Home Jobs & HR ATS Formatting Guide to Avoid Formatting Mistakes

ATS Formatting Guide to Avoid Formatting Mistakes

by Samar Sood

You come across this amazing job opportunity and end up submitting your resume with great enthusiasm, but only to never hear back from the company. Frustrating, indeed. It might seem like your resume has taken a turn to the black hole of cyberspace.

In most scenarios, there are high chances that your resume was not even read by the human recruiters. Your resume might be going around in circles as it is not ATS-friendly.

ATS, also known as applicant tracking systems, is a major part of today’s hiring process.

Hiring managers are often inundated with resumes stacking up on their desks. And, here’s when an ATS comes to the rescue and helps recruiters in saving time by picking only those profiles that are a match for the open role. These systems cherry-pick the resumes that have job-specific keywords, skills as per the open position, and are well-formatted to pass the screening test.

To pass this initial screening test, it is important to follow some rules. Here are some of the most important rules that you must abide by followed by the tips to help you build an ATS-friendly resume.

Abbreviations & Acronyms

Most ATS used by companies do not recognize abbreviations and acronyms. Instead of adding abbreviations or acronyms, always try to write the long form of keywords. For instance, instead of writing MBA, prefer writing a Master of Business Administration. If you still want to use the abbreviation, try to include it along with the full form. Use common acronyms as parentheses, it will help you match both search possibilities. For instance, you can write – Master of Business Administration (MBA) or Chartered Accountant (CA).

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Incorrect Date Format

Some ATS do not accept date formats that only include either a month or a year. If you have only mentioned the year, some ATS automatically tend to pick the first month of the year, i.e., January. Thus, it is always advised to mention both month and year in MM/YYYY or <Month> <Year> format. For instance, instead of writing April or 1990, try writing 04/1990 or April 1990.

Adding Tables

Analyzing tables in a resume can be difficult for some ATS and it can eventually lose all the important information mentioned in those tables. Instead of writing or adding pivotal information in a table, try writing that in standard bullet points. It will keep the information well-organized as well as help you escape the ATS’ very limitation. You can also remove the borders of the table to highlight the pointers.

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Instead of adding tables like this

Try using bullet points like this


Misspelling can be one of your biggest enemies when it comes down to passing an ATS screening test. If you end up adding a misspelled keyword, say one of the most important skillsets for the role you have applied for, you might not be considered a match as per the screening test. Applicant Tracking Systems do not misspell the job-relevant keywords; hence it is crucial to proofread your resume or go through free online language tools to ensure all the spellings are correct.

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Adding Fancy Fonts

Using fancy or unusual fonts in your resume might not be appealing for the screening bots. Yes, you want your resume to stand out, however, including a fancy font should not be the only way out for that. While screening, many applicant tracking systems do not recognize unusual fonts and end up missing critical information and keywords.

Try using time-tested fonts such as Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri, Georgia, and Arial, among others. When it comes down to the font size, use a 10- or 12-point font to make the resume look professional. Font size is not an issue for the ATS, however, the right font size contributes massively in looking presentable and appealing to the hiring managers.

Unprofessional File Name & Format

Try to save the file name professionally. Try including your name before the file extension as <yourname>.docx. Also, you can include the company name after your name, however, remember to change it every time you send it to a different organization.

Talking about the file format, PDF is always a good choice to preserve the design format and layout. However, some applicant tracking systems fail to read PDFs and it might make you lose on the job opportunity. If you are given an option to submit a PDF format, then by all means go ahead and submit your resume in PDF format.

That said, if no file format is mentioned, always play safe and send a word document in .doc or .docx format. You may even send a plain text file, however, that lacks design aspects and your resume might not look much appealing.

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Unnecessary Spacing

Take care of the spaces between different words, especially multi-word keywords such as “Content Marketing”. Some ATS do not recognize these words if there is double space between them such as “Content   Marketing”. It recognizes as two different words. Thus, ensure that you have proofread the resume properly and have gone through it multiple times before hitting the send button.

Formatting Tips to Make it ATS-Friendly

  1. Pick a simple file name. You can add your name along with the company name but if you are sending the same resume to different companies for the same job profile, you may add the title/position in the end as – <Joe Smith Content Editor>.
  2. Do not decide on jazzy words while writing headers. Stick to basic headers such as professional summary, work experience, area of expertise, skills, academic qualifications, etc.
  3. Eliminate all the special characters and fancy bullet point styles as they might not promise legibility to the applicant tracking systems.
  4. Include your contact details in the body of the resume instead of keeping that in the header or footer.
  5. Avoid underlining words as they might negatively impact readability.
  6. Choose from different free resume templates that resonate with your career goals and have a clean design format.
  7. Carefully customize your resume and add all the job-relevant keywords that are mentioned by the recruiters in the job description.
  8. Avoid adding charts, tables, graphs, or images other than profile pictures as many ATS are not able to screen them.
  9. Include all the certifications and mention standard industry terminologies such as Salesforce (for sales professionals) or HubSpot Marketing Hub (for marketing professionals).
  10. Avoid overuse of keywords. Stuffing keywords throughout the resume might not be suitable for human readability.

The Bottom Line 

Did you know that around 95% of Fortune 500 companies have an ATS in place for their initial screening process? Many companies today leverage applicant tracking systems to take some burden off their hiring and recruiting managers and streamline the overall hiring process. That said, job seekers must invest in ATS-friendly resume writing to pass their initial screening test and increase their chances of scheduling an interview.

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