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Top 20 Tips on Writing ATS-Compatible Resumes for ATS Systems

Top 20 Tips on Writing ATS-Compatible Resumes for ATS Systems

Top 20 Tips on Writing ATS-Compatible Resumes for ATS SystemsOne of the most popular sessions at The National Resume Writers’ Association Conference last week was Pat Criscito’s presentation on how to write ATS-Compatible Resumes. ATS (or Applicant Tracking Software) systems are used by the majority of companies in this country to determine whom to interview. If your resume does not pass the ATS test, you will not get an interview.

Thankfully, how to write an ATS-compatible resume is not a complete mystery. This article will teach you how to sell yourself to an ATS system and get your phone to ring for an interview.


  1. MOST IMPORTANT TIP FIRST: Use keywords that match the keywords in the job description! This means you’ll need to edit your resume for every job you apply for. No joke. I know this task is time-consuming, but it will pay off.
  1. Use keywords in context, in your experience section. ATS systems count the number of years of experience you have for the skills the company cares about. If you have “project management” listed in a bullet under a job where you spent 10 years, you’ll get 10 years of credit for project management. If you list it in a Skills list, you’ll get zero. So even if you have a separate skills list, be sure to include all your skills in your bullets as well!
  1. Whenever possible, put your keywords on page one and at the top of subsequent pages if any. They will be ranked higher in these locations.
  1. There’s no need to use every possible version of your keywords. ATS systems are so smart that a keyword search automatically finds all relevant words. For example, a search for “RN” will also recognize “nurse practitioner” and “registered nurse”; a search for “attorney” will capture “lawyer” and “general counsel” and “GC”; and a search for “finance executive” will find “CFO” and “Controller.” The systems are also smart enough not to count “executive assistant” when searching for an “executive.”
  1. Abbreviations are okay. It doesn’t matter if you insert periods or not, and you don’t need to write things out if they are common. For example, either “MBA” or “M.B.A.” is sufficient, without having to write out Masters in Business Administration.
  1. If a job description calls for expertise with a specific program, such as MS Word, list the specific program, not just MS Office. And remember to put it in your Experience, not just in a Skills list!


  1. You can use any font and style—bold, italics, shading, even white text. All will be read as text.
  1. You can submit your resume as a Word or PDF document. In a PDF, any information that is editable in a PDF editor will be read by an ATS system.
  1. Don’t use the columns feature. Period. Use tabs instead. And don’t use text boxes. They won’t be read.
  1. Tables are okay ONLY if they have only one row, and if the header and content are in the same column. Never use the format where you have your headers on the left and your content on the right. Here’s an example of an acceptable use of tables:


Biopharmaceuticals ◾ CMOs ◾ Market Analysis ◾ Contract Negotiation ◾ Business Process Creation ◾ Manufacturing Operations ◾ Logistics ◾ Lean Manufacturing ◾ ERP ◾ Process Automation ◾ Quality Control


Senior Tech Company Manager with 8 years’ experience in development, manufacture, informatics and licensing of biopharmaceutical equipment technology. Led transformation of small technology firm into mature business, negotiated licensing agreement with multinational ABC, and led due diligence during acquisition by $13B diversified industrial giant XYZ.

  1. Put your contact information in the main body of the document on the first page—not in a header! ATS systems do not read headers or footers. It’s advisable to repeat your contact information in a header on the second page, which will not confuse the ATS but will appear nicely if a human prints out and reads the original document.
  1. If you have credentials, it’s okay to put them after your name as long as you precede them with a comma. The comma clues the ATS in that your name is complete. So write “Brenda Bernstein, JD, CMRW,” not “Brenda Bernstein J.D., CMRW.” Same applies with suffixes like Jr., Sr., or III.
  1. Charts and graphs will be ignored. If you have information you want to convey, there’s nothing wrong with using a chart or graph as long as you also convey the same information in your bullets, which will be read.
  1. Use more space between major sections that you do between jobs. Be consistent! This will help the ATS figure out what’s what and know when to look for a new job or a new section.
  1. It’s okay to list company names, job titles, and dates in any order, as long as they are consistent.

Click here to see a sample of an ATS-compatible resume.


  1. Don’t combine several sections together. Use just one word or phrase in each header, and keep them standard: Profile or Summary; Experience or Work History; Education; and Certifications. If you want to insert continuing education courses under the Education section, that’s fine. A “Skills” section doesn’t have particular value but you can include one.
  1. Never omit the dates of your experience. The positions won’t be read or counted for anything.
  1. If you’ve held more than one position at a company, list the company name multiple times—once for each position. Otherwise the ATS won’t know how to read the information. One trick you can use is to put the company name in white text so it’s not visible; but if you do this, make sure to insert enough space before the white text that the ATS will know it’s a new position.
  1. As a general rule, unless specifically requested to do so, do NOT make the first page of your resume your cover letter. This advice seems not to hold true universally, however. I have a client who applied to a position through LinkedIn Easy Apply using this strategy, and she got a call for an interview the next day.
  1. If you have held many short-term jobs, combine them wherever possible. ATS systems are programmed to recognize job hoppers, and you don’t want to be one of them!

If you think all these tips will result in an awkward resume that doesn’t look the way you want it to, never fear! You can have two versions of your resume: one “presentation” version that you can hand out to people or email as an attachment to your network, and another version that you use to submit to online applicant systems.

If you apply my top 20 ATS system tips and find you’re getting better results from your online applications, please let me know!


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