One popular misconception is that once a resume or CV is “ATS optimized” for one position then it is optimized for all positions. When ATS is used to scan and rank resumes or online profiles, it does so by position. The qualifiers used to rank resumes for a VP of Finance will be completely different from the qualified used to rank resumes for a Mobile App Developer.

So if you have skills across a few different job types or titles, for instance HR Administrator and Corporate Trainer or Senior Java Developer and Web Designer, you may need to tweak the keywords of your resume before submitting your application, to ensure your ATS score is as high as possible.

However, there are some formatting standards which should be adhered to by candidates who want to have the best chance of getting their resume through ATS screening.

  1. Proper File Format. Often candidates think that they should submit their resume in PDF, because it will prevent any funky reformatting of their resume. If a resume formats a little oddly, a candidate will worry that a hiring partner will think they are unprofessional. However, not all applicant tracking software can read PDF documents. So by uploading a PDF, the software may read your resume as blank. If this is the case a human never sees your resume, which is infinitely worse than thinking maybe you could have formatted things a little better.
  2. Avoid Graphics, Images, and Charts. ATS can only parse and review text. While images, charts, or graphs may look great when a human sees them, ATS is unable to process them, so any information provided in graphic form will be lost during an ATS scan.
  3. Avoid Fancy Templates.  Since you will be submitting your resumes in a .doc, .docx, or plain text file (to avoid PDF issues), it’s best to go with a clean and simple template. Fancy templates can get scrambled by applicant tracking software and cause your information to be parsed incorrectly, which again may results in your resume never making it to the pile that gets seen by a human.


This is not to say that you can never have a version of your resume which includes fancier graphics or charts. You can keep that version and always bring it with you to interviews or send it (as a PDF) if an employer emails you directly to request your resume or CV. But with 95% of Fortune 500 companies and more and more smaller companies using applicant tracking software, it’s best to adhere to ATS optimization best practices.