How To Format Your Résumé So A Recruiter Actually Receives It

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Not hearing back from employers could make you feel like this.

Have you ever found that perfect job, only to apply for it online and then hear crickets? Your cover letter was great, your résumé was flawless, and your qualifications were excellent … so, why didn’t they respond?

The answer? Your résumé may have gotten lost in the company’s applicant tracking system (ATS)—meaning the recruiter or hiring manager never even saw it. Luckily, by learning what an ATS is and how they work, you can ensure your résumé gets seen.


What Is An ATS?

An ATS is a database that companies use to screen job candidates and streamline their hiring process. When you upload your résumé online, an ATS handles it. CareerBuilder, for example, is an ATS. Corporate websites that require you to submit your résumé online likely use an ATS.

These databases receive résumés and score them according to criteria (like how relevant you seem for a position) that a recruiter has set. Your “score” determines whether you end up at the top of bottom of the list.

Not all systems are created or managed the same way. For instance, some allow images while others don’t. However, rather than playing guessing games, follow the guidelines below to ensure your application will work with any system.

Keep Your Design Simple

A pretty résumé can make you stand out—provided you use it wisely. Meeting people at events or going in for a job interview are perfect times to use a well-designed résumé. Submitting your résumé online is not. It will choke an ATS.

OK, what do I mean by a “pretty” résumé? Essentially, it’s having any kind of image (logos and graphics), fancy borders, shading, tables, graphs, etc. Remember, the ATS essentially “reads” your résumé—and it can’t read images. So, it will ignore any text you have in these, no matter how important it is.

Use Keywords …

Recruiters will use certain terms when creating a job posting. They’ll sprinkle these into the job description to get it to show up in job search engines and program them into the ATS to evaluate applicants. Your task? Figure out those keywords.

Failing to use keywords is a surefire way to get the ATS to can your résumé. You can determine these by reading the job description and looking for words that show up a few times. They are often job titles or skillsets. You can even paste the job description into word-cloud software (like Wordle) to literally see which terms loom largest.

Also, when adding keywords, mention any software or technical knowledge associated with the job and ensure that you write it in both longhand and its abbreviated form (e.g., “content management system” and “CMS”). Sometimes recruiters use one technical term over the other, but rarely both. You’ll want to be covered.

… But Don’t Keyword Stuff

“Stuffing” is putting as many keywords as often as possible throughout your résumé. People do this in hopes of getting picked up by the ATS, but it actuality hinders them. Many recruiters have caught on to this phenomenon, and now too many keywords are seen as a red flag by the ATS.

Bottom line: While you are technically writing for a computer, a human being will review your résumé. As such, write your cover letter and résumé so a person can comprehend it, then go back and add some keywords for the benefit of the ATS. Not the other way around.

Do you have any tips for getting your résumé read? Let us know in the comments!

(Photo: Wikimedia)

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  1. Rasilio July 31, 2014 / 2:25 pm

    HR and the computer programs love the keywords, hiring managers do not. A neat trick I came across. put the bulk of your keywords at the bottom of your resume in white text. The computer program will see them, the humans will not

    • Ryan Lane July 31, 2014 / 4:41 pm

      Tricky! Thanks for sharing!

      • Amanda October 16, 2014 / 11:42 am

        Wow, that is very smart. Thanks for sharing that tip.

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