The Best Ways to Optimize Your Resume to Make it Pass an ATS

Tricks and hacks to make a robot-friendly resume 🤖 August 31, 2023 · 10 min read

That feeling is all too familiar…

You’ve hunted down the perfect job opening, made a killer custom resume and cover letter, uploaded your application online, and then you wait; wondering what it was that made the recruiting manager not call you back.

It’s likely that you know something about systems that can scan your resume into a computer system with the ability to reject applicants before a human even sets eyes on it.

The main reason for these systems is to sort through the massive amounts of resumes that land in the inbox of some companies.

What is an ATS?What is an ATS?

The technology is known as an Applicant Tracking System, or ATS

This means that before a real live human ever gets to look over your life’s work, it’s got to get past an ATS and the requirements that it’s programmed with.

Since we’re all human, hopefully, it’s pretty easy to get your resume through an ATS and under the eyes of a person who will appreciate your skills.

We’ve put together a handy guide with all the details you need to know about ATS and how to beat applicant tracking systems.

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) Explained

An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is a computer software program used by recruiters and hiring managers during the recruitment process.

If you wonder how applicant tracking systems can improve the selection process, let us explain it differently…

ATSs are a tool for recruiters to get through the important process of narrowing down potential recruits for their company.

So, what do applicant tracking systems look for?

The person or team dealing with the recruitment process set some rules about what they’re looking for in a resume and then they’ll set an Applicant Tracking System on to the pile of resumes they’ve received to see which ones make it into their hands.

There are scanning systems that the company will upload your CV or resume into and an algorithm will go through the text searching out keywords, then grouping them into categories such as:

  • Education
  • Experience
  • Contact details
  • Skills, etc.

And these details get stored in a database; all of this is part of the ATS.

Large companies will get a lot of resumes submitted even without a job being advertised, so when an opening comes up the recruiter will search through the ATS to find resumes or CVs that fit the job description based on a score.

Next, the person dealing with the recruiting process will choose the resumes with high scores to go to the following stage of recruiting.

To pick your way through to the top of the Applicant Tracking System isn’t rocket science.

The key to getting to the stage where a person reads about your best bits is a well-written resume that takes account of how an ATS algorithm functions.

More details coming up…

No matter how stellar your resume or CV is, you might not get called in for an interview purely because your application isn’t optimized for ATSs. Using simple tips and hacks you can boost your chances of getting through the door.

Creating an ATS-friendly Resume

Now that you know how employers use applicant tracking systems it’s time to find out how to pass applicant tracking systems


Having the right content in your resume to get a high score on an ATS is massively important. You also need to be sure that an ATS is able to easily make sense of the details you include and be able to sort it into information for your potential employer to easily read.

The good news is, a resume format that works well on an ATS looks very similar to a resume format that will appeal to a recruiter too.

  • Just like us, an ATS reads your resume from left to right and from the top down; make sure you remember this when choosing a format. You need to make sure your contact information goes at the top, and you need to start your work history section with your most recent or current job
  • When considering whether to use one of the three most common resume formats - functional, chronological and combination - you should note that ATSs work best with the latter two because in functional it takes skills out of context and doesn’t categorize information under standard headings.

In a nutshell, an ATS wants to “see” pretty much the same thing human eyes want to see. If you can get your resume or CV past an Applicant Tracking System you’re on track to impress the actual people who’ll be looking at it, too.

Check out the simple tips and tricks to customize your resume that are coming up. We’re going to teach you how to think like an ATS.

It’s useful to use the exact same keywords in your resume that you find in the job description. You can split them between sentences but make sure each important keyword matches exactly. This is a simple trick to get through ATS processing.

Keep It Nice and Simple

With so many options available, you might want to add some jazz to your resume, mixing up your fonts and colors and even adding images, particularly when trying to land a job in the creative industry.

It’s perfectly understandable; you want to be unique, after all…

The sad fact is when you apply to a company that has an ATS as part of their recruitment process, adding design flourishes will put you down toward the bottom of the list.

You need to keep your resume looking clean, clear, and simple to score well on an ATS, here’s how…

  • Choose the keywords. Pick out the keywords that identify in the job listing and allocate them to your resume sections.
  • Pick a resume design that shows clear hierarchy and formatting. Making your resume look unusual with complex designs and layouts will confuse the majority of ATSs.
  • Keep your colors simple. You should note that an ATS is going to read your text as all one color, be sure that a change in color doesn’t affect any of the meaning in your resume.
  • Simplify your formatting. You’re going to confuse the algorithm in the ATS when you use symbols, logos, text boxes, graphics, and tables.
  • Make your bullet points clear. There’s no need for intricate symbols and characters for your bullets. The simple options are best, like a square or an open or solid circle.
  • Stick to the pertinent information. Anything more than ten years old can be skipped, and hiring managers only want to know about what’s relevant.
  • Target your resume title. Look at the language used in the job advert and match your job history to it, if you use “manager” and the company is looking for a “leader” you could miss out.
  • Steer clear of headers and footers. Information outside of the standard text areas can get missed by an ATS so keep your text within the main body of your resume to be safe.
  • Stick to common fonts. It’s better to use standard fonts instead of unusual ones. As a rule of thumb, if you’ve had to download a font it’s probably not going to pass an ATS.
  • Make your resume file name your own. When you include your name in the file name, an ATS will find it easier to read your resume.
The header and footer areas aren’t the places for important details. A lot of Applicant Tracking Systems only read within standard margins so they won’t “look at” the information at the very top or bottom of your document.

Watch Your Formatting

You’re probably thinking…

There are so many formats (for example txt, .pdf, .doc, .rtf, etc.), what’s the right one for your resume?

A typical ATS won’t accept some types of file formats. You need to submit your resume or CV in the file format that the company specifies. Usually, you’ll find companies want a Word file, .docx, or a PDF file, .pdf. Check over the instructions in the job posting so you can make your application exactly how they want.

What if I want to make my titles quirky and creative?

It’s best that you avoid doing that too…

Applicant Tracking Systems are programmed to look for certain words so you should stick with the standard section titles as much as possible. Some classic titles you can use would be:

  • Contact information
  • Professional experience (Work experience)
  • Skills (Key skills)
  • Education history
  • Languages
  • Licenses etc.
Create an ATS resumeQuick check of your resume

What about tables and columns?

The easy answer: try to avoid tables and be careful with columns.

Here are more details…

Tables generally can’t be read by an ATS, so if you put your key information into a table because you think it looks easier to digest, the ATS isn’t going to be able to “read” your information and feed it into the database.

Also, be careful using columns.

An ATS scans top to bottom, left to right, so not all of them can handle your resume using columns.

If you really need to use columns to get your important details on the first page, write clearly with decent margins and indents.

When your resume goes directly to an HR email, go for any format you want; if you’re uploading to a website and want to be cautious you can use the single-column format to be sure.

You need to avoid the standard pitfalls that come with working within an ATS, but bear in mind there will be a real living person who ultimately looks at your resume once the system has analyzed it. Your document needs to be pleasing to the eye and help the hiring manager navigate your information easily.

Check Your Spelling and Punctuation

That’s a tad obvious, isn’t it?

Of course, a recruiter isn’t going to be happy with any spelling issues, but it could cause more issues than that. Even if you get just one letter or punctuation mark in the wrong place, you could dash your chances of getting past an ATS. After all the work you put in, it’d be such a shame to fall at that hurdle.

A human is able to make a judgment call on small resume mistakes and be able to decipher your intended meaning. An ATS computer program? They have no heart, only an algorithm.

Get your resume typed up and check it over more than once, give yourself a few hours' pause before reading it through again. You can even rope in a buddy to check it over once more; every set of eyes will help.

At the end of the resume writing process, you want to have a resume that has zero errors.

A lot of the ATSs and bots can also make their way through a cover letter. Mind this while writing it and don’t forget to use relevant information as well as keywords there.

Summing Up

Even ideal candidates can get overlooked for a role if their resume or CV isn’t optimized to get through an Applicant Tracking System; no human may ever see it…

The simple fact is that most employers nowadays use an ATS package to sift through applicants for a role. The computer system can “read” through the document you submit and scores it based on the words it finds.

By the time the hiring manager gets involved in the process, the computer will simply complete a search of a database and ping up the ones that scored highest for them to check out.

An ATS is the security guard for your dream job. To get to the really fun and rewarding part of meeting the hiring manager at an interview, you need to get past them first.

Let’s go through the rights and wrongs when it comes to writing to please ATS software.

Resume ATS Optimization Tips
  • Use standard fonts and simple formatting
  • Use keywords from the job posting and mirror the advert language for your job titles
  • Save your file as a .docx or .pdf
  • Use margins and paddings in the text to make it readable
  • Proofread your resume, to have perfect spelling and grammar
  • Include special characters or symbols
  • Use the header or footer space for important information
  • Use any sort of images
  • Add tables if you don’t apply directly to HR
  • Let any error slip past you

The best advice for anyone writing a resume is to tailor the content to each job that you’re applying for and be certain you’ve used every trick in the book to get through the ATS stage.

The best resumes have well-written paragraphs with logical formatting. To make sure you’re getting it right, take advantage of our professional resume maker to build your document easily and give you an effective launchpad for your dream job.
SweetCV team
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SweetCV team