Do You Have an ATS-Friendly Resume Design? Here’s How to Check

Mar 11, 2022 | Resumes

ATS resume check

Confused by Applicant Tracking Systems? We’ve got two strategies to check your resume design and make ATS compatibility a breeze.

By: Grace Mitchell | Contributor for Let’s Eat, Grandma

If you’re looking for a job, it’s important to check that your resume is readable for an Applicant Tracking System, or ATS.


Nearly 100% of Fortune 500 companies use ATS, and their usage is only continuing to grow. But what is an ATS, and how do you ensure that your resume will pass the test?

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What the Heck’s an ATS?

person at computer using an ats

Recruiters use ATS software to sort and filter resumes by keywords to find qualified candidates. Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

With the dawn of the internet age, job postings started getting more applicants than ever before. In one sense, this has been great for recruiters, because it increases the likelihood that they’ll find a great candidate. However, it also means a larger number of unqualified applicants to wade through. Enter the Applicant Tracking System, a recruiter’s best friend.

An Applicant Tracking System, or ATS, is a database that allows recruiters to view and sort through applications. Recruiters can filter the applications they receive for applicants whose resumes contain specific keywords. This ensures they spend the bulk of their focus on those applicants who are most qualified.

While it may seem unfair that recruiters rely so heavily on keywords, consider how this plays out in hiring. If a job listing requires three years of Python experience, a coding language used heavily on the job, would you want to hire someone whose resume doesn’t mention Python at all? Of course not!

That being said, we understand that this new technology can seem overwhelming, especially if you’re entering the job search for the first time in a while. Don’t worry, though! There are two primary ways to check how your resume will scan in an ATS, and they’re as easy as pie.

Befriending the “Robots”: 2 Ways to Do an ATS Resume Design Check 

man at computer checking his resume for ats compatibility

Checking your resume for ATS compatibility should be on every job seeker’s checklist. Photo by Lala Azizli on Unsplash

While there are thousands of different Applicant Tracking Systems, they all follow the same basic rules. This means the instructions below apply across all industries.

First: Utilize keywords from the job description. While it’s impossible to tell exactly what or how many keywords you need because every ATS and every recruiter is different, it is important to integrate mentions of the key qualifications that most relate to the job. Try to think like a recruiter: What keywords would you search for to find a qualified candidate for this job? (Bonus: These keywords help the recruiter while they’re reading, too!)

Second, design your resume so the ATS can read and scan those keywords when a recruiter searches for them. This means avoiding charts, tables, and graphics and using standard bullet points and clear, standard resume section titles.

It’s also best practice to avoid pictures in your resume in almost all cases. And a word of caution: Many free downloadable resume templates often don’t cooperate with an ATS.

If you’re confused about that design part, don’t worry. Check out the following two ways to check your resume for ATS-friendly design.

1. Save Your Resume as Plain Text (.txt) to Check (But Don’t Submit This Version)

Since an ATS doesn’t read tables, charts, images, and other special characters, saving your resume as a plain text document allows you to see your resume the way an ATS “sees” it. This will give you a clear visual to see if your resume is up to the challenge or needs some tweaking.

To save your resume as a plain text document, start by opening it in Microsoft Word, and select “Save As.” Choose the folder you’d like your new document saved in, and a window will appear allowing you to rename your document and/or change its file type before saving. Open the drop-down menu next to “Save as Type,” and select “Plain Text (.txt).” Then hit “Save.”

If you can still read all of the information in your resume, then congratulations! You have an ATS-friendly resume design. But remember: DO NOT send that plain text version in with your applications!

If you can’t read all the info, it’s time to simplify some formatting.

If your resume looks completely different as a plain text document and you’re not sure how to proceed, you may want to consider option 2.

2. Send It to Us For a Free Resume Critique

two senior writers

Let’s Eat, Grandma’s Senior Writer Resume Critiques are performed by two writers who have written or reviewed over 1,000 resumes between them.

Let’s Eat, Grandma offers a free resume critique from our skilled resume writers who check for content, wording, design, length, and, yes, even ATS compliance. The experienced writers that perform these critiques have worked on or reviewed over 1,000 resumes between them. They have the expertise to identify what’s holding your resume back from living its best ATS-friendly life, as well as any other issues your resume may have.

Getting a free resume critique from us is also a great idea because having an extra person look through your resume helps catch errors you’ve missed. Even the most experienced writer makes mistakes from time to time, which is why professional writers (including resume writers!) rely on editors to take a second look at their writing.

If you decide a resume critique is the right choice for you, you’ll simply need to send your resume and some information through the link above (things like basic contact info, years of job experience, and any additional questions you may have), and we’ll send you a personalized critique within three business days.

Nothing to Fear

Checking your resume for ATS compatibility can seem intimidating, but don’t let it scare you! Making sure your resume is readable for these systems is a simple process if you have the right tools. Between checking your resume in plain text and sending it to us for review, your resume will stand strong against even the most intense ATS.

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