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When it comes to job hunting, one thing that is hard to avoid is applicant tracking systems or ATS. These are the platforms that are used to sift through dozens – or hundreds or thousands – of resumes and pre-screen applicants to find those who seem to provide the best fit for the job. Keep in mind, these are computer systems, so they’re not perfect, but it also means that your resume must be crafted to align with what they’re looking for in addition to appealing to human readers.

So what can you do to help your resume stand out when going through ATS and not automatically be sorted into the ‘no’ pile?

Choose a simple format.

ATS scan your resume, translate it into text, and then extract key information. Avoid using text blocks, tables, graphs, images, and other embedded features, as these are often stripped by the system or unable to be read correctly. Stick with traditional formatting such as bullet points, indenting, bold type, and horizontal dividers to create something visually appealing yet easy to read and ATS-friendly.

Also, don’t try to get too creative when it comes to labeling sections of your resume. You’re better off using standards headers such as “Professional Experience,” “Education,” and “Publications” which are more universal.

Include contact information in the body of your resume.

Just as graphics and images are not easily read, some ATS skip over headers and footers as well. That means if your contact information is located here, it’s essentially gone. Instead, place it at the very top of the body of your resume.

Target keywords and phrases.

ATS scan your resume to find select keywords and phrases that an employer is looking for in relation to the job opening. They have often identified essential criteria they want candidates to meet. Carefully read through the job description and determine what seems most important so that you can highlight it on your resume. Look for prominent keywords and use the same words or phrases rather than a variation.

However, don’t go overboard and try to stuff as many keywords into your resume as you can. This can also get your resume kicked out by the system. Include keywords in your core competencies section as well as naturally within the context of your work experience. If you are using industry-specific jargon, spell out acronyms upon first use. (Ex: “Food and Drug Administration (FDA)” or “Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)”.)

Save your resume as a Word document.

While ATS are improving, some are still not exceptional at accurately reading PDFs. It is much easier to extract information from a Word document. Read the application information carefully to see if it specifies which type of file to use. When in doubt, use a Word file. If you are sending the resume directly to a person who is going to read it, then you can use a PDF to preserve formatting.