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With advancing technologies moving us further into the digital landscape, the world of job hiring is always changing. Gone are the days when your #1 goal as an applicant was to simply WOW the hiring manager or recruiters. Now, there are a few extra hurdles to get through in the form of AI technology. Many companies now use software known as Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to filter through resumes, narrowing down applicants before they are even seen by human eyes. Because of this, it is now crucial to tailor your resume to these systems, so you have the best chance of making it through to the next round in the hiring process. 

Below are some key resume tips to help you beat the bots and create an ATS-friendly resume in 2021 that will get your resume through the automated process and into human hands so you can get that interview! 

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Try these ATS-friendly resume tips to beat the bots in 2021. (Photo credit: @homajob on Unsplash.)

7 ATS-friendly resume tips in 2021 to get the job

Keywords are key! 

One of the top resume tips in 2021 is keywords, keywords, keywords! When you’re trying to impress a bot, keywords are crucial. The ATS software will be scanning for keywords relevant to the job to see if you are the right fit. Many of these keywords may appear in the job description itself, so it’s important to have a resume tailored to each specific job. One general resume just isn’t going to cut it anymore. 

Some keywords the ATS may be scanning for could include hard skills such as “experience with spreadsheets” or “proficient in Adobe Photoshop.” Others may be spoken languages, certificates or licenses. In a profession such as teaching, the ATS may search for the required certifications that prove you can legally teach at an institution. The same is true for positions in the medical field or science where proper licenses are needed to practice.  

If you’re unsure which keywords to use for the job you are applying for, first scan the job description. Note the top requirements and job responsibilities. These are likely to be some of the target keywords. The job title itself may also be a keyword. You can also use sites like Jobscan and Skillsyncer to help you identify more keywords.

Just make sure the keywords you use are in context. Dumping a bunch of keywords with no context on your resume to “cheat” the system won’t get you far in the long run. You may fool the bot, but your resume will quickly be discarded once it reaches human eyes. 

Objective statements are out, the resume summary is in! 

Many resumes even in recent years recommended opening with an objective statement. However, the resume summary has become more popular and preferred in recent years. Try replacing your objective statement with a fresh, impactful summary detailing some of your top skills and experience to quickly communicate who you are as an employee. This summary is also a great place to add in relevant keywords that will impress the digital eyes of the ATS software. 

Choose the right format and layout 

Just as important as your keywords is your format and layout. ATS software prefers certain layouts over others as they are easier for the bot to read. You may be tempted to create a flashy or unique resume design in hopes to stand out among the rest, but this may actually hurt your chances more than you think. Obscure fonts, colors, and creative layouts make it harder for the ATS software to scan your resume. Keep it simple and ATS-friendly with a black and white, clean layout and standardized fonts such as Calibri, Arial, and Times New Roman, 

In general, both the software and the recruiters themselves prefer simple, monochromatic layouts. According to data collected by Resume Lab in a 2021 study, 72% of recruiters think monochromatic resumes are best. Additionally, 77% of recruiters think two-column resumes are better than single-column ones. Finally, of the three resume formats–chronological, combination, and functional–ATS software prefers chronological or combination. These two formats best organize your work experience in an easy to read style from most recent to oldest. For those with a normal work history with no large gaps or career changes, chronological or combination is the way to go!  

Correctly label your sections 

In addition to keeping your layout clean and simple, using the proper headings for each section will greatly help you pass the ATS screening process. ATS software organizes your information based on common resume headings, such as “Work Experience,” “Education”, and “Skills.” You may think a creative or catchy heading will make you stand out but it will only confuse the system and potentially risk your chance at making it through the scanning process. 

In general, according to Resume Lab’s 2021 Study, the key “must-have” sections are: 

  • Contact information
  • Resume profile (summary or objective)
  • Work experience
  • Education
  • Soft skills
  • Hard skills

Which brings us to our next tip…

Be sure to include both soft skills and hard skills 

Data shows that 76% of recruiters prefer the two types of skills separated from one another on a resume. ATS software will scan for these two sections and recruiters are also now looking to see two distinct sections when it comes to skills. If this is all new to you or you are unfamiliar with these terms, soft skills are non-technical skills related to how you work, communicate, and solve problems. Some examples include: teamwork, communication, adaptability, creativity, and time management. Hard skills, on the other hand, are technical skills specific to the job such as: graphic design, editing, computer coding, data analysis, web development, and marketing. 

For a well-rounded, ATS-friendly resume that will impress both digital and human eyes, be sure to include skills in both sections. 

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Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

You might be interested: 10 interview tips that will get you the job

Plug your LinkedIn profile 

Something many forget but apparently makes a big difference, is including a link to your LinkedIn profile in your contact information. According to Resume Lab, 96% of recruiters surveyed believe it is important to link to your profile in your resume. Including a link won’t hurt, and it may just give you that boost over the competition. 

Lastly, make sure you select the right file type 

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to make your resume ATS-friendly, is make sure it is in the right format for ATS software to scan. The standard accepted formats are .docx and .PDF and most of you are probably using these formats. However, many resume building tools and sites will often save resumes as image files such as .jpg or .png files which will not be readable by ATS software. This could automatically take you out of the running, so be sure to always save/download your resume in either .docx or .PDF format, which can easily be done using any Word Processor or Google Docs. Also be sure to check the job application to see if it lists a preferred format. 

Following these top 7 resume tips you will be able to create an ATS-friendly resume that will get you through the scanning process and one step close to landing your dream job! 


  • Victoria Arena

    Victoria Arena is a writer and student, passionate about writing, literature, and women's studies. She is bilingual, fluent in both English and Spanish. She holds an Associates in Fine Arts for Creative Writing, and a Bachelor's in English Literature from Montclair State University.

By Victoria Arena

Victoria Arena is a writer and student, passionate about writing, literature, and women's studies. She is bilingual, fluent in both English and Spanish. She holds an Associates in Fine Arts for Creative Writing, and a Bachelor's in English Literature from Montclair State University.

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