Monday, 27 January 2014

Guest Author Hank Boyer on "Optimizing Your Résumé for an ATS"

The following best practices should be observed when applying for a specific position online.  It is probable that your résumé will be filtered through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS).  

As a result, simply using your formatted, beautifully laid out résumé will most often result in the system not reading your resume correctly or completely, reducing your chances of being selected as a candidate for an interview. 
Create an ATS-friendly version of your résumé: 

1.      Font. Use only a sans serif font: Arial, Verdana, Calibri, Tahoma.
a.      No script, bolding, or special characters beyond *, - , +, =, |, and /. 
b.      Use only 11 or 12 point font.

2.      Format. Create the document in a plaintext format.  ATSs cannot read formatting so avoid the use of any formatting, including tabs, special characters, tables, graphics, objects, hyperlinks, borders, and the like.  Remove all formatting (check your word processing program’s help function for how to do this).
a.      Copy and save it in a notepad or other .txt file.
b.      It may not be appealing to the eye, but it is appealing to an ATS.

3.      Standards. ATS general length and width standards:
a.      Length. ATS résumés are not limited in length.
b.      Width. Lines must be limited to 60 characters in length. This will require you to shorten many lines, which will add length to the document.
c.       Because there is no length limitation, ensure you embed every keyword and key phrase possible to increase the chances of the résumé matching the ATS search criteria.  Multiple uses of keywords are a plus.

4.      PDFs. Most ATSs cannot accurately read a PDF.  It is better to input the .txt version of your résumé than attach a PDF and hope it gets through the ATS.  Conversely, if you are communicating via email, you should only send a PDF version of your résumé rather than a plain text or Word document.

5.      Acronyms. Avoid acronyms unless you have identified them as keywords in the employer’s posting.  Many ATSs do not recognize acronyms unless the employer has entered them as search criteria.

6.      Header and Footer. Remove any information from the header or footer as many ATS systems cannot read them.  Instead, follow the advice in item 10 below for section topical headings.

7.      Separators. Use the equals and minus signs to create section separators ======  ----------.

8.      Sections. ATSs are quite specific about the content sections.  The order of sections is not important to an ATS, but the sections and their content is important. Creative section titles (and their subsequent content) may otherwise get misinterpreted, so utilize these standard sections, using CAPITAL LETTERS to make them stand out:
                                   i.      Use a standard format to list each employer with the employer name on line 1, its location on line 2, the dates on line 3, and the position on line 4, then list the duties/accomplishments keeping to a 60-character line length and a ** instead of a bullet point.  
                                 ii.      In the event of multiple positions with the same employer, repeat the above format and redundant duties if applicable.
c.       EDUCATION
                                   i.      Use a standard format to list your education with the degree on line 1, the school on line 2, the school’s location on line 3, and the dates on line 4, with a list of honors, accomplishments, activities listed keeping to a 60-character line length and a ** instead of a bullet point.  
d.      SKILLS
e.      VOLUNTEER ACTIVITES – follow same standard format as EXPERIENCE
f.        HONORS (or AWARDS)
g.      PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS (if applicable)
h.      PUBLICATIONS (if applicable)
i.        PATENTS (if applicable)

9.      Do not combine sections (e.g. Experience and Volunteer Activities)

10.     Use blank lines to create section separation.

11.     Be consistent in your standard layout

12.     Don’t use embedded hyperlinks. Embedded hyperlinks will not work in this type of format, although the characters can be copied and pasted into a web browser and should work.

This article originally appeared in the 4th edition of The Graduate Employment Preparedness Assessment Development Guide (, copyright ©2013 by Boyer Management Group.


Guest Author: Hank Boyer.  Hank is CEO of Boyer Management Group (BMG), a values-based consulting firm that works with universities, employers and job seekers alike to help them become more successful.  For job seekers and universities, BMG the world’s first two assessments to measure someone’s knowledge and awareness of current and emerging job search best practices, along with the educational programs to support higher ed curriculum, career coaches and individual job seekers.  For employers, BMG offers world-class talent assessment, acquisition onboarding, and training tools and programs.  To find out more, please visit

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