Applicant Tracking Systems vs. Your Resume

“Make your resume stand out! That way the hiring manager will remember it, and you’ll get an interview for sure.”

How many times have you heard this advice? It makes sense, right? It conjures up an image of a tired-looking hiring manager, desk littered with paper resumes and desktop covered in Word documents all written in standard-formatted Arial, font size 11, cold and corporate bullet points all nestled against same-size margins. Then, all of a sudden…what’s this? A resume with creative use of columns! Fun fonts and font sizes! A colorful bar chart demonstrating years of experience in various skills! The imaginary hiring manager’s eyes widen with joy as they stare at this gleaming resume, the only one which demonstrates creativity and out-of-the-box thinking! They immediately reach for the phone, the tired look in their eyes replaced with enthusiasm for this clearly outstanding unicorn!

Think again.

Chances are, in most cases, applying for a job won’t land your resume in front of a hiring manager, at least not right away. In most cases, in fact, it won’t land immediately in front of a human at all. It will land in front of an ATS, or applicant tracking system. A necessary evil that stems from a combination of a need for record keeping and an extremely high volume of applicants. An applicant tracking system is what pulls your keywords, your contact information, your name, your education and work information, and other important information from your resume to keep on file for recruiters and hiring managers to retain, organize, and quickly reference.

And if there’s one thing applicant tracking systems don’t get along well with, it’s a resume with “unique” formatting and features.

If you have personal contact with a hiring manager and can directly email or physically hand your resume to them, by all means have fun with your formatting, with your fonts, with your design assets, and with your image files.

Otherwise? Stick to standard formatting (see a great example of standard formatting here!) to make it easy for the ATS algorithm to pick out your personal and contact information. Keep your name and contact information neatly arranged at the top. Use headers to distinguish sections of your resume (“Skills” “Work Experience” “Education” etc.) so the ATS can identify them.

If you have strong resume content, and you’re a strong match for the position, your resume will stand out on its own without bells and whistles. Still want extra tips to distinguish yourself from other applicants? Utilize keywords to the best of your ability (and use as many keywords from the job description as possible in your resume!), include supplementary information (a link to your portfolio, a list of your professional memberships, etc.), and some hiring managers even enjoy seeing candidates’ personal hobbies! Also, the days of a single-page resume being the standard are behind us, and it’s perfectly fine, preferable even, to dig deep when talking about your experience. “Responded to trouble tickets” doesn’t paint nearly as strong of a picture of your experience as “Utilized Salesforce and Remedy ticketing systems to troubleshoot bugs in internal proprietary applications as well as Microsoft productivity software applications.”

Finally, keep in mind that a lot of ATS-based applications have a section at the end for additional attachments, such as cover letters, reference lists, and portfolio pieces. If you’re really attached to your unique formatting, or you’re applying for a position where a design resume would be beneficial, you can upload your design resume as an additional document after you’ve used your standard resume to apply. Happy hunting!

Lindsay Allan | Recruiting Associate

About HireNetworks

HireNetworks offers nationwide recruiting, staffing, and executive search services. HireNetworks fills positions for skills ranging from technology and finance to sales and research. Celebrating 17 years of success this year, HireNetworks is set apart by their experienced, senior recruiting team and reputation in the industry. HireNetworks has ranked in the “Best Places to Work” multiple years and has been listed “Top Technical Recruiting Firm in the Triangle” every year since 2001. For two consecutive years, HireNetworks was ranked in the INC5000 Fastest Growing Companies and recently named Best Employers in North Carolina again for the fourth year in a row.

Clients use HireNetworks because of its vast network and collaborative approach to under-standing their culture, company and staffing needs.