How To Write an Applicant Tracking System-Friendly Resume

The best way to ensure your resume performs well on applicant tracking systems (ATS) is by using plenty of relevant keywords. Below you’ll find tips on keyword-optimizing your resume so it gets past ATS and helps land your next job.

  • Entry-level
  • Mid-career
  • Senior-level
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1. Briefly summarize your applicant tracking system-friendly qualifications

In a brief paragraph or bullet list at the top of your resume, give the three to five main reasons you can excel in your target job. By showing your top qualifications in this way, you can capture keywords central to your target job (and, therefore, score high on ATS). Say you’re after a client-facing role. By describing yourself as “service-oriented” or “client-focused” in your profile, you can position yourself effectively. This signals to ATS that your resume should get past the first round of screening. (Note most job seekers find it easier to write their profile last.)

Entry-Level Profile Example


  • Recent internship experience supporting editorial operations of a popular magazine
  • Completing Bachelor’s Degree in English and Creative Writing from Ohio University
  • Co-curricular activities include helping write and publish the university’s main campus newspaper
  • Committed to continually gaining and applying new skills
  • Bilingual: Fluent in English and Spanish

Mid-Career Profile Example


Host with eight years of experience in popular bars and restaurants. Skilled at managing customer databases, arranging for large parties, and answering calls and emails. Combine strong organizational skills with a friendly service style. Calm, professional, and focused on finding solutions in high-pressure work environments. Bilingual: Fluent in English and Spanish.

2. Outline your applicant tracking system-friendly experience in a compelling list

For each job in your recent work history, brainstorm your duties and achievements on a separate document or sheet of paper. Then, identify and copy the most relevant details into your experience section. You can do this by reviewing your notes one by one, always addressing the same question: Does this overlap with the kind of work you’d like to do in your next job? If yes, copy it in. If not, leave it out.

This simple, intuitive process is the main way to get your resume past ATS scans. It helps you generate plenty of keyword-rich details about your experience. But it also forces you to omit irrelevant details that would cause your resume to score lower.

To go one step further, read up on your target job and then repeat this process. Refer to sources such as online job postings, company “about us” pages, or official job descriptions like the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook. These sources can enrich your understanding of the role you’re after and help you brainstorm more details about your experience in relation to that role.

Mid-Career Professional Experience Example


Host, The Galley Restaurant, Rochester, NY | March 2016 to January 2023

[Popular, award-winning seafood restaurant with 40 tables]

  • Maintained warm and professional manner interacting with guests by phone and in person
  • Sat 130+ diners per night in 3 separate seatings while upholding restaurant’s high service standards
  • Reconciled cash in tills at end of each shift

Highlight:

  • Member of team that drove a 15% increase in customer satisfaction on monthly surveys, earning special recognition from corporate in 2019

Senior-Level Professional Experience Example


Chief Operating Officer (COO), YCW Corp., San Diego, CA | October 2017 to Present

  • Guided a cost reduction initiative that raised the company’s bottom line by $700K in 6 months
  • Built productive partnerships with senior leaders of five major departments
  • Drove five successful change initiatives to create a more inventive and collaborative work culture

3. Add applicant tracking system-friendly education and certifications

View the education and certifications sections as another chance to add relevant keywords to your resume, particularly ones you couldn’t include in your experience section. For each degree you’ve earned, consider noting your major, minor, coursework, or school activities if they relate to your target job. Similarly, you could give a brief description of any relevant but lesser-known training or certificate programs you’ve done. This strategy can be especially helpful if you’re changing careers or have limited work experience.

Below are templates and examples to help you format your education and certification details. Note optional template areas appear in [brackets].

Education

Template

  • Degree Name — [Major, Minor], School Name, City, ST or online | [Year]
  • [Academic Awards or Honors]

Example

  • Candidate: Bachelor of Arts (BA) – English, Creative Writing, Ohio University, Athens, OH | expected May 2023
  • Winner, Campus Award for Long-Form Fiction (2022)

Certifications

Template

  • Certification Name or Title, [Awarding Organization] | [Year]
  • [Description]

Example

  • Certified Guest Service Professional, American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute

4. List your applicant tracking system-related skills and proficiencies

Adding a key skills (or expertise) section is a quick way to make your resume more keyword-rich and effective on ATS. This section can cover your general soft skills, hard skills, or technical programs you’re versed in. Focus on words and phrases that relate in some way to your target job. Below are some common skills to consider for this section:

Key Skills and Proficiencies
Business needs assessment Client satisfaction and retention
Complex problem-solving Cost reduction and elimination
Cross-team collaboration Efficiency improvement
Inventory management Lean manufacturing
Market strategy development Microsoft Office Suite
Process streamlining Project and program management
Quality assurance Reporting and documentation
Revenue and profit growth Risk management and mitigation
Staff training and development Stakeholder relations
Strategic business development Talent hiring and retention
Task prioritization Team leadership and motivation
Time management Vendor contract negotiations

NOTE: As the above list indicates, only use noun phrases in this section. Reserve personal attributes and adjectives (like “highly collaborative” or “strong work ethic”) for your profile summary. Here’s a good litmus test to know whether any term fits this section: Plug it into the phrase “I’m skilled in [term].” If the term makes a correct sentence (“I’m skilled in time management”), you can add it. But if it is nonsense (“I’m skilled in highly efficient” … “I’m skilled in a strong work ethic”), that’s your cue to leave it out.

How To Pick the Best Applicant Tracking System-Friendly Resume Template

In recent years, ATS have gained the ability to scan many resume styles and templates. More than anything, these programs just seek consistent patterns of information. Choose a template with a clear, straightforward layout. If you’re creating your resume in Microsoft Word, know that ATS do not scan any text in headers, footers, charts, graphics, or text boxes. So it’s best to avoid these features or at least not use them to feature important keywords.

Applicant Tracking System-Friendly Text-Only Resume Templates and Examples

  • Entry-level
  • Mid-career
  • Senior-level

Will Harrison
(752) 814-7263 | [email protected] | Rochester, NY 14610 | www.linkedin.com/example

Profile

Host with eight years of experience in popular bars and restaurants. Skilled at managing customer databases, arranging for large parties, and answering calls and emails. Combine strong organizational skills with a friendly service style. Calm, professional, and focused on finding solutions in high-pressure work environments. Bilingual: Fluent in English and Spanish.

Key Skills

  • Cash Till Reconciliation
  • CRM Databases
  • Customer Relations & Satisfaction
  • Task Prioritization
  • Time Management
  • Wait Time Estimates

Professional Experience

Host, The Galley Restaurant, Rochester, NY | March 2016 to January 2023
[Popular, award-winning seafood restaurant with 40 tables]

  • Maintained warm and professional manner interacting with guests by phone and in person
  • Sat 130+ diners per night in 3 separate seatings while upholding restaurant’s high service standards
  • Reconciled cash in tills at end of each shift

Highlight:

  • Member of team that drove a 15% increase in customer satisfaction on monthly surveys, earning special recognition from corporate in 2019

Restaurant Host, The Hilton Hotel, Providence, RI | September 2014 to February 2016

  • Charged with setting table arrangements and booking reservations
  • Efficiently handled restaurant POS software
  • Greeted and escorted all guests to their designated tables

Education

Bachelor of Arts (BA) — Hospitality Business, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI

Select Coursework:

  • Hospitality Food Service Operations
  • Service Management Principles

Professional Development

Certified Guest Service Professional, American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute

Language

  • Fluency in Spanish

Frequently Asked Questions: Applicant Tracking System-Friendly Resume Examples and Advice

What are common action verbs for Applicant Tracking System-friendly resumes? -

Virtually any word (not just skills) on your resume can be an ATS-relevant keyword. Based on the employer’s search terms and criteria, an ATS may prioritize certain zip codes, colleges, licenses, technical skills, or job duties. So you can further optimize your resume for ATS by using various action verbs that reflect your background and align with your job target. For help finding relevant action verbs, see the list below.

Action Verbs
Automated Averted
Coordinated Created
Decreased Developed
Eliminated Enhanced
Expedited Garnered
Generated Improved
Increased Introduced
Launched Lowered
Organized Prevented
Produced Raised
Ranked Reduced
Shortened Streamlined
Strengthened Updated
Won  
How do you align your Applicant Tracking System (ATS)-friendly resume with a job posting?-

First, look closely at the job post text and highlight words that are repeated, emphasized, or otherwise seem important. Compare these highlighted phrases to the language you’re using in your resume, particularly the profile and key skills sections. Then seek ways to align your resume language with the job post while not copying phrases or misstating your background.

For example, say the company seeks someone collaborative. Emphasize that part of your experience in your profile with a line like “Thrive in collaborative work settings” or in your key skills section with a term like “cross-team collaboration.” Or say the company has many non-English speaking customers. Highlight your foreign language skills both in your profile and as a separate section farther down the document.

Also, consider adding brief descriptions of the places you’ve worked in [brackets] right next to or below the company name. Company descriptions let you show any similarities between your past employers and the one who posted the job. For example, maybe you’ve worked for companies of a similar size or industry. Or you might have worked at organizations with a similar mission or leadership philosophy. By adding these details to your descriptions, you can make your resume more relevant to the job opening at hand.

What is the best Applicant Tracking System-friendly resume format? -

For ATS purposes, use the combination (or hybrid) format. True to its name, this format combines two important features of other resume formats: the functional format’s profile section and the chronological format’s experience section. (The resume examples on this page all use combination format.)

On a combination resume, the profile section lets you repeat or emphasize keywords and phrases at the top of the document, boosting your ATS score. At the same time, the experience section lets you give proper descriptions of your work under each recent job (unlike on a functional resume, where the descriptions appear separately).

The keywords in these descriptions are crucial for ATS since the software usually weighs your skills based on the work dates appearing above them. For instance, say your past seven years’ experience has included vendor negotiations. Most ATS software will only credit you for that experience if you have the term “vendor negotiations” (or a similar phrase) under each job description in your work history going back to 2016.

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Expert Advice
Include a cover letter with your resume
To increase your chances of an interview, write and submit a strong cover letter. The key to a good cover letter is tailoring it to each job opening. Read our cover letter guide to learn how.

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Jacob Meade

Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW, ACRW)

Jacob Meade is a resume writer and editor with nearly a decade of experience. His writing method centers on understanding and then expressing each person’s unique work history and strengths toward their career goal. Jacob has enjoyed working with jobseekers of all ages and career levels, finding that a clear and focused resume can help people from any walk of life. He is an Academy Certified Resume Writer (ACRW) with the Resume Writing Academy, and a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) with the Professional Association of Resume Writers & Career Coaches.

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