One of the most annoying parts of applying to jobs online is having to tediously, manually copy and paste your resume every single time you apply! However, we conducted an experiment to identify what helps applicant tracking systems automatically read, copy, and paste everything from your resume correctly. In this blog, I’ll break down the exact format that your ATS-compatible resume needs to be in so that it gets copied automatically.
By the way, if you’re working on your resume and want to know exactly how to visually lay out your resume so that it’s compatible with applicant tracking systems, download my two-page, annotated, ATS-optimized resume cheat sheet here:
Our Applicant Tracking System Experiment
An ATS is a tool that recruiters use to weed out candidates that don’t match their job description. The average ATS scans a resume for “keywords,” like job titles, hard skills, and educational background. In some cases, the employer enters a search phrase into the ATS it returns a list of shortlisted candidates. In other cases, the ATS automatically sorts through top applicants based on the job description.
To understand what stops your resume from being copied and pasted automatically, we conducted an ATS experiment to see:
- Which ATS are used most commonly and how they like to “read” resumes
- Where ATS “break” and can’t read the information in your resume
- What impact wording choices have on your ATS compatibility
- Which formatting choices impact automatic copying and pasting
Which ATS are most common?
The first step of our experiment was to find out which ATS are most commonly used and how they like to “read” resumes.
We surveyed our 3000+ recruiter friends and looked at ATS of leading companies. Here is what we found to be most commonly used:
- BambooHR: CRBR, Lucid, Hope for Haiti, ISTS
- Bullhorn: TSI Incorporated, Computer Design, and Integration, Confidential Records, Adecco Group, lots of IT recruiters
- Freshteam: Chargebee, SAP, Red Acre, DSP, Ocado, Gogoprint
- Greenhouse: Airbnb, Venmo, Squarespace, Taco Bell, Roku, Instacart, Pinterest, Fitbit, Major League Baseball, Quirky, Buzzfeed, HubSpot, TripAdvisor
- IBM Kenexa BrassRing: CVS Health, Ford Motors
- iCIMS: Uber, Cannon, Dollar General, 7 Eleven, American Heart Association
- In-House ATS: Google, Apple, Amazon, most 3rd party recruiters (This surprised us!)
- Lever: Netflix, KPMG, Coupa, Talend
- Oracle Taleo: Tesla, Starbucks, Nike, Kaiser Permanente, Johnson & Johnson, U.S. Bank, Berkshire Hathaway, UnitedHealth Group, AT&T, AmerisourceBergen, General Motors, Costco Wholesale
- SuccessFactors Recruiting: Exxon Mobil
- Workable: Navarro, Eurobank, IQPC
- Workday: Target, AT&T, Bank of America, Comcast, Abbott, McKesson, Shake Shack, Snapchat, Walmart.
- ZohoRecruit: Deloitte, Pwc, Bosch, Saint Gobain, Yokohama, Allianz
If you’re curious about which ATS is going to be reading your ATS-compatible resume, check the destination URL where you're applying. This URL will sometimes have the ATS name. In some cases, the job application page will have the ATS logo.
The next step of our experiment involved applying to jobs at these companies. We used different wording and formatting combinations and to see how ATS parsing worked.
In other words, we wanted to see what fields would get auto-filled and which ones we would have to write out manually. Here is what we found:
Abbreviations seem to trip up some ATS, even for ATS-compatible resumes
Some ATS like Greenhouse, Bullhorn, and iCIMS, don’t recognize degree, certification, or training abbreviations, like MSc, PMP, or SHRM. This text may most probably be not picked up by the ATS. This may even cause the ATS to say that you're not educated enough for the job! In these cases, you may get automatically rejected if the required skill or degree is a must-have for the position you are applying to. It is always recommended to add full forms of any tools, certifications, degrees, and training along with the abbreviations.
Similarly, any industry- or company-specific abbreviation that you introduce should be spelled out. You can include the abbreviation or acronym in parenthesis when you first introduce it in the ATS-compatible resume.
Additionally, all job titles should be completely spelled out. An ATS may not be able to pick up what you mean if you write out your job title like Sr. Ops Exec. Spell it out: Senior Operations Executive.
Lastly, for company names, make sure to add complete names, including abbreviations: Inc., Co., LTD, and LLC. For example, LorryTravellers. LLC may not be recognized by the ATS if written as LorryTravellers only.
Date format for ATS-optimized resumes
Most ATS incorrectly parse employment dates if only the year of employment is mentioned. In such cases, the ATS may also automatically (and incorrectly) assign a start date.
The universally accepted format for dates is MM/YYYY. However, there are different variations of this format that are acceptable based on the experiment we carried out. Some of these include:
- (12/2002 – 5/2016)
- (12/2002) – Present
- March 2020 – April 2021
- 12/2002 – 15/2006 (Top recommended due to high acceptability rate)
- Some ATS, like Bullhorn, may ask for complete job tenures, including DD/MM/YYYY, in the autofill forms
Almost all graphics break your resume in ATS
A few different things will “break” your resume when uploaded online:
- Adding spacing between letters like so: F A T E M A H M I R Z A. It looks cool, but doesn’t get picked up.
- Multiple columns
One way you can assess your resume’s format to make sure it’s completely legible and simple is copying the entire thing into a notepad file on your computer. If you don’t have the notepad app on your computer, try pasting your ATS-compatible resume into OnlineTextEditor.com.
Compare your resume closely with the plain text version. Check for any bad formatting, such as headings or skills that seem misplaced. This method will also help you pick up unusual spacing between words or sentences, as well as characters that aren’t being captured properly.
Minimizing the use of graphics on your resume also helps ensure that the file size stays small. Some ATS like Greenhouse and Google’s in-house ATS can’t accept files that are larger than 2MB. Using only black text on a simply formatted ATS-compatible resume will help ensure that your resume doesn’t get rejected for being too large.
.doc is best for ATS-compatible resumes
While Word saves your documents as .docx files by default, we found that .doc files are the most ATS-compatible. This file extension is accessible across all versions of Microsoft Word. So even if your reader has an older system, they won’t have any issues reading your resume.
You should also label your resume file appropriately. Make sure the file name includes the job title you’re applying against. This will help recruiters find your resume later if they’re in a rush and lose it.
Here’s a sample file name: Fatemah Mirza, Marketing Director Resume
Hyperlinks should be avoided in ATS-compatible resumes
Adding hyperlinks to work you’ve published or written is typically common practice. However, when parsing data, some ATS display the URL and drop the words you have linked it with. This is done to protect the reader of your resume from malware.
Therefore, if you’d like to include a link, preface the link like so: LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/careertuners
The tips above apply to almost all ATS-compatible resumes.
However, if you’re a career changer, you may be using a resume format that isn’t strictly “traditional.” In the following two points, I talk about two resume rules you may be bending in order to showcase your experience most strategically. I also weigh the pros and cons of using each method.
ATS doesn’t like job titles in parentheses
If you’ve read my some of my blogs on changing careers, you’ll see that I advocate for using more transparent job titles when you’re changing jobs, like so:
Operations Manager (Quality Control Duties), CareerTuners, 2010 – Present
Operations Manager (Quality Control Manager Equivalent), CareerTuners, 2010 - Present
However, in these cases, we’ve found that ATS like Greenhouse, Workable, and Bullhorn won’t recognize
the titles in parentheses or even if you separate them out with commas, dashes, and slashes. They will recognize the first title only.
If you’re changing careers and conveying an alternate job title is critical for your candidacy, you will need to type out your alternative title to ensure your ATS-compatible resume doesn’t automatically get parsed out.
Moreover, when auto-filling applications, some ATS take your latest job title as your headline. If your most recent job title doesn’t do a good job of representing your candidate brand, you may need to tweak this section as well. Here’s how this looks in Workable, as an example:
“Standard” resume headings make your resume ATS compatible
You may be tempted to use unique section headings to make work experience or skills stand out. For example, rather than calling it your “Professional Experience,” you may divide your experience into a “Consulting Experience” and a “Non-Profit Sector Experience” section. While this will help readers understand your history if you're a career changer, you may find yourself manually copying and pasting more than if you stick to “standard” resume headings, like Work Experience, Education, Skills, Summary, etc.
At the end of the day, you will need to weigh if your non-traditional resume layout is critical to your job search success. If it is, manually copying and pasting cannot be avoided.
If you’re currently in the middle of a transition and are struggling to come up with a resume layout that conveys your story best, check out my salary-doubling resume cheat sheet here, in which I break down exactly how to talk about your accomplishments, where your best keywords need to go, and the format that’s optimized for the most applicant tracking systems:
Looking for something else?
- 4 Ways To Make An ATS-Compatible Resume
- No Notable Accomplishments in Your Resume? Here’s How To Write Them.
- Get a Promotion by Emphasizing Your Volunteer Experience in Your Resume
Want us to redo your resume for you? Schedule a one-on-one consultation with us using this link. We'll show you exactly how you need to change your resume to get more interviews.