Adela Belin

Resume WritingMarch, 26 2023

How to Optimize Resumes for ATS?

Adela BelinContent strategist and writer
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Technology has revolutionized how companies advertise jobs, shortlist, and recruit candidates. One of the most outstanding technologies in human resource management is the applicant tracking system (ATS).


Employers no longer waste a lot of time and energy parsing through thousands of resumes to identify suitable candidates for a job position. If you’re a competent resume writer, you should know how an ATS works and how to optimize your clients’ resumes to pass this scanning stage.

In this article, we’ll help you understand how ATS works and give you some actionable tips on how to optimize your resume for ATS.

What is ATS and how does it impact resumes?

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are software employers use to quickly scan through many resumes and identify candidates who match the job requirements.

Companies often receive hundreds of applications for a single job posting, so an ATS allows them to review each resume efficiently. With an ATS in place, recruiters save time by easily eliminating applicants who don't meet their criteria. That's why it's crucial for resume writers to optimize clients’ resumes for them to pass the ATS test.

If you don’t optimize resumes, your clients may miss out on the opportunity to defend themselves before the hiring manager. A well-written resume should always make it past an applicant tracking system and into human hands!

How do you optimize resumes for ATS?

Optimizing resumes gives your clients a higher chance of being shortlisted for interviews. Here are some tips to help you optimize your candidates’ resumes to help them land their dream jobs.

1. Include a resume summary

The first way to optimize a resume for ATS is to include an attention-grabbing summary at the top. The summary should be a short, concise overview of the candidate's qualifications and experience.

Write the resume summary in plain language that the ATS can easily recognize. The summary should also contain keywords from the job description.

2. Use job-related keywords

Secondly, use relevant keywords from the job description in the resume. Keywords are terms associated with a specific job or industry. By including relevant keywords, you increase the chances that the resume will be selected by an ATS.

When selecting keywords, look for skills, experience, and qualifications mentioned in the job description and reflect them in the candidate’s resume.

3. Tailor to match the job description

Ensure the content of the resume matches the requirements of the position. To do this, always review the job description carefully before writing the resume and tailor it accordingly.

Highlight the candidate’s experiences and skills that match those required for the position. This will help the ATS recognize similarities between the resume and the job description and give it a pass.

Though this part may be tricky when the candidate is changing careers, there are still clever ways to tailor a resume for career change to the advantage of the candidate.

4. Use scannable formatting

How you format a resume also determines whether it will go past the ATS into human hands. Try to make it easy for an ATS to scan the resume by using a clean and organized format.

Avoid formats that may prevent the software from scanning the resume, such as tables, text boxes, headers, footers, hyperlinks, and fancy fonts.

Also, use descriptive headings, bullet points, and short paragraphs instead of long blocks of text. Ensure the formatting is consistent throughout the resume to increase the chances of being read by the software.

5. Avoid visuals

Another way to optimize a resume for ATS is to avoid visuals. Most ATS software cannot read or recognize visuals like images, graphs, charts, and logos.

To increase the chances that your resume will be read and selected, avoid them altogether.

6. Avoid abbreviations

Avoid abbreviations unless they are in the job description. The ATS may have trouble parsing abbreviations, which could lead to your candidate's resume being rejected.

However, if the job posting includes abbreviations (e.g., BSc. in Nursing), then it's safe to assume that the ATS will be able to recognize them in the resume.

7. Use relevant section heads

When writing, use standard section headers to partition the resume. For instance, “education,” “work experience,” and “certifications.” The ATS is always looking for specific information in specific places on the resume.

If you use unconventional section headers, the ATS may have difficulty parsing the information correctly. For instance, if you use "Relevant Experience" instead of "Work Experience," the ATS may not realize that this section contains information about previous jobs.

8. Write out months and years

Write months and years in full to make them readable. The ATS may have trouble reading abbreviated months (e.g., Jan) or years (e.g., 19). This could lead to your candidate's resume being rejected. To play it safe, always write out the month and the year in full (e.g., January 2019).

9. Proofread thoroughly

Proofread the resume multiple times to eliminate typos and grammatical errors (the ATS may miss an important point). Typos and grammatical errors are red flags for recruiters, so it's important to ensure your candidate's resume is error-free before submitting it.

Plus, the ATS may miss an important point due to typos. Proofread the resume multiple times and then have someone else proofread it to catch resume writing errors you may have missed.

10. Submit the right format

Finally, be aware that ATS does not easily read some resume formats. For instance, some applicant tracking systems cannot read PDF resumes.

This means your candidate's resume could get lost in the shuffle. To play it safe, always submit resumes in .doc or .docx format instead of PDFs.


Optimizing your clients' resumes for ATS is a necessary step in their job search process. As the resume writer, your clients will appreciate the effort of getting them past the ‘robot HR’ and to the ‘human HR’.

If you’ve been wondering why your candidates aren’t landing jobs, let alone being shortlisted, maybe you haven’t thought about this part of resume writing.

But now that you know how to optimize your resume for ATS, make an effort to implement these tips in the future. They will increase your clients’ chances of landing their dream jobs and will, ultimately, boost your resume-writing business.

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