Beautiful resumes can be a big problem.
In case you haven’t heard, many companies now use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to process resumes for the jobs they post online. It saves time and money for the employers because they can just focus on the resumes that are the best match for the job. Sounds great, right?
The problem is that these ATS programs can’t process a lot of the formatting that people use to make their resumes more readable and appealing. I’ve noticed that often the coolest looking resumes, like the ones made by designers, are the ones with the most problems. So you might be a perfect fit for the job, but no one will know it if your file can’t get past the ATS.
You can imagine my frustration last year when I started applying for side jobs and got no responses to my carefully designed, beautiful resume. Crickets! I decided to learn more about ATS and tried using an online tool to see how ATS-friendly my resume was. My initial score was in the low 40% range. I felt really depressed because I had already spent a lot of time making my resume look good.
Unfortunately, just like the corona virus, ATS is going to be here for a while and we have to adapt to it. It’s an intimidating process, so I’m sharing the key points that I learned from my research to make it easier. I hate to think of all the missed opportunities that ATS causes for creative folks, so let’s do something about it!
Here’s what you should include in an ATS resume
First, let’s talk about the sections that you definitely should have in your resume. These are the ones you need and this is the order you should write them in. Ideally, you want all of this to fit on one page, or two if you’ve been working a long time. Remember that the goal is to make it easy to find important information as quickly as possible since the average hiring manager only looks at a resume for six seconds. Only six.
- Contact Info: You should include your email, phone number, and website/portfolio link at the top. (But not in the header.) Giving your home address is optional.
- Headline/Title and Summary: Some sites advise that you list your career title at the top of your resume. Some also suggest that you begin with a career summary. These are optional but can be useful if you’ve been working a long time or if you want to change careers and need to explain or include things not listed elsewhere.
- Top Skills: This is where you should put the skills that you think your employer or recruiter will be searching for, so they can find them with a quick glance.
- Work Experience: Include all your relevant jobs for the past ten years. Each one should have two or three bullet points listing your achievements. One bullet point is enough for jobs that are old or not closely aligned with your goals.
- Education: Keep it short and simple.
- Additional Experience: Publications, Presentations, Awards, Languages, and Hobbies can all go in this section as single bullet points.
In addition to all the sections listed above, you want to be sure to include these elements in your resume.
- Keywords: A good way to find the best keywords to use in your resume is to look at the job postings you want to apply for. Take three that you feel are the best match for you and look for the words they use. You should use these words too, but don’t copy long phrases or sentences.
- Action Verbs: Try to begin each line of your work experience with an action verb. Avoid passive verbs and leave out the pronouns to save space.
- Metrics/Achievements: You will get a better ATS score if you can add achievements to each of your experiences and make them measurable. This means adding numbers or percentages to show what you’ve accomplished at each job.
- White Space: Although you want to include a lot of information in your resume, you don’t want it to feel too crowded. Try to be thoughtful about your use of white space in the margins and between sections.
Here’s what you shouldn’t include in an ATS resume
Unfortunately, you’ll need to leave out many of the elements that designers like to use to make resumes so visually striking. The problem with these is that many ATS programs can only read plain text, so these elements will be lost or jumbled. A good way to test your file is to copy and paste it into a program like TextEdit (Mac) or Notepad (PC). If the formatting looks good, you should be fine.
- Columns (use tabs instead – yes, really)
- Charts, tables, images/graphics, text boxes
- Headers and footers
- Non-standard fonts
- Unusual bullet points (just dots and squares)
- Colors: these may be lost, so don’t use them for functionality
If it kills your soul to do this like it did for me, just remember that you can keep your beautiful resume to bring along with you when you get the interview.
Here’s how to get help
Finally, the good news. I followed all the advice provided by this online tool, and even though it wasn’t fun, I managed to increase my score to 94%. That’s a 50% increase! It took me a long time to do all this research and try different tools, but this was the one that I felt got the best and fastest results. It gives immediate feedback, and it’s very specific. It even provides examples in each category to help you make improvements. Best of all, you can get a lot of feedback for free or sign up for the Pro plan on a month-by-month basis, so it’s very affordable. I’ve included the link below if you want to check it out.
I’ll admit that it takes a lot of work to make a good ATS resume, so if you’re in a hurry or just don’t want to deal with it, I can help. Email me if you have any questions about how ATS works or if you’d like to know about my ATS resume package.
Resume Worded is the program I used to make my ATS-friendly resume. Good luck!
Please note that I am an affiliate for this program, but only because I truly believe it is the best one available and it worked so well for me.