Make your resume* ATS-friendly

Did you know that about 99% of Fortune 500 companies use some form of applicant tracking system (ATS) to streamline their recruitment? Given that this is a vital part of company recruitment, understanding the mechanics of an ATS may help you apply more effectively. Most ATS are designed to rate or score applicants based on the information it parses from a resume and comparing it to the job posting. While it can be beneficial to think of it as playing the “keyword game,” it is not the only factor to consider with your ATS-friendly resume.

If you feel that you are constantly throwing your resume into a black-hole, there is a chance that your resume is not well-suited to make it through the ATS. Here are some tips to improve your odds of effectively navigating the ATS.

When it comes to resumes, boring is better. You will want to be careful utilizing images, text boxes, tables, or fancy graphics as those may either be distorted, ignored, or erased by an ATS. Likewise, an ATS may distort or recombine information from your resume in a way that does not accurately reflect your fit as a candidate.


  • Avoid use of graphics, icons, or images
  • Avoid placing information into tables or text boxes

Note: if you are using your resume as a design sample for an industry or organization that values aesthetics, you may still want to have a more artistic style of resume. However, keep these for more direct-delivery methods and avoid using them in an ATS.

Not only does this help the ATS, but recruiters and hiring managers will also appreciate a resume in a font that is legible. If the font is not commonly used, the ATS software may try to convert the font and inadvertently delete or ignore critical information regarding your candidacy.


  • Avoid small fonts and keep your fonts to at least 10pt or higher
  • Avoid colorful, fancy, or stylized fonts
  • Use fonts that are common across multiple platforms. Examples include Arial, Calibri, Cambria, Georgia, Helvetica, and Times New Roman.

One of the most critical things that an ATS does is compare your resume against the job description and any additional criteria set forth by HR. Try to reasonably incorporate keywords from the job description to help frame how your background is relevant to the position. You might want to use action verbs, job-specific terminology, or even reflect the priorities of the posting in terms of where you position sections on your resume.


  • Meaningfully use the keywords from the job postings; if you have done something that the job description mentions, think about how you might “copy + paste + personalize” that information into your resume.
  • If you have a lot of niche jargon, think about how you might effectively translate that in a way that aligns with the job posting.
  • Avoid abbreviating relevant keywords as an ATS may not properly consider it as it rates your resume.
  • Minimize the use of vague or ill-defined language such as “various,” “multiple,” “several,” or “etc.” as they might be masking some beneficial keywords you can use.
  • Avoid segmenting text in wrap-text. For example, if you continue the word “molecule” over two lines by breaking apart “mole-“ and “cule,” you might not get credit if that is a keyword.

Also, avoid spamming the ATS with keywords. You will still need to be able to account for everything indicated on your resume. Falsifying employment documents, including application materials, is both a legal and ethical breach and may result in dismissal from the search

Unless the job description specifies something else, it is usually fairly safe to use either a .doc/.docx or .pdf file type. Essentially you want a file type that will focus on the content (words) of your resume and not anything else. However, pay close attention to the requested file type listed in the ATS and avoid using other types even if the platform does not prevent you from uploading it.

Similarly, be mindful if using different ways to build your document. Canva, LaTeX, online resume builders or other methods might be popular for constructing your resume, but be careful as sometimes these might incorporate formatting that might confound the ATS.

Since an ATS focuses on the text of your resume, you can do a simple test of your own resume by saving it as a plain text (.txt) file. This will remove much of the formatting and keep just the text of your document so you can verify if anything is distorted or missing from your resume.  

You might also consider using a service that simulates an ATS systems. While many have a fee, some may allow you to test a resume for free—so be sure to use this wisely. Many of them work by allowing you to upload a copy of your resume and the text of the job description—then, they will rate your resume and provide some helpful feedback on things you can try to improve. Examples of these include Jobscan, Skillsyncer, and Resume Worded.

If you think of an ATS as a wall, in many ways part of your frustration is being uncertain what happens to your resume once it goes to the other side. Here are some strategies that might help you work around the ATS:

  • Directly engage with employers: many employers may come to campus or host events that allow you to make a connect with them. By “hand delivering” your resume, you might be able to pique their interest through the conversation you had and may be able to navigate around the ATS.
  • Get feedback on your resume from someone in the company: use tools like Alumni Advisors Hub to have an alum from the company review your resume beforehand. They might offer some interesting insights that will help you better tailor your resume to their system.
  • Get a referral: having someone inside the company who can monitor your progress through the ATS can be a big help. If something is gets caught up in the ATS, your contact may be able to alert HR of your application and that might help your resume get in front of the hiring manager.

Building connections and expanding your network takes time. So do not wait until the last minute to start to make meaningful connections with alumni, employers, and friends.

Need additional support on your resume, CV, cover letter or job application? Schedule an appointment with us.

*Although this article is about resumes, much of these tips can also apply to other documents you may upload including CVs and cover letters.