How To Give The ATS A 1, 2 Punch

How to Give the ATS a 1, 2 PunchJob seekers’ least favorite activity has to be a toss-up between networking and submitting resumes online. This is not the result of a proper survey, but as a Certified Advanced Resume Writer (CARW). The vast majority of concerns I encounter from the public and clients have to do with these two subjects.

People want to learn how to format their resumes properly for Applicant Tracking System technology (ATS), since it’s here to stay, but knowing how can be confusing. They also know they need to be networking, but wonder how to do it. What they are surprised to find out is that by mastering both, they can give the ATS a solid 1, 2 punch.

You might be wondering what they have to do with each other. I’ll explain a technique in this post that could transform you job search. It requires a mindset shift – from applying with as many places as possible, to being more selective and allowing yourself more time to work with your network. But, it pays off by getting you more interviews, and into your ideal job faster.

Exactly how are the two connected? I’ll answer this with a short story. I have a client in IT (we’ll say his name is Sheldon). He had been out of work for about a year, and was feeling discouraged. Although he loved his new resume, he was apprehensive about applying because of his employment status.

During a job search coaching session, he revealed that one of his ideal companies was where an old friend of mine worked (we’ll say his name is Eugene). I said I’d put in a call to Eugene to get some feedback on where Sheldon might apply, whether it was with his company or not.

After having a casual conversation with Eugene, discussing the company culture, Sheldon’s talents, and Eugene’s needs, Eugene said he’d like to give my client’s resume to a manager in another department. The manager quickly emailed Eugene and told him to have Sheldon apply online as a formality, but that he’d be setting up an interview with Sheldon soon.

Luckily, we had his ATS-formatted resume ready for uploading onto the website. He interviewed later that week, had a second interview, and was hired. See how the combination of networking and knowing about ATS technology gave Sheldon the 1, 2 punch he needed to get the job?

I’ve written more about conducting informational (or networking) interviews in this blog post. While you master these conversations, you can also be working on formatting your resume properly for the ATS.

Since my last post on ATS resumes, things have changed a bit; technology is always evolving. Here are instructions for the most current software compliance:

  1. Open the file in Microsoft Word. “Save As” in the “Text Only” (.txt) format. Rename the file (recommended format: FirstNameLastNameJobTitle.txt).
  2. Close the Microsoft Word window. Then open the new .txt file in Word.
  3. Fix any obvious formatting issues; some bullets and symbols come out as odd characters in this process. You’ll want to replace them with characters are recognized by most ATSs.
  4. Use simple bullets (•) or keyboard characters (*, -, or >). Do not use dingbats or other special characters, as these will not be read properly by the ATS.
  5. List your contact information at the top of the document, with each piece of information on a new line. Label the phone number with “Phone:” and email address with “Email:” so that the system can properly categorize the information.
  6. Create section headings (if they did not previously exist in the résumé). These can include “Summary,” “Work Experience,” and “Education.” IMPORTANT: only use one heading per section (do not combine “Education and Training,” for example), and include an extra return (an extra line) between sections.
  7. Select all of the text and choose a more appealing font than Courier. (Suggested fonts are Arial, Georgia, Tahoma, or Verdana.)
  8. “Save As” as a .doc. (Under the “File” menu, chose Make sure you choose “Word Document” under the “Format” option.)

Since the resume will ultimately be read by a human, once the system selects you as a viable candidate, it must also be visually appealing. Here are a couple more ways you can make a seemingly bland document more interesting.

Use the = sign to offset sections, as I’ve done below:

Use the = sign to offset sections and highlight contact information without sacrificing readability

Highlight resume categories by using all capital letters and putting —- lines above and below the text.

Highlight resume categories by using all capital letters and putting lines around important sections.

Keeping up with this technology is a huge priority for me in serving my clients well. I’ve put together many more tips in my eBook “Target Your Resume to Win Over the ATS.” Subscribe to my blog and get upcoming articles on these important topics emailed right to your inbox. I hope the information helps you to give the ATS a 1, 2 punch, just like it did for Sheldon!

Kristin S. Johnson
CARW, CCMC, CJSS, COPNS, CG3C, 360Reach Analyst
Profession Direction, LLC

7 Responses to “How To Give The ATS A 1, 2 Punch”

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  1. Ulysses Stokes Jr. says:

    Thank you for this article.

    Would you be willing to email me a copy of an ATS resume? I would like to use it a template and compare it to mine. This type of resume is good to apply for major companies such as New York Transit or Prudential, but not for smaller businesses where you can include an attached resume in your job profile.

    I appreciate your assistance and answers.

    Thank you.

  2. Kristin, thanks so much for this information. This is the one area where I feel I am the weakest. Fortunately, in the last few workshops I’ve done and the question has come up regarding formatting to get past the ATS, others in the class have addressed the issue. Now, I have something concrete to lean on and will begin using it with my clients. I will definitely have to check out your eBook.

    Your detailed instructions are greatly appreciated.

    Wanda J


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