Ultimate guide for writing an ATS friendly resume

Here’s what you’ll learn today:

  • How to write an ATS friendly resume
  • Things you must avoid at all costs to pass the ATS screening
  • Why HR Manager or recruiter uses ATS
  • How to check your resume ATS score

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We heard you’re looking for a new job, but did you hear this? *Cue to start reading*

You might be in the market for a new job, but you can't get an interview without first entertaining someone else - specifically your prospective employer's computer. We spoke with a few HR Managers from SME firms (with employees close to 500) about their interaction and experience with ATS systems and found the following, at least 1/3rd of resumes never makes it past this point:

  • Junior or mid-level jobs have rejection rates ranging from 40% to 60%
  • C-Suite job rejection rates are much lower, often 30% or less

ATS is not supposed to hand over stale salad to Sarah for consumption. It has to be to her taste! By stale salad, we meant unqualified candidates of course! Your resume is scanned into an applicant tracking system (ATS) and depending on how well you did your ATS homework will determine whether or not you'll hear from them again.

PS, that number doing the round in the internet which claims ATS rejects 75% of all job applications has no factual basis. Someone stepped into Sherlock’s shoes and found a marketing ploy behind this statement. Internet has a notoriously rife reputation for scooping up hot gossip or news, with zero regard for factual accuracy.

So, what is an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)?

With 96.4% of Fortune 500 firms using ATS to simplify their requirement stage along with many more medium enterprises. You better start paying plenty of attention to ATS, specially how your resume can run like a racing horse through its intricate algorithms. So, your resume can come out the other side and actually get seen by recruiters.

They’re also known as resume screeners — the first stage of the employer screening process. ATS is basically a recruitment or hiring tool for employers which vastly simplifies recruitment by sorting hundreds of job applications. And they do so by screening your resume for keywords which then goes into their proprietary technology to assess your suitability for the job and then rank your resume on a score of 100. Some ATS provides this score metric on a scale of 10.

With this tool HR Manager can easily decide to take a closer look at the resumes which scored the top 5% or the top 15% with the click of a button. Just like how you do it when you are buying something from an e-commerce store and filter price from “high to low” or “low to high” etc. But they have a lot more control over their preference in which search results are returned to their screen, the most common ones are mentioned below:

  • ATS tool can filter resumes by years of experience
  • ATS tool can sort resumes by querying score criteria, for example: top 5%, top 10% or top 25%.
  • ATS tool can filter resumes by keyword/s

An ATS has two primary functions

Every candidate who applies to a vacant position has to get through this first stage of screening by passing the ATS. Let’s look into them, shall we?

1 ATS ranks applicants

Remember the purpose of ATS we said earlier? To simplify recruitment... and nothing does it better than ranking them in order of score, which provides a measure for their suitability to the job.

2 ATS rejects applicants who are unqualified

ATS won’t send resume or CV to HR Managers which it deems aren’t equipped to handle the job or qualified enough to perform the job. In a recruitment study conducted in Europe with a sample size of 26 corporate employers, Adam S. found approximately 25% of job applications are reviewed by the HR Manager and only 4-6 are called for an interview. And they do so by only reviewing the top 25% of the applicants as ranked by the ATS.

It simply does that by tracking keywords, let’s explain it with an example.

If a job is looking for someone with at least 5 years of senior marketing experience, but you resume has only 1 or 2 years of Marketing Manager or National Sales Manager experience, it will reject your resume. But if its close, say, you have 4 years of senior Marketing Experience, it will accept your job application.

There are plenty of data points in your resume which the ATS collects and performs their proprietary AI check that generates qualified candidates for the job.

Expert Tip

Did you know ATS assumes all information presented in your resume as accurate?

It is not the job of ATS to flush out candidates who deliberately provide misleading information in their resume. Not that we are implying you do that, buy you can certainly game the system to your advantage in certain circumstances.

For example, the job requested for someone with 7 years of Finance Controller experience. But you know, your experience doesn’t add up to 7. You only gained 3 years of Financial Controller experience and other experiences in various senior financial roles. You can always add a little gold dust, you know what they say, white lies are never lies! Marketing is all about white lies!

Just using a resume introduction that starts with “Veteran Financial Controller with 11 years of robust financial management experience in a pharmaceutical and automotive industries.” will do the trick.

Making a great ATS friendly resume

This is our foolproof bundle of ATS tips to follow and traps to avoid to ready an ATS compliant resume that will lay a red carpet for your job application to breeze through the ATS round. Let’s dive deep into the heart of the machine now. We'll make sure your resume passes through the ATS and lands in the hands of a real person. But first you need to understand how these systems work and incorporating them will naturally ATS optimize your resume. Here are some tips for that undisputable ATS friendly CV:

Follow These ATS Tips

 Use keyword-rich languageTo beat the ATS, you need to speak its language. Use the same keywords that are listed in the job description throughout your resume, including in your skills section. This will help the ATS understand that you're a qualified candidate.

 Keep it short and sweetThe ATS is designed to scan resumes quickly, so brevity is key. Stick to one page if you’re a young professional and 2 or 3 pages if you’re a veteran with decades or longer experience, and use clear, concise language throughout. 

 Write for a pair of human eyesDon’t just chuck keywords like Lego bricks and assume after passing ATS round you will get your interview call! Those keyword selections must blend in like a parrot on a jungle. Mind you, your actual resume will eventually be seen by a person! So, you must write into employer's needs.

 Treat acronym as keywordsUse acronym the first time, to ensure that short keyword is also included in your resume. For example, if the word Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) is there on the job description, you must include ROAS once in your resume. Or your resume runs the risk of not showing up in the search results of HR Manager’s query, should she wish to search for all candidates with the term “ROAS”.

Sometime employer filter resumes based on their impulse or whim, they might begin to see the most qualified candidate that returns or matches the term ‘ROAS”.

Avoid These ATS Traps

 Avoid fancy formattingThe ATS is not great at reading resumes with complex layouts or fancy design elements. Stick to a simple chronological format and use standard fonts such as Times New Roman or Arial.

 Don’t use header or footerATS cannot read information’s contained in the header or footer section of Word document. Use text boxes instead to include any contact information at the top and for any information that goes into the footer section of your resume document. 

 Refrain from using certain filesATS simply cannot read or interpret images, tables, charts or infographics. If you are using such material, it’s likely to confuse the algorithm and get your resume rejected. Also, always use PDF or word files as attachment when uploading your resume into the job board applications. 

 Turn off your wordsmith skills for titlesIf you use terms like “Past places of experience”, ATS might get trippy and ignore your resume, since it doesn’t include the header “Work Experience”, though ATS have made significant stride from a decade ago. But you don’t want to take chances, you never know if your employer is using an older recruitment software which simply isn’t equipped to read anything other than “Work Experience”.

By following these simple tips, you can ensure that your resume will rise to the top of the pile and finally get the attention it rightfully deserves and landing into the hands of a human reader.

Targeting those keywords with laser focus accuracy

We’ll show you here, how to hunt those keywords down with both eyes closed. You will be a pro in no time, pinky promise! We will begin with this actual job description taken from a real job market.


Once you’ve got your keywords which is highlighted in green, you get to the optimizing your resume for ATS screening. The following points will help you:

  1. First, select the important keywords as shown in green. Please note every job description, the keywords will be different.
  2. You need to infuse those keywords in your resume sections like Professional Summary, Work Experience, Skills etc.
  3. Do not assume, the ATS will screen your cover letter. Most never do! You must incorporate at least 80% of the keywords in your resume.

Now let’s exemplify using the above illustration. These four vital keywords were mentioned in the job description: “commercial law”, “estate planning”, “3 – 5 year’s experience” & “client relationships”.

So, you can begin with a resume profile that reads something like “Decorated lawyer with 4 years of client winning experience in commercial/property law and estate planning services. Leveraging long term client relationships by providing 5-star client support to generate 147 new clients for the firm over 6 months.”

Check ATS score of your resume/CV

There are resume scanner tools out there, that can help you assess your resume’s ATS score and to be honest they provide far beyond than that. They are also called ATS checker which assess your suitability to the job, ranks your skills etc. We’ve complied a list of ATS resume checker tools for you:

Take your resume to the test. We’ve partnered with the industry’s best.

Expert Tip

Some companies are using free ats resume scan as a bait to just collect your personal information and will give back very rudimentary results, that won’t help you one bit. As the old saying goes, if something is too good to be true, it probably is.

So, we have discarded those utterly poor free resume scanner tools from our recommendation.  The lists we provided above will also let you glean some free ATS related scores about your resume’s performance, specially how it will perform under ATS scanner. But premium features will require some fees to be paid to unlock them.

Frequently asked Questions

We know you might have some open-ended questions regarding ATS tools, so we will close them with a quick and to the point answers that will scratch them right of your checklist.

We get this question a lot. If they are using a job board, which asks a lot of questions using online forms before finally letting you submit your resume as an attachment, you my friend are being fed into the algorithms of ATS.

Most SMEs to a big tech firm which employs thousands of employees are using ATS for candidate screening. In fact, several studies found over 90% of fortune 500 companies are using ATS tools for their recruitment.

Any score above 80 is considered a good ATS score. But make sure you don’t over optimize it for the machines to score a perfect century, only to bore the HR Manager with a resume that is stuffed with keywords that makes no lexical sense. You have to infuse important keywords as we have shown above and spread them all over your resume sections, so it blends naturally with the sentences where they are used.

All Applicant Tracking System can digest word files in either .doc or .docx format. They often run into trouble with .pages format of the Mac’s free version of Word Processor. Also, modern ATS has come a long way, so long you are making the PDF from Microsoft Word or Mac Pages, you will be fine.

But if you using a design application like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator to create your PDF because you have designed your resume using them, they are highly likely to create compatibility issue for ATS screeners and might even get rejected, because ATS failing to parse or pull data from your resume into their database.

We hear you want to check your resume for ATS compliance. And we have prepared a full list for these tools from the job market that provides resume scanning service. Here are of some of the best rated ATS resume checker in the market:

ATS parses raw data from different sections in a resume, such as work experience, contact details, skills, summary and exports them into their database, where they process the data using their proprietary AI technology to rank resumes in terms of their match to the job or how qualified they are for the job role, which essentially simplifies hiring process for employers.

ATS compliant CV adheres to a clean resume with simple formatting, which avoid any use of images, charts, graphs or infographics. And they use a clear font which provides greater legibility. And of course, it has to be free of spelling mistakes.

We hope you’re familiar with what ATS means and how it digests your resume to extract information, if not, you can scroll above to start reading. Following these ATS rules will ensure your resume will get scanned the way you are intending it to be.

  • Use Word file or PDF as attachments.
  • Don’t include tables, charts, or images
  • Don’t use text boxes
  • Don’t put any info in the headers/footers
  • Only use fonts that are native to Word: Fonts like Arial, Calibri, or Garamond.
  • Check for spelling and grammar errors.


Google Scholar, Adam Sulich Research Paper

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Ultimate guide for writing an ATS friendly resume
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Areli Nevan has 15 years of writing experience in career columns. A professional resume writer with vast experience in his portfolios helping candidates create job winning applications.