The Truth about ATS Friendly Resumes

In 2019, I was preparing for my SourceCon presentation and I spent more than six months learning to understand how the big corporations were using their resume databases (ATS), how the candidates were selected and invited for an interview. I had dozens of avatar resumes that I was submitting with several customizations, to tailor the best resume that would get me an invitation to an interview.

I started with that because I saw that several career coaches and so-called career coaches (and people with a huge network on LinkedIn) were selling jobseekers “ATS Ready templates” and giving them false hope that thanks to their template, they would get a new job way faster. So I wanted to test it and if it turned out to be a myth I wanted to debunk it so that jobseekers would no longer be tricked by those “career advisors”.

During those six months, I better understood how these ATS systems work and how candidates could improve their chance to get an invitation for interview and get their resume in front of recruiters and how the “ATS ready templates” work (I should say don’t work).

What Is ATS?

ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System; it is a software application that enables the electronic handling of recruitment and hiring needs. In laymen’s terms, it’s a resume database that allows recruiters and hiring managers to store data about candidates and offers them search functionality to find those that are already there. Every file that is uploaded is parsed (resume parsing) and the data are stored in the database for faster search via keywords and Boolean operators.

What Is Resume Parsing?

The resume you upload into the ATS is processed via parsing software and parsing functionality of the ATS and the information is extracted so that it can be sorted and searched. Resume parsers analyze your resume and extract information from it. This means that contact information, relevant skills, work history, educational background, and more specific information about the candidate is easily accessible and searchable via internal ATS search.


Myth “75% of applicants are disqualified by ATS software”

In the article “How Long Do Recruiters Look at a Resume?“ I explained the myth about the six-second resume and how that myth spread. It is sad to see how everyone is spreading that myth instead of doing proper research.

The statement “Studies have shown that up to 75% of qualified applicants are rejected by ATS programs because they can’t be read” is taken from article posted March 18, 2014 on Forbes. This article was written by “founder of a resume service”, so a person who has a business creating resumes for people. It is more an advertisement than an article. It’s the same story as the “six-second resume” myth that was shared by another company offering resume services.

The six-second resume scan myth spread like wildfire over several years and this 75% myth is doing the same. That’s why you can find this statement quoted often on many websites, without citing any source of study or research. I tried to find a study supporting this statement for several hours and I didn’t find anything.

On April 17, 2018, published another article that has been often quoted like the Forbes one. That article included the statement, “Most companies have thousands of resumes sitting in a database that they’ve never looked at. In fact, 75 percent are never seen by a real person.” Again, no relevant data or study is cited in support of this statement.

I know that 75% looks a good number to get attention and create frustration in readers that this is not fair. That’s why so many other articles and career coaches blindly adopt this lie without any proper research. I found several resume-writing services and many articles that say their sources are other articles (they don’t mention which articles) or the search firm Preptel, which is now out of business, but what a “surprise”—they were also offering resume-writing services.

Note: I was trying to identify the primary source of that 75% and after several hours I was able to identify this article from 2013 describing an example of the hiring funnel: “75 of those 100 resumes will be screened out by either the ATS or a recruiter, 25 resumes will be seen by the hiring manager.” And I believe that this example was later mention as that source of the data.

It’s really 75%?

During 2019, 2020, and 2021, I spoke with many recruiters about their recruitment process and that statement doesn’t reflect reality. Based on what I heard from recruiters working in various organizations, 90–95%+ of all applications are viewed by a human. Large organizations also have a team of dedicated people who check every resume and present those resumes that are preselected by recruiters.

What happens to the remaining 5–10% of all resumes? Many of them are not viewed due to the workload of recruiters being higher than usual. And several resumes could be lost via technical issues, like not completing registration. Of course, there could be recruiters not doing their job properly, but if recruiters had 100 candidates and they never checked 75 of those profiles, those recruiters would be fired by their managers.

My Resume

Does the ATS Ready Template Really Work?

There are more than 100 applicant tracking systems on the market that I know of and there are probably even more that I never heard of. So, every time I see new posts or articles from career coaches and so-called career influencers with their new guaranteed tips on how to write a resume that will beat the ATS algorithm and get you invited to an interview, I am always curious as to whether they tested it on every ATS system.

Let me be clear, your resume may get you the interview, but resumes don’t get you hired; only you can make this happen! Your resume is your intro, based on which you will get a call from a recruiter or invitation to an interview. So what those coaches are selling to people is just a simple resume template that people could download for free as a template via Google.

How to Create Your “ATS Ready Resume”

There is no magical thing behind it; you only tailor your resume to the job description. There is no ATS ready resume template that will magically increase your chances of getting a job. You will still need to write your own resume with your relevant experience and with your skills reflecting the role that you are applying for.

You can tailor your resume to the job description by adding the relevant information (phrases) and keywords from it. When you add the relevant keywords into your career history, you will get a better score in ATS and if you put those keywords in bold, this will get you more attention from recruiters when they check your resume. Their attention will focus on the keywords that are in bold; those same keywords the hiring manager put into the job description.

In your resume, you should use a simple style for fonts, avoid graphics, and you should be fine. And stay consistent with formatting past work experience. The standard is a job title, company title, and then employment dates because some of the ATS systems were built and tested on this type of format.

Man sitting

How to Find Out If Your Resume Is ATS Ready

And if you want to test if your resume could be read by the ATS parser, here is a simple trick for you. If you are using PDF as a format, just click CTRL+A to highlight the whole text in your resume. Then press CTRL+C and CTRL+V whilst viewing your Word document and if you can copy and paste the text, your resume is ATS ready.

If you create your resume in formats like DOC, RTF, DOCX etc. and you are not using images instead of text your resume is ATS ready.

Now you know the secret behind the ATS ready resume, and you don’t have to pay so-called career coach influencers to get it.

Last Thoughts

Many of the articles I found are years old and I can imagine how those ATS systems eight years ago rejected candidates; they worked more like basic databases. Since that time ATS systems have significantly improved, but still, they are not solely responsible for rejecting applicants, there is always a human behind it.

ATS algorithms could advise the recruiter that a candidate doesn’t match the relevant requirements (doesn’t have the right keywords in their resume etc.), but the reason you were rejected is simple. You were not a good fit for the role (42 percent of job applicants don’t meet skill requirements), there was somebody better or your resume is poorly written and not tailored to the job description. There are many ways to improve your resume and get noticed, but that will be covered in another article.

It is sad to see that so many myths like this one are spread for years without sources being checked and these myths scare candidates in order to get money from them by giving them hope that their investment will secure them a new job.