Formatting an ATS Optimized Resume

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Step-by-Step Guide: Formatting a Resume to Beat Application Tracking Software

Before starting your resume makeover, let’s take a look at a typical resume that has not been optimized to pass Applicant Tracking Systems. Let’s fix this messy resume format. In this case, many optimization conventions have been ignored.

This is a mediocre resume

Like most resumes, this document was created in Word. It doesn’t look horrible but it could still use an improvement. You can improve almost all resumes with four steps.

Pick a better typeface
Fix basic formatting
Reduce indentations
Make it easy to read

Objective 1: Picking a better typeface

If you’re using Times New Roman, Word’s default typeface, we should change it to something different. Times doesn’t read well on-screen and lacks typographic subtleties such as non-lining numbers. Because it’s available on virtually all computers and designed to be readable on on-screen, try Garamond instead.

Times New Roman, Cambria, Helvetica are also acceptable

At that same point size, Garamond appears smaller than Times New Roman, so you’ll want to set the font size a point or two larger. Just make sure you are able to fit all content on one page.

To improve readability, also increase the line spacing (also called leading) to at least 120% of the font size.

To do this in Word:

In the menubar, go to Format and select Paragraph.
In the pulldown under Line Spacing, choose Exactly and set the line spacing to 13 points.

Our example resume currently uses Times New Roman set at a font size and line spacing of 10pt and 12pt. Let’s change it to Garamond with a font size and line spacing of 10pt and 13pt. The section headers are a font size 11pt.

Objective 2: Fix basic formatting errors

In the example resume we see that about 20% of the total space is wasted. We can do a better job of optimizing space usage with a few simple steps.

You should bring all content to the left margin
Add a return between every position.
Select the experience and select bullet list to add bullets

Objective 3: Reduce extra indentations and fix alignment

Next, we reduce the number of indentations. While useful in outlines, too many indentations in a resume will cause your eyes to jump all over the page, destroying page harmony. The goal is to have all text align closely to each other.

After reducing indentations, also hang your bullets:

Select the bulleted experience.

Drag first ruler marker to the left margin. Drag second marker to 1/8th of an inch

On the ruler, drag the First Line Indent marker to left by 1/8th of an inch. Or go to the View menu and select Ruler.

Here’s a detail showing the resume before and after improving indentation:

(Incorrect)

(Correct)

Next, we need to present your skills in a way that is easily digestible and while maximizing space usage. As we see in the example resume, there is no separation of skills based on specific kind. To fix this we will implement a table that allows us to categorize skills by type.

To insert a table:

In the Menubar, click Tables
Select New. The table dimensions will always be 2 x the number of rows you need

Adding your skills:

Categorize the experience based on experience type
Remove borders by selecting Tables > Borders > None
If you have languages to add, center them just below the table

We’ve been able to present the skills in about 80% less space. The resume is looking better already:

Nice!

Objective 4: Make it easy to read

We can give our content typographic ranking which will make the resume easier to skim by highlighting key information.

To best organize the key details of company, position, and date:

Start with position left aligned on the first line, then date right aligned on the same line.

Return and left align the company. If you wish, right align the location on the same line.

Our example resume fails to use bolds and italics to highlight important information.

Follow the key below to properly highlight key details:

Education: Bold

Major: Bold

Companies: Bold

Job titles: Bold

Location: Italics

Dates: Italics

The headings for the major sections don’t stick out enough making it difficult to read.

The example resume uses colors which is something to always avoid. So for “Education”, “Work Experience”, “Leadership”, and “Awards” we will use a horizontal line instead of color.

In Word, select the section heading and go to Format in the menubar. From here, you’ll make changes in Borders and Shading.

Select the Section Header
Select the Borders tab
Under Setting, select Custom
For Style, select a solid line. For Color, choose black. For Width, choose “1/2″
In the preview area, click the Bottom Border icon to the left of the preview image

Add a line for each section

Here’s a detail of the difference:

Times New Roman, Cambria, Helvetica are also acceptable

Now, we will reorganize the personal information and education section to match the formatting of the rest of the resume. Notice that every element of this section has been simplified. We’ve applied a border to the section header, left aligned the key information, and right aligned the supplementary information. The name has been centered and re-sized to 16pt.

The Final Resume

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