15 Essential Tips to Make an ATS-Compliant Resume

Are you frustrated because your resume is gaining little traction with recruiters? Maybe you forgot to click “Submit” on the job application page!

I’m joking. That’s rarely the problem. While clicking “Submit” is an important step, it’s more likely that you haven’t created an ATS-compliant resume, and your 2021 resume format stinks (yes, even you, Fancy-pants, with your swooshy .pdf). Let me explain.

Why boring beats fancy when it comes to ATS-compliant resumes.

You may have seen someone’s unique, graphical resume and thought, “Wow! That’s eye-catching!” Unfortunately, the AI-based resume robot is unimpressed. In fact, each time an applicant tracking system (ATS) receives the resume with the catchy format, it probably shuffles it into the discard pile! I mean, would you know what to do if someone sent you a document written in Xhosa? It’s like that.

More than 40% of all North American companies and 98% of Fortune 500s use ATS to parse resumes before they ever get to a recruiter. In theory, this has enabled overburdened recruiters and hiring managers to optimize their workload while presenting the highest-quality candidates. In practice, the jury is out. Regardless, ATS scanners are not going anywhere anytime soon, so you better learn to appeal to their good graces.

How to “delight” humans and robots with a powerful resume.

Creating an ATS-compliant resume is easy, I promise. All you have to do is use a well-designed template and include content that works for both robots and human beings.

10 indispensable tips for writing an ATS-compliant resume:

  • Steer clear of fancy formats designed in Photoshop and use a basic Word document instead.
  • Create a document with a lot of white space that is easy to read.
  • Keep it tidy: Use an uncomplicated layout and consistent font.
  • Put your name, address (city and state are fine), email address, and phone number at the top of the resume followed by a title that mimics the job description you’re applying for.
    • Recruiters hire for many different jobs; this step helps minimize confusion for both ATS and humans.
  • Review the job description and then write a 3 – 4-sentence summary demonstrating the appropriate skills / traits you’re bringing to the table.
  • Include a Key Skills section populated with the skills requested in the job description.
  • Include a “Professional Experience” section in chronological order that demonstrates how you used your Key Skills. Include quantifiable achievements and what you did to get them if you can!
    • Don’t use a functional format that defines your activities up-front and then lists your jobs later because ATS scanners can’t corroborate it, and recruiters want to understand how you applied your skills at work.
  • Incorporate your education, training, certifications, professional affiliations, and relevant community leadership.
  • Omit articles (a, the) and pronouns (I, we).
  • Write current roles in the present tense and past roles in the past tense.

5 formatting mistakes to avoid in your 2021 resume format:

  • Have spelling and grammar errors.
  • Include jargon; if you’re going to use acronyms, write them out the first time they appear in the document and include the acronym in parenthesis [i.e., Year-over-year (YOY)].
  • Include photos, graphics, and personal details (there are a few exceptions to this, such as when you’re applying in The Middle East and some parts of Asia; NEVER are these items required in North America).
  • Change fonts and sizes inconsistently throughout the document.
  • Include an objective statement (we already know you want to get a job – these are a waste of space!).

Here’s an example of a well-written resume (if I do say so myself!):

Kyla Duffy Career Coach Resume p1
Kyla Duffy Career Coach Resume p2
2021 Resume Format

One last vital piece of advice about ATS scanners and your 2021 resume format.

Each ATS is unique. Companies configure their ATS to meet their needs, so you can never write one resume that will pass them all.

Many resume-writing services rope you in by providing you with a “frightening” free ATS report telling you how much your current resume sucks. But, as I just explained, they can’t possibly know that for sure!

They’re probably right – your resume sucks – but not for the reason you think.

True, your resume is likely sub-optimal; most people’s are. But, it’s also true that their scanner is general and not optimized for the job description you’re applying for. So, while they’re right that your resume could use some work, their scan is just a gimmick to scare you into purchasing their service.

I cover how to optimize your content for any ATS here.

What’s the quickest way to get a high-quality resume template?

Buy my book! It’s inexpensive, chock-full of helpful advice, and comes with free templates!


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