resume:
- DON’T upload a pdf of your resume when applying online. ATS interpret a pdf as a picture — so it can’t sort your information (aka “the words”) into the predetermined categories.
INSTEAD upload your resume as a text (.txt) file — it’s not pretty, but not only is it much easier for the ATS to scan and interpret, the system will automatically convert your uploaded document into a .txt file for scanning. (You can always bring your “pretty” version of the resume to the job interview OR email it to your contact within the company.)
- DON’T use borders or horizontal lines that go across the page. This only confuses the ATS — and a confused ATS will automatically reject your resume.
INSTEAD use dashes (–) OR equal signs (==), if you must have a horizontal line — this is particularly helpful before and after subheadings.
- DON’T add your picture or format your resume by using graphics or tables — the ATS can’t read them!
INSTEAD provide your LinkedIn address if you want to provide a picture – but most employers will Google you before inviting you to an interview.
- DON’T worry about the length of your resume — it should be as long as you need to tell your story.
INSTEAD focus on the content and key words in your resume, rather than the length.
- DON’T use hanging paragraphs so that the most important information is indented from the left side.
INSTEAD bring all your information to the left margin and use 1″ margins — ATS can generally read only 60 characters in a line (a very small amount), so the rest will be ignored. Again, this might not be “pretty” to human eyes, but it helps the ATS correctly read, categorize, and score your resume.
- DON’T use “fancy,” unusual, or script fonts (e.g., Comic, Chiller, Brush Script, Freestyle Script). This also confuses the ATS — and it will reject your resume.
INSTEAD use “classic” or standard fonts, such as Arial, Times, Tahoma, or Calibri (the default font in MS-Word). Quick note: some ATS can’t “read” a serif font (that is, a font that has a little line at the edge of a letter), so it’s best to use sans serif fonts such as Arial or Calibri. HINT: This page is in a serif font.
- DON’T use small fonts in order to “fit” more information on a page — remember that the ATS doesn’t calculate page length.
INSTEAD be sure that your font is at least 10 or 11 point. It’s easier to read and reduces the probability that important achievements falling at the end of a line won’t be overlooked by the ATS.
- DON’T be creative with your wording. ATS scan resumes for specific key words that the employer has programmed into it — and it can usually not “read” variations of a word.
INSTEAD use key words that are identical to those found in the job description. ATS often don’t know that “successful” is a derivative of “success” — so if the ATS is programmed to search for “success,” it will not count and give you points if you use the word “successful.” (I know, it’s a pain!)
- DON’T try to outsmart the system by using “white font gimmicks” — in other words, adding key words in a white font in the borders of your resume. The logic is that even though a human can’t see the words, the ATS can — but most ATS are too sophisticated to be “tricked” by this ploy.
INSTEAD use key words throughout your resume to provide context. Not only will the ATS pick up and count these key words to give you points, but it will also contextualize the key words by showing that you’ve actually used these skills in other jobs over time — which leads to a higher score for your resume.
- DON’T use acronyms even if they are well known in your industry.
INSTEAD add the full spelled out name that the acronym represents; in other words, format it like this: Certified Public Accountant (CPA).
- DON’T use specialized names for section headings — once again, this can confuse the ATS and it will determine that these sections are missing from your resume.
INSTEAD use standard section headings only. Use “Work Experience” not “Professional Credentials.” Use “Education” not “Academic Background.” Hint: Don’t combine two categories within one heading, such as “Training and Credentials” — use each as a separate section.
- DON’T be surprised if only the first page of your resume is scanned — employers may program the ATS in order to save time and scan more resumes.
INSTEAD front-load your resume with relevant key words and experience –while not all ATS will scan just the first page, it’s a good idea not only to raise your ATS ranking but also pass the quick skim that a human will eventually give your resume.
Remember! A “confused” ATS will default to eliminating your resume from consideration. By following these rules, your resume will be more likely to pass the first hurdle in finding a new employer. GOOD LUCK!
NOTE: If you need help developing a powerful resume, click here for information about my resume writing services.
Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model. An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube. To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com.
5 thoughts on “Is Your Resume Scan-Friendly? 12 Things You SHOULDN’T Do”
Thank you for sharing this. What sources/resources did you use while compiling this list? Do a lot of places using readers still use dated software that is less intuitive?
H,i, Kim –
Thank you for your comment and questions! I conducted a variety of secondary research (published articles, etc.) and spoke with some HR professionals in compiling this list. Sadly, MANY companies are using outdated software to scan resumes — which makes it very difficult for job candidates to ensure that your qualifications will be accurately read.
The best tip for finding a new job is still to make connections with hiring managers or recruiters so that your resume can first be read by a human. LinkedIn is a great source for making connections.
A lot of this is true prior to 2014 but understand that PDF = potable document file….it is actual text…it’s why you can highlight actual specific characters with formating calls (size, font, color)
Think: if it’s wise enough to pick up white one white text it knows the difference between a line and a graphic.
Thank you for your comment, John.
Technology constantly evolves; however, in speaking with several HRIS practitioners, there are glitches in some ATS platforms that can lead to problems reading applicant resumes. Additionally, the criteria input by recruiters can have an effect as to how the ATS reads resumes. Sometimes it’s best to play it safe by assuming the worst potential ATS read of a resume — that way, job candidates can make adjustments.