You may remember sitting in your high school English class wondering when any of it was going to be useful. And while the meaning of the color green in The Great Gatsby or how to write an essay might not be a common part of your day, one of the most important concepts you likely learned was how to write for your audience. You knew what your teacher wanted, and so that's what you wrote. Everything you write now is precisely the same concept. Emails should line up with the recipient's expectations and understanding of the content. Corporate social media posts should present what you need to say in a way that the public cares about. And if you're looking for a job, its important to understand that even your resume has an audience. But that audience may not be a human, at least not initially.
When people look for a job, they often apply for every position that may be a fit. And why not, one can only glean so much from a job posting. Its often during the interview process where a candidate is able to really get a sense for the job and the company culture. The result is that an average of 89 people apply for each posted job, and it's even higher for entry-level jobs. That's a lot of resumes to sort through. Enter the audience you are writing your resume for, the Applicant Tracking System, or ATS.
Applicant Tracking Systems are ubiquitous in the world of staffing and recruiting. There's no getting around it. When you submit your resume for a position, the first "employee" of the company to review it is their ATS. The ATS software parses your resumes content, creates a record of you in their database, and maps your data to the proper fields within that record. Well, the ATS maps your data to the proper fields as long as it recognizes each piece of data and understands which field it goes in. Which gets us back to your high school English class and writing for your audience.
If an ATS is not able to read your resume properly, chances are you will be at a huge disadvantage. Your record in the company database will have data in the wrong fields and some of the fields may even be left blank. That's obviously not a good situation, especially with so many candidates applying for each position. Recruiters aren't going to spend the time to sort out the mess your fancy resume has caused. They'll likely just move on to the next candidate. So with that in mind, how do you write for an ATS?
Here are the 9 MUST follow rules.
- Name, address, and contact information at the top where the ATS expects to see it.
- Black or dark gray font. Absolutely no colors, ever.
- Clear, commonly used section titles. Skills, Work Experience, Education, etc.
- No graphics.
- No frames.
- No boxes.
- Lines are okay to break up sections. But keep them thin and horizontal.
- No content in the margins. Assume your resume will be scanned top to bottom.
- Include keywords that appear in the job posting in your resume
To put it simply, always go with the simplest choice when formatting your resume. And remember that your resume format will NEVER land you an interview, but an overly formatted resume can easily cost you one. The ATS is the audience you are writing for and if this audience can't understand what you've written, you've likely cost yourself a chance at landing that perfect job.