How to Format Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems

Modern applicant tracking systems (ATS) use what’s called parsing technology to “parse” out different information in your resume. At the top a candidate may have their first and last name, address, phone number and email. Parsing would separate all of those into separate fields.

The next part of your resume that an ATS could “parse” is your work history, specific keywords, especially those relevant to the position, college degrees, certifications, professional licenses, and many other categories that are of importance to the employer.

Never Use Headers, Footers or Columns

Resume parsing technology is pretty straight forward and meant to generally read and parse data from one main document. The document may be several pages, but it is still only one document. Where parsers get confused is when a resume has different sections. Different areas that are within a document, but separate.

One common example is a header. Many people use headers for their contact information. Unfortunately, many parsers disregard the header, and mistakenly enter the wrong information into the contact field. Sometimes, no contact information is entered at all. Headers should be avoided. Simply write your contact information without using one.

Footers should be avoided as well. Some parsers may miss the footer and fail to pick up on important information in your resume.

The same can be said for columns. Some resumes have columns on the left or right side with information a candidate wants to stand out or separate. While visually it may be appealing, parsing technology used by the ATS may not pick up on the information. Therefore, columns should be avoided.

Shaded, Grayed and Colored Sections, Cursive Fonts, Lines Separating Sections Should Be Avoided

Resume parsers look for standard font against a plain background in one continuous document. If you start with that premise when composing your resume, you’ll finish with a clean, easy to read document. Shaded areas are often misinterpreted or not picked up on at all by resume parsers. Fonts should be common and easy to read, otherwise you risk the chance of data being missed. Some parsers don’t know what to do with long lines in the middle of resumes. Avoid using those in your resume as well.

Use Word rather than PDF for Your Resume

Due to more security features, less editing rights, and generally lower use, PDF documents are often not able to be processed by many current ATS and resume parsers. Play it safe, use Word documents for your resume and when sending out your resume to potential employers.

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