Create an ATS Resume Blog Post

Navigating the job search process is challenging enough for job seekers. The need to create a resume that stands out to both human recruiters and applicant tracking systems (ATS) makes it even more so.

With the majority of companies using ATS to manage job applications and the hiring process, it is crucial to craft an ATS-friendly resume. If you fail to do so, you risk being overlooked, regardless of your qualifications or experience.

A well-designed and properly formatted ATS resume is crafted to be easily read by both software and human eyes, ensuring that your skills and achievements are effectively communicated. This involves using clear formatting, relevant keywords, and a straightforward structure. By optimizing your resume for ATS, you increase your chances of making it through the initial automated screening and into the hands of a hiring manager, where your unique qualifications can truly shine.

But how do you create an ATS resume that not only looks great but passes through the ATS scanning process with ease? When you start with our professionally designed, downloadable ATS resume templates, it will be far easier than you think.

From understanding the role of ATS in the hiring process to selecting the right resume template, this comprehensive guide will equip you with the knowledge and tools necessary to create a resume that increases your chances of landing that dream job.

The Role of Applicant Tracking Systems

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) have become an integral part of the hiring process, with the majority of companies and third-party recruiters utilizing ATS software. These systems are designed to help manage every step of the hiring and onboarding process.

ATS serves as a valuable tool for recruiters and HR departments, streamlining and expediting the hiring process by managing job applications, filtering resumes, and ranking candidates based on their relevance to the job opening. Utilizing ATS has the potential to save businesses time and costs, making it an essential part of the recruitment process.

Understanding How ATS Are Used in Hiring

Key Components of an ATS Resume

Understanding how to create an ATS resume is as much about understanding what an ATS resume is as it is understanding what it is not.

The technology behind applicant tracking systems is continually advancing, and this means that the guidelines for creating an ATS resume are continually changing and advancing.

Myths and outdated ATS advice are rampant. Even ChatGPT and other AI chatbots are still providing outdated career advice when it comes to ATS resumes (because, after all, AI chatbots are still “ingesting” outdated career advice, and so they output outdated advice).

Here, then, are some modern guidelines to know when preparing your resume for modern applicant tracking systems.

What an ATS Resume Is…

  • Designed to be attractive to BOTH the ATS and human reader: Your ATS-compliant resume can achieve both objectives. Format it using a standard structure that is easily parsed by an ATS while incorporating ATS-friendly design techniques that make it eye-appealing and easy for a human to read.

  • Thoughtfully written with relevant keywords used in context: By emphasizing the most frequent keywords in a job description you are targeting, particularly hard skills, your resume will be better matched to the job and more likely to be screened in.

  • Tailored to the position you are targeting: Besides being more appealing to hiring managers, a tailored resume will be naturally keyword-optimized.

  • Created using Microsoft Word and submitted as a DOCX or PDF document: These two file formats are widely compatible with all modern ATS. Additionally, these have become the business standard for human readers as well and can be opened and read on most/all computers.

  • Formatted using a standard reverse-chronological or combination structure: ATS are programmed to recognize and parse standard resume elements organized and presented in standard order. While you have some flexibility in format, this should always be a consideration.

What an ATS Resume Is NOT…

  • Plain, text-only format that uses no design techniques and no graphical elements: The truth is that modern applicant tracking systems are designed to parse the text behind the design. Many design techniques will have zero impact on ATS compliance.

  • Packed with every keyword imaginable and without context or focus: Carefully research and include relevant keywords for your job and industry target. Irrelevant keywords, and those simply listed without context, dilutes the focus and will hurt you rather than help.

  • A generic or “general” resume: A general resume will not perform well in keyword scoring and won’t be as appealing to a human reader either.

  • Created using Google Docs, Pages, Canva, Illustrator, etc.: Resumes created using these resume file types are not generally ATS compatible and can cause issues even when converted to PDF files. Additionally, not all human recipients have the right software to open these resume file formats.

  • Structured in a functional format or some other nonstandard format: While the ATS may still be able to parse the content of a functional resume, it will not be able to organize and store it properly in the correct ATS database fields and this will negatively impact the scoring.

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Formatting Guidelines to Keep In Mind

  • Use an ATS-friendly resume format: The reverse chronological resume format is the most suitable ATS resume format, as it allows the ATS software to parse and interpret your work history easily. That said, if you determine that the right resume format for you is a functional one for other reasons, it doesn’t mean you absolutely can’t use this format. It just means that you should be aware that it will almost surely cause problems in an ATS. In this case, the best solution is usually a combination format that includes a strong summary section similar to a functional resume followed by a career chronology.

  • Pay attention to the details: Your name and contact information should be prominently placed at the top of the first page of your resume. Make sure it is in the “body” of the resume and not in the header or footer of the document, as these can confuse the ATS and lead to essential details being overlooked.

  • Include all the important keywords: Incorporating the right keywords and phrases in your ATS resume is crucial for boosting your resume’s performance and augmenting your likelihood of catching recruiters’ attention. It is also important to use keywords throughout your resume, in context, including your resume summary, key skills section, and job descriptions. This ensures that your resume aligns with the job requirements and demonstrates your accomplishments and skills related to these keywords, ultimately increasing your chances of being considered for the position.

  • Label resume sections clearly and logically: An effectively structured ATS resume should include clear sections, such as Professional Summary, Work Experience, and Education. This allows the ATS to easily parse and interpret your resume, ensuring your qualifications are accurately captured and considered. Furthermore, logically organizing your resume can help create a visually appealing and easy-to-read document that appeals to ATS and human recruiters.

  • Use the right file format: While you should always follow the instructions in the job postings you are applying for, if it isn’t otherwise specified, the best resume file type to submit is a Microsoft Word document or Adobe PDF document created from the Word document. Other file formats are not generally compatible with applicant tracking systems.

What Doesn’t Matter (aka Outdated Advice about ATS Resumes That You Might Still Read)

  • The Fonts You Use: While you might still read that you must use a simple, standard font for ATS, that isn’t necessarily true. For ATS reasons, the font you choose for your resume won’t have much impact. However, there are other reasons for choosing popular, common fonts for your resume, such as Calibri, Cambria, Verdana, and Tahoma.

  • The Color You Use: Speaking of fonts, the color of the resume font doesn’t matter. Neither does bolding or italics. The easiest way to think of it is this: What you see on the screen is like lipstick and eyeshadow; the bare skin is still underneath. The applicant tracking system is parsing the words beneath the “makeup” (underneath the formatting); the cosmetics are ignored.

  • Graphic Enhancements: Another common piece of outdated advice is that you must keep your ATS-optimized resume design simple, using no graphics or lines. The modern reality is that the graphics are just skipped over and ignored in the applicant tracking software. Of course, you must be aware of how the ATS scans the entire resume and ensure that the textual content is in the body of the document rather than in a graphic that the ATS scan will skip. But as long as you remember this caveat, you can safely use graphics to help make your resume stand out.

  • Using Tables or Columns (with some caution): It is true that complex tables and columns in your resume will have a negative impact on applicant tracking system parsing. However, this does not mean that you must not use any table, no matter what. Simple tables used in simple ways (such as to lay out a Skills Summary section in two columns) are perfectly okay. You can read more about tables and how to use them in your ATS-compliant resume in this blog post.

ATS Resume Templates and Examples

The easiest and “safest” way to create an ATS resume is to use an ATS resume template and personalize it to fit your needs. By selecting an appropriate resume template and personalizing it with your information, work history, education, and skills, you can ensure that your resume is accurately captured and stored by the ATS, increasing your chances of being considered for the job.

Selecting the Best ATS Resume Template

Most of the resume templates on the market are either 1) attractively designed but not ATS scan compatible or 2) ATS compatible but plain and generic looking. Buyer beware!

As a job seeker, it is essential to choose the resume template that will make the best possible first impression, helping you stand out against other qualified applicants so you can land the job you want. But it is also important to prioritize templates that are ATS-friendly, with a straightforward design and clear hierarchy. This ensures that your resume is easily parsed and interpreted by the ATS, preventing any errors or misinterpretations that could reduce your chances of being considered for the job. This is where Distinctive Resume Templates excel.

Distinctive Resume Templates have all been designed to achieve dual goals:

  1. Optimize resume eye appeal for the human recruiter
  2. Optimize resume design and format for ATS parsing

How can you choose the best ATS resume template for your needs? We offer well over 150 professionally designed templates to choose from. Begin by looking through them to find a design and structure that appeals to you. If there are any ATS “gotchas” to look out for, you’ll find them explained in the product description. And if you have any questions, just ask.

Here are some of your countless choices when using a Distinctive Resume Template.

Human Resources Resume Page 1

From our Talentro Collection, this resume template was designed with HR professionals in mind, but is flexible and could be easily used for any professional in a people-facing job. This is an excellent example of how you can create a resume that is both ATS-friendly and eye appealing. The graphical elements and colors catch the eye, but will have no impact on ATS.

Dynamic Resume Format Page 1

This dynamic format resume template is a very flexible design that almost any professional job seeker could use. As already explained, the graphics and lines, and color will all be ignored in ATS. As in many of our resume templates, this design uses a simple two-column table for the skills summary. Using a table in this way will cause no problems in modern ATS.

Career Propellant Student Resume Template

Students and other entry-level professionals need ATS-friendly resumes also. This student resume template from our Career Propellant Collection fits the bill. The graphical element in the top right corner has space for words that an ATS will ignore, so make sure any important keywords are repeated in the body text of the resume.

By selecting a template that is designed with applicant tracking system compatibility in mind, you can increase your chances of creating a resume that is accurately captured, stored, and considered by the hiring manager.

Once you have selected an ATS-friendly resume template, it is important to customize it by adding your personal information, work history, education, and skills. Ensure that your resume aligns with the job opening and includes relevant keywords and phrases from the job description. This will help to optimize your resume for ATS and increase your chances of being noticed by recruiters.

To tailor the template to your needs, include the following information:

  • Contact details
  • Current and past employers and your job title at each
  • Education history
  • Any other pertinent information that demonstrates your suitability for the job

By personalizing the template and ensuring that it aligns with the job requirements, you can create a visually appealing and ATS-friendly resume that stands out in the competitive job market.

How to Tailor Your Resume for ATS

Crafting an ATS-tailored resume requires analyzing the job posting and adjusting your resume content to match it. By understanding the job opening’s specific requirements and incorporating the relevant keywords and skills into your resume, you can increase your chances of being considered for the position and ultimately secure a job interview.

Analyzing the Job Posting

Studying the job posting is an essential step in customizing your resume for ATS, as it allows you to identify essential keywords, skills, and qualifications required for the position.

To accurately extract skills and qualifications from a job posting, carefully read the entire job description and take note of the mentioned skills, qualifications, and requirements.

Once you have identified the essential keywords and qualifications, incorporate them into your resume in a strategic manner, ensuring that they are used in context. Write your resume job descriptions and accomplishment bullets to demonstrate your accomplishments and skills related to these keywords.

By tailoring your resume to match the job requirements and including relevant keywords, you can optimize your resume for ATS and increase your chances of being noticed by recruiters.

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ATS Resume Mistakes to Avoid

  • Graphic elements with text in them: The ATS will essentially “ignore” the graphics in your resume, and this includes graphics with text in them. In other words, the words in the graphics will not count as keywords. If you must use graphics this way, ensure any essential keywords are also used in the body of your resume.

  • Your name and contact information in the header of the first page: Most ATS will ignore the content in the headers or footers of your resume. If your name and contact information appears in the header of the first page it may not be entered into the ATS.

  • Contact information presented anywhere other than the top of the first page of your resume: The applicant tracking system is programmed to identify and parse your contact information when it appears at the top of your resume. But, if you don’t list it there and instead put it in an unexpected place such as the bottom of the first page, it may not parse it correctly.

  • Resumes designed using desktop publishing applications: Even if you use a very standard structure and format for your resume created in one of these applications, and even if you convert it to PDF, the conversion itself often results in formatting that will cause problems with the way your resume is parsed.

  • Resumes that are designed and laid out using complex tables or columns: Simple tables used in ways that consider ATS parsing are perfectly okay to use in your ATS resume. On the other hand, complex tables will almost always result in jumbled and disorganized text when parsed. Many of the “free” resume templates in Microsoft Word use complex tables. Be very choosey if you use one of these, and be sure you understand how the design was built. It is much “safer” to use a premium MS Word resume template that is designed to be ATS-friendly.

  • No resume category headings or strangely worded category headings: Recognizable section headings named in traditional ways (e.g., Employment Experience, Education, Skills Summary)”help” the ATS identify and correctly parse the content of your resume into the database.

By steering clear of these common mistakes, you can optimize your resume for ATS and increase your chances of being noticed by recruiters.

Final Thoughts

In summary, creating a resume designed for ATS systems is essential to the job search and application process. By understanding the role of ATS in the hiring process and tailoring your resume to meet the specific requirements of each job description, you can increase your chances of being noticed by hiring managers and recruiters. Be sure to follow formatting guidelines, use relevant keywords, and structure your resume in a logical and easy-to-read manner. Unless you have an expert understanding of ATS, beginning with an ATS-friendly resume such as those in our resume portfolio, is smart.

With the tips and guidance provided in this comprehensive guide, you can create an ATS-friendly resume that not only looks great but also passes through the software with ease, ultimately helping you land your dream job.

Modern Guidelines for an ATS Friendly Resume

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an ATS resume?

ATS stands for “applicant tracking system.” This is computer software that helps companies manage the hiring process by sorting and organizing applications. When you apply for a job, your resume goes directly into an ATS database. An ATS-friendly resume is designed to be easily read by both applicant tracking systems (ATS) and human recruiters. It’s formatted clearly, includes relevant keywords, and has a straightforward structure to ensure your skills and achievements are effectively communicated.

Does my resume need to be ATS compatible?

Yes, having an ATS-compliant resume when applying for jobs is essential. Currently, some 99% of Fortune 500 companies, 70% of large companies, and approximately 35% of smaller employers use automated resume screening systems during their hiring processes. The growing trend towards more intelligent and automated recruitment processes, with AI poised to enhance the capabilities of ATS, signals a future where ATS will continue to play a significant and increasing role in recruitment and hiring. If your resume is not ATS-friendly, it may not be properly read by the system, reducing your chances of being shortlisted for an interview, regardless of your qualifications

How do I get my resume to pass an ATS resume scanner?

To make your resume ATS-friendly, format it correctly, use relevant keywords, and structure it for compatibility with applicant tracking systems. Ensure the format and structure are simple and the content includes keywords that match the job description. Beginning with an ATS-friendly MS Word resume template such as those offered by Distinctive Career Services, is smart.

What are common mistakes to avoid in an ATS resume?

Avoid keyword stuffing, overusing visuals, and using resume headers or footers for crucial information like your name and contact details. Also, avoid using non-standard resume formats or file types that are not ATS-compatible.

What are the key components to write an ATS resume?

An ATS-friendly resume should be visually appealing to humans and readable by ATS. It should be formatted using a standard reverse chronological structure, thoughtfully include relevant keywords in context, and be tailored to the specific job application. It should be submitted in a compatible file format like Microsoft Word .DOCX or Adobe PDF.

What file formats are best for creating an ATS resume?

The best formats for an ATS resume are Microsoft Word (.DOC or .DOCX) and Adobe PDF, created from a Word document. These resume file formats are widely compatible with ATS and can be easily parsed. Avoid formats like Pages, Google Docs, or other formats from specific design software, as they may not be ATS-friendly.

Are Canva resumes ATS compatible?

Resumes created in Canva may face issues with ATS due to their complex design elements and non-standard formatting. ATS systems are designed to scan and sort resumes based on certain programmed elements, and they often struggle with complex designs or unusual formats. As a result, a resume created with Canva may not pass through the ATS effectively, potentially leading to it being overlooked or misinterpreted.

Will my .DOCX or PDF resume be stored in the ATS along with the parsed version?

Yes, most ATS systems store the original .DOCX or PDF resume file along with the parsed version. This allows recruiters to view your resume in its original format, ensuring they see the document as you intended.

Is there a way to do an ATS resume test?

While there’s no universal method to test your resume across all ATS, you can optimize it for most systems. Here’s how: 1. Plain Text Check: Convert your resume to a plain text file to see how it’s parsed. Did it miss anything? Did it jumble the order of the content? As a general rule, you can assume that the ATS will “see” your resume as you see it in this plain text format. 2. Use Online Job Applications: Some job portals show how an ATS reads your resume, allowing you to adjust accordingly. Though not always perfect, this helps you understand how your resume is interpreted. 3. Use Trusted Resume Scanners: Be wary of websites that offer to check your resume for ATS compatibility. There are many scams that prey on job seekers, providing inaccurate or outdated ATS advice with the goal of upselling you on their services. However, there are a few trustworthy resume scanners that detect formatting errors and provide scores for resume keywords matching. One of the most popular of these is

How do I ensure my resume has the right keywords for ATS?

To keyword optimize your resume for ATS, scrutinize job postings to pinpoint crucial skills and frequently mentioned terms. Embed these keywords contextually in your resume, using precise wording and both full and abbreviated forms. Leverage tools like ChatGPT for additional keyword suggestions, but validate these against actual job descriptions. Prioritize highlighting key elements such as hard skills, job titles, and educational credentials prominently in your resume for improved ATS alignment.

About the Author: Michelle Dumas

Michelle Dumas is the founder and CEO of Distinctive Career Services, one of the internet's longest-standing and most respected professional resume writing firms. Michelle is a 6X certified and 7X award-winning resume writer and career consultant. Michelle designed and created all of the templates in the Distinctive Resume Templates Collections found at

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