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Tips to Make Your Resume Stand Out in a Competitive Job Market

Your members are looking for career opportunities, and they're going to turn to your association for career resources. Being the career hub for its members, your association can offer resume writing resources that can help them "beat the bots"!

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Your members are looking for career opportunities, and they're going to turn to your association for career resources. Since the career hub is a resource for members, your association can offer resume writing resources that can help them "beat the bots," make excellent first impressions, and ultimately help members move further along the interview process!

But wait, what is an ATS? An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is software that companies and recruiting agencies use to store, sort, and ultimately select candidates for consideration. It is a searchable database that recruiters use to find the best-matched candidates for the role or roles that are currently available.

How likely is it that companies are using an ATS, and how do members know if they are? Research from Capterra found that 75% of recruiters use some type of recruiting or applicant tracking system in the hiring process. Data from Jobscan found that over 99% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS program when hiring new employees. 

If you or your members are curious if a company is using an ATS or not, the easiest way to tell is to visit the company’s careers/jobs page. Most pages or job postings will be branded somewhere with the vendor’s logo. If no branding is present, hover your mouse over the “Apply” button and look at the bottom corner of your browsing window. If the company is using an application tracking system or other recruiting software, the domain will indicate the vendor.

To help make sure your member's resumes are ATS-friendly, follow these tips below:


At its core, what any applicant tracking system is programmed to do when it "reads" a resume is the same as what a person would do: it's scanning for key pieces of information to find out whether or not a candidate is a match for a job opening.

When a resume is submitted through an ATS, the application is stored as an entry in its database. Recruiters can then go into the ATS and search for those applicants whose resumes contain keywords related to the job opening, such as skills, qualifications, experience, or qualities that are most important for performing the job.

Pro tip: Review the job posting you're applying to and utilize notable keywords and phrases that relate to your own experience.

Remember, you won't be the only person who will be using these keywords to "beat the bots," so make sure you work in your specific personal achievements to help connect with the recruiter who will eventually view your resume. Tailoring your resume to specific milestones and achievements is what is going to make you stand out from the crowd!


In addition to making sure that your resume has the right content for an applicant tracking system, you also need to make sure the ATS can make sense of that information and deliver it to the person on the other end in a readable form. Reports show that recruiters spend an average of five seconds reviewing your resume.

Among the three common resume formats you can choose from—chronological, combination, and functional—ATSs are programmed to prefer the first two. Additionally, recruiters tend to prefer chronological and combination formats as well.

Pro Tip: Making a resume that is ATS friendly will help make your resume easier to read for recruiters.


The saying "less is more" couldn't be more accurate when discussing formatting your ATS-friendly resume. For your resume to make it past the first round of reviews by the software, there are a few key elements that you'll want to avoid.

To begin, you'll want your document to be a text-only file, this will allow the ATS to easily scan your resume for relevant keywords that recruiters are looking for. Additionally, you'll want to avoid using columns. ATSs are programmed to read left to right, some will read columns straight across rather than reading each column top to bottom.

Pro Tip: Avoid the use of graphs, tables, text boxes, dividers, images, hyperlinks, headers, and footers when creating an ATS-friendly resume.

To further your chances of making it past the applicant tracking system, utilize conventional section headings like "Education," "Work Experience," and "Technical Skills,". An ATS is programmed to sort your information with common labels.

Finally, when formatting your resume, stick to universal system fonts like Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman, Garamond, Georgia, or Cambria. Decorative fonts or intricate fonts may have a negative effect on your resume, especially when it comes to readability by the ATS. Even if your resume makes it to the desk of the recruiter, it may get overlooked because it appears difficult to read.

Choosing the Right File Type

There are two widely accepted file types out there, Docx and PDF but each file type has its pros and cons. PDFs are known for keeping formatting intact, and if you're sending your resume directly to the recruiter or hiring manager this is a great option. In many cases, applicant tracking systems can't convert the file to extract the text from your resume. As a result, your resume file may be deemed “unusable” and then discarded.

If you're submitting your resume through a company website, job board, or an online portal, you'll want to make sure your resume is easily searchable by this software. In this case, you'll want to save your document and upload a .docx file. According to Jon Shields, marketing manager for Jobscan, "DOCX files are much easier for applicant tracking software to parse into a digital applicant profile…There's simply more that can go wrong when an ATS scans a PDF."

Pro Tip: If the job posting has specific directions on how to submit your resume for consideration, be sure to follow those instructions.

According to Forbes, on average, 75% of resumes do not make it past the ATS. When updating your resume, follow these tips to help you craft an ATS-friendly resume that can ultimately help secure your next interview and land you your dream job!

Bonus pro tip: Spend at least one to two hours hour each month looking at areas on your resume in need of improvement. For example, you may have received a promotion or completed a new certification or continuing education course. Be sure to add these accomplishments along the way.

Ann Kielbasa

Email Marketing and Digital Marketing Specialist