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OMG WTF is with ATS?

The bots have arrived. And they’ve killed your resume design. They’ve re-flowed text. They’ve changed fonts. They’ve deemed all infographics, charts, and logos unreadable. And worst of all, they’ve put you in the “no” pile, even though you have the skills and experience to do the job. 😤

So how the hell do you get around these infuriating little electronic beast-like gatekeepers AND still show up as an experienced creative professional? Well we’re about to get into that!

Here are 10 things you need to know to wrangle the ATS beast:

1. Mind your file style.

PDF is unfortunately not the most ATS-friendly file type. A Microsoft Word document (gasp!) in .doc or .docx, or a plain-text (double-gasp!) file is incredibly ATS-friendly. And for the love of all that is Pantone, if you do want to risk sending in a PDF, please do not outline your fonts, because ATS read outlined fonts as images. Which is to say, not at all.

2. The beginning could be the end.

ATS is not able to properly read and parse information stored in the header and footers. Avoid using a graphic or a logo to brand your name on your resume, because this piece of information will be lost. Which means if they love your experience they won’t be able to contact you, because they won’t know who you are.

3. Bullets over badass design.

ATS loves to scramble anything that isn’t a recognizable character. So, basically anything that looks visually engaging, like all the customized shapes, icons, and emojis you just created for your bulleted lists on your resume. Stick to simple bullet options, such as a solid circle, or open circle. They may be boring, but they do feed the beast something he likes to eat.


4. Keep it simple.

All those fabulous infographics and icons that display your software prowess and additional skill-sets? Yeah, they have to go. Avoid tables, charts, graphics, columns, headers, and footers, and basically anything that looks visually compelling. Because when an ATS strips the formatting out of your resume, these will cause errors that can result in critical information getting garbled, or being read out of order.

5. Matchy-matchy.

Using standardized section-header language is going to help the ATS system understand how to scan your resume, which will increase your chances of being a match for the position. These section-headers typically include:


- Work History

- Work Experience

- Experience

- Professional History

- Professional Experience


Recruiters can also cherry-pick candidates without looking through every single resume.

They usually search for two things:


- Job titles (like graphic designer, art director, creative director, copywriter, UX designer, etc.)

- Hard skills (like copywriting, illustration, production design, web design, editing, etc.)


6. Frequency is your friend.

ATS focuses on the frequency and placement of keywords throughout your resume. They determine the strength of your skills based on the number of times a term shows up in your resume, and they assign an estimated amount of experience for a particular skill based on its placement within the resume. Aim to place all required skills in your resume 2x-4x, and pepper them throughout all listed positions (as long as it’s relevant).


7. Ratings are everything.

ATS systems automatically rate your resume based on how well your content matches the job description. If there is a common abbreviation for one of your skills (such as “Adobe CC”) include BOTH the abbreviated and full-name (i.e. “Creative Cloud”) versions in your resume. Pepper these same terms into your “Work Experience” or “Education” sections, where appropriate, to demonstrate when you leveraged that skill.


8. Cyrano it.

Using their words they use is going to increase your chances of the ATS software recognizing you as a solid match. Always take note of how they define the position, its responsibilities, and the core requirements for the role in the job posting. If you have those same qualifications, be sure to incorporate that language, as it appears in the job listing, to the appropriate sections of your resume.

9. Lather, rinse, repeat.

ATS will associate the length of experience for a skill based on how long you held the job where that skill was leveraged. If you did illustration for five years and you list it under the company you worked at for 5 years, the ATS will assume you have five years' worth of illustration experience from that job. If a skill is listed on its own — such as within the professional summary or a core-competencies section — then the ATS will assign six months' experience for that skill. This is why it's incredibly important to list your skills throughout your entire resume, rather than just in a “skills” section.

10. Double-down, like you’re in Vegas.

Having a fully-designed resume in addition to a plain-text file is the way to go. Attach both versions to your application separately. If an actual human is reviewing these, they will be able to see your professional creative version. You can also send this one again when you’ve landed the interview, and are corresponding with the company via email, just to re-emphasize your killer creative skills. 🎨