How to Make Sure You Have an ATS Resume (The Complete Guide)


We’ll cover everything from what an ATS is and how to bypass them.

Not getting as many interview calls as you hoped for? It’s probably because you don’t have an ATS resume that follows the best professional writing practices. 

In this guide, you’ll learn how to ensure you have an ATS-friendly resume and what to avoid to get a higher response rate. 

Without further ado, let’s dive right in.

What Does ATS Mean for Resumes?

ATS stands for applicant tracking system. This is a resume scanner that’s used in the hiring process to identify qualified and unqualified candidates in seconds. Applicant tracking systems do this by checking your job application to see if you’ve included: 

  • Relevant keywords
  • Relevant work experience
  • Relevant qualifications

If you don’t meet the criteria that the ATS scans your resume for, you’ll be disqualified from the hiring process. So when we talk about creating an ATS-friendly resume, this means creating a resume that beats the applicant tracking system (ATS) which companies use to narrow down the list of candidates.

Hiring managers use applicant tracking systems to determine which candidates are worth interviewing. This helps with speeding up the recruitment process especially when a company receives hundreds of resumes. 

Feel free to also check out our guide on ways to beat the applicant tracking system here.

How to Make Sure Your Resume Is ATS-Friendly

Follow these steps to ensure you have an ATS-friendly resume:

  • Use resume keywords
  • Have a clean resume format
  • Use an ATS resume scanner
  • Create the right file type
  • Follow the job description instructions

1. Use Resume Keywords

Resume keywords are words or phrases that the ATS is looking for on your application. A resume with keywords shows that you match the company’s job description, which helps recruiters determine whether or not you’re qualified for the role. 

There are 2 ways to find resume keywords:

  1. Review the job description carefully and see what key skills and phrases are being brought up 
  2. Use a resume keyword scanner to find the keywords you need to mention

The difference between the two is that the latter only takes a few seconds. For example, our resume keyword scanner works like this:

  • Enter the job title you’re applying for
  • Copy and paste the company’s job description
  • Press “save job description”

You can also see how our keyword scanner works in the short clip below. 

  • AI Keyword Targeting Feature Video Here

Once you know what keywords you need to include, there’s a few ways you could place them on your resume naturally which we’ll go through below. 

Additional Resume Sections

Let’s say the job description includes keywords related to soft skills and leadership ability. 

You could include an additional resume section like side projects or extracurricular activities to showcase your leadership experience and strong communication skills by using words such as: 

  • Coached
  • Delegate
  • Mentored
  • Empathized
  • Prioritize

Describing Work Experience

When describing work experience, consider rephrasing a few resume bullet points using ATS keywords. 

Let’s say you’re applying for a retail customer service job position. The job description says that the ideal candidate is someone who’s experienced with:

  • Active listening
  • Conflict resolution
  • Handling complaints

In which case, a bullet point in the work experience section could be something like this:

Resolved customer complaints and conflicts in a professional manner to achieve a 98% satisfaction rate. Utilized active listening and problem-solving skills to address customer issues and find effective solutions while maintaining a positive attitude to represent the company's brand values.

Write Down Your Qualifications 

The title of your formal qualifications or certifications may include keywords from the job description. You could also add extra details via bullet points on what you minored in for the education section and the technical skills you learned for the certification section. 

Other similar sections include:

Resume Skills Section

Use the skills section to list the same skills mentioned in the job description. There’s a good chance that these are keywords that the company’s ATS is searching for. If you’re applying for a programming role, for example, it’s likely that keywords will include programming languages such as C++ and Python. 

2. Have a Clean Resume Format

An ATS resume format is sleek and professional. This means that the ATS should be able to easily scan through your application. We’ll share a few tips below to help you ensure that you have an ATS-friendly resume format. 

Use a Professional Resume Font

Our recommendation is Merriweather. It’s an elegant yet modern resume font that looks good for a job application. However, there are other serif and sans-serif options too such as Arial, Cambria, and Helvetica. 

Minimal Lines

Minimal resume designs are okay because it improves the readability of your application for a human reader. A well-organized resume with clear section headings and minimal designs won’t affect how the ATS systems parse your resume.

However, don’t rely on visual elements like bar charts or graphs to represent information as this won’t always be picked up on by the ATS.

Stick to Black, White, and Gray

We’re against using vibrant colors on a resume since a resume is supposed to be a professional document. 100% of the time, an ATS can read a resume that’s in black, white, and gray. 

3. Use an ATS Resume Scanner 

An ATS resume scanner (or checker) allows you to see if your resume is ATS-compliant. It shows you what your resume is missing and how it could be improved. Here’s a few examples of what it’ll identify: 

  • Content errors
  • Missing buzzwords
  • Bullet point errors

This is an effective way to know whether your resume follows the best practices. Having a resume that follows the best practices means that you’ve maximized your chances of securing a job interview. 

And it’s one of the reasons why job seekers love us because our content analysis feature gives you live feedback as you’re creating your resume so you can follow the best practices along the way. 

If you’d like to get access to all our resume tools for free, you can sign up here

Feel free to also watch the short clip below to see how our ATS resume scanner works. 

  • ATS Resume Checker video here

4. Create the Right File Type

Here are the most common file types to download your resume:

  • .PDF
  • .DOCX

If there are no specific instructions in the job description, use either the PDF or DOCX file format because these can be accessed normally across multiple devices. 

5. Follow the Job Description Instructions

Before submitting your resume, double-check that you’ve followed the instructions in the job description. 

Even if you’ve included a range of resume keywords, your application would still get rejected automatically since you didn’t follow the instructions. A classic example of this could be an instruction that tells you to submit your application via email with a specific subject line or to enter a certain answer for a provided field in an online application. 

What to Avoid to Get Past the Applicant Tracking System

The ATS is mainly on the lookout for resume keywords which often point out relevant skills, experience, and qualifications. But to scan those keywords, the resume must be in an appropriate format. 

With that in mind, here’s what to avoid to ensure you’re sending an ATS-compliant resume. 

Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is when you force as many keywords into your resume as possible. This reduces your chances of getting the role and leaves a negative impression. It’s obvious that your resume isn’t genuine because it’s built with the main purpose of matching the job description as opposed to showing that you’re a qualified candidate. 

Graphics and Charts 

Minimal graphic design elements are okay but not when you’re relying on them to present key information. It’s also not a good idea to use fancy formatting like decorative visual elements. 

The ATS won’t pick up on lines, bar charts, or graphs; this is used for improving the readability of your application for a human reader, not the ATS. 


True, colors can make your application stand out by making it look more visually appealing but it can cause issues with the ATS. 

The ATS often doesn’t read color properly, resulting in the resume being misinterpreted or not parsed correctly. And this can lead to certain parts of your resume being overlooked even if it does contain valuable information. 

Moreover, some ATSs are configured to filter out resumes with unusual formatting. This includes resumes with excessive color. So even if the ATS can read the color, it may still get flagged as a potential formatting issue and therefore rejected. 

Typos and Grammar Mistakes 

Small spelling and grammar mistakes can be all it takes for your application to get rejected. In most cases, you’ll be disqualified from the ATS. And even if you still somehow get past it, a minor mistake on your resume won’t leave a good impression on the hiring manager. 

Duplicate Applications

Hiring managers can see the number of applications you make to the company.

When a candidate sends the same resume to different roles in the same organization, the ATS may flag that candidate as a spammer. If it doesn’t lead to instant rejection, it still decreases your chances of being considered. If you’re interested in another role, tailor your resume to that position instead of using the same application. 

More Potential Reasons Your Resume Is Getting Rejected By the ATS

There are more mistakes on a resume that could lead to automatic disqualification. Here’s a few more reasons why you could be getting rejected: 

  • Poorly written resume: not emphasizing your skills and achievements could make you look like a less competent applicant. 
  • Unorganized resume structure: messy resume format that doesn’t flow well and is difficult to read through. 
  • Lack of qualifications: some job descriptions may strictly require a formal qualification. 
  • Lack of relevant skills and experience: not including specific skills and experience that hiring managers seek may lead to rejection.
  • Applying to the wrong job: applying for a role you’re not qualified for.
  • Applying too frequently: sending multiple applications to the same role within a short period of time.
  • Incomplete application: failing to complete all job description instructions. 

How to Create an ATS-Friendly Resume Step-by-Step

Using everything we’ve discussed, we’ll now go through how to write an ATS-friendly resume that gets you past the company’s applicant tracking system. 

Side note: feel free to also check out our library of free ATS resume examples or you can get inspiration from our breakdowns of some of our top ATS resumes here.

1. Review the Job Description to Find Keywords

First review the job description and take note of the job title as well as key skills and experience that the ideal candidate would have. This can usually be found in the following sections of a job description:

  • Job description overview
  • Day-to-day job responsibilities
  • Job requirements/what the company is looking for in candidates

To further tailor your resume, review the company’s website about page and social media profiles. Include relevant values and soft skills where applicable to help position yourself as a good fit for the company culture. 

Or Use Rezi to Target the Job Description For You

Instead of reviewing the job description yourself, let Rezi do the hard work for you. 

Feel free to follow the process below by signing up here for a free account or skip ahead to the next step. 

  • Select “create new resume” inside Rezi’s dashboard as shown below. 
Create a new resume
  • Complete the form provided. 
complete the form
  • Press the “target your resume” button. 
toggle target your resume button
  • Enter the job title you’re applying for, the company name, then copy and paste the company’s job description into the provided field.
enter details
  • Press save. 
  • Once you reach the “finish up” tab, you’ll have the list of keywords you need to include to optimize your resume for the ATS.
finish up tab

2. Use Keywords As You’re Describing Responsibilities

Use keywords naturally throughout the work experience section as you’re describing what you how you carried out a specific responsibility from a previous job. Not only does this match your application to the job description but it also demonstrates your knowledge by going into the specifics of the role.

Aside from the work experience section, use keywords in other sections too when describing relevant experience. 

Highlight Professional Achievements

Even if you’ve used a range of keywords, it’s not guaranteed that you’re going to get an interview offer. What employers ultimately want to see is how you’ve made an impact – and the best way to show this is by highlighting your accomplishments. 

Talking about the job responsibilities alone isn’t enough to show you’re the most competent candidate out there since this is something anyone could do. 

Your accomplishments say a lot more about your level of skills than simply saying you’re skilled at X, Y, and Z. Therefore, showcasing quantifiable achievements gives recruiters more confidence in your ability. 

As you’re writing about professional achievements, use keywords where applicable. 

3. Consider Additional Resume Sections Where You Can Highlight Relevant Skills and Experience

Include additional resume sections that showcase relevant skills and experience. 

Here’s a few examples of other sections that you could add to your resume to add more details related to the job description: 

  • Awards
  • Certifications and licenses
  • Involvement
  • Languages
  • Projects

4. Double-Check for Formatting and Content Errors

Double-check your resume for any missing keywords and spelling mistakes. Review the format of your resume ensuring that the appearance is still the same once downloaded to your laptop or computer. 

Once you’ve followed the job description instructions and you’re happy with everything, submit your application. 

5. Use an AI Resume Writer for Help

If you’re struggling to write bullet points, use Rezi’s AI resume writer for help. It’s trained to generate sentences based on the best resume writing practices so that you can impress the hiring manager. 

You can tweak or edit each sentence generated from our AI resume writer to ensure that it includes keywords from the job description. 

But the best part about it is that it speeds up the process of writing a tailored application.

Here’s how it works when creating a resume with Rezi:

  • Enter your job title/role
  • Press “generate bullet”
  • Either press “AI writer generate” to rewrite the bullet point or if you’re happy with the result, click “apply suggestion” to add the sentence to your resume. 

You can also watch the short clip below to see how this works. 

Free ATS Resume Templates  

We’ll showcase a few of our own ATS resume templates below. Each of these have a different design but are all optimized to get past the resume scanners. 

Standard Resume Template

standard resume template

Modern Resume Template

Modern resume template

Bold Resume Template

bold resume template

Key Takeaways

Whenever you’re looking for a new career opportunity, it’s likely that the company is using an ATS to narrow down the list of applicants and determine who’s worth interviewing. And that’s why an ATS resume is essential. 

The downside is that creating a tailored resume takes time. It’s also frustrating when it feels like your efforts in creating a tailored resume have come to naught. To counteract this, some of the tools we’ve discussed will help you speed up and ease the process: 

  • AI resume writer
  • ATS resume checker
  • Keyword scanner

For your ongoing job search now or in the future, always remember to tailor your resume to the company’s job description so that you increase your chances of securing an interview. 

Rezi is an ai resume builder to help you to create a resume that os sure to check the boxes when it comes to applicant tracking systems : Rezi Review by Ashley

Astley Cervania

Astley Cervania is a career writer and editor who has helped hundreds of thousands of job seekers build resumes and cover letters that land interviews. He is a Rezi-acknowledged expert in the field of career advice and has been delivering job success insights for 4+ years, helping readers translate their work background into a compelling job application.

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