Résumé design content contributed by Laura Gordon, Licensed Master Social Worker, Goodwill of North

Woman uses computer at Goodwill career center

A job seeker updates her résumé at Goodwill of North Georgia’s Decatur career center.


Not to sound dramatic, but a robot could make or break your next career move. Companies of 50 or more employees often use an applicant tracking system (ATS), which reviews and ranks résumés based on key words and phrases. As a job seeker, you need to design your résumé to win over both technology and humans. Review the following suggestions to learn how to outsmart the ATS, while also appealing to the hiring manager who might see your résumé.

Before you make changes to your résumé, review the job description of the job you want. Highlight important words and phrases in the job description. These will help you with how to frame your skills and experience when you’re ready to edit your résumé. It is also a good idea to visit the company’s website to see if a more detailed version of the job description exists, and to search for additional important words and phrases. If these appear multiple times in the job description or the company website, they are probably important. To identify recurring content, copy and paste the job description into a word cloud website like TagCloud to see what appears the most frequently.

If you have a “cookie cutter” résumé you’ve used in the past, it’s time to upgrade. Every job application you submit should include a custom résumé, tailored to show how you meet the specifications of the job description. Make sure some of the key words from the job description and company website appear in your work experience or skills sections. Employers are going to want real-life examples of how you developed those skills or acquired those qualifications. The ATS will also look for those key words to appear in your résumé.

Use traditional sections in your résumé, such as work history, education, skills, and so forth. Consider replacing your objective (which is sometimes considered a waste of space) with a summary of your qualifications or a skills section, which should incorporate some of the key words.

Use a simple, commonly-used font (size 11 or larger) and use margins of at least one inch. Do not include any text in the header or the footer, because the ATS may not find it. Get rid of fancy formatting or images that might confuse the ATS; think “simple and clean.” Be sure to include the dates when you were employed at each of your past jobs, as the ATS may be checking for it. Send the file as a Word document; an ATS is better at reading those than PDF files.

If you are using a title or phrase commonly referred to by its acronym, write out both the full term followed by its acronym in parentheses. For example, if I used to work at the FBI, I would refer to it as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). That way, regardless of how the ATS searched for that workplace, it would be identifiable. Remember to always use spell-check, proofread your résumé, and have someone else look it over before you submit it. If the ATS can’t read your résumé because of spelling errors, it will reject it. The staff at Goodwill of North Georgia’s career centers are happy to assist you with the review process if you are looking for an objective opinion.

Don’t go overboard. The ATS is designed to reject résumés that have been overfilled with key words, so don’t repeat the words more than two or three times. Make sure key words and phrases make sense wherever you put them. The goal is to get your résumé in front of a real, human hiring manager. That person will want a résumé that is easy to read and understand.

A strong résumé can take you far, but a little networking never hurts to keep your job search moving in the right direction. If you know somebody at the company where you’re applying, connect with them. An employee referral may mean your résumé gets to skip the ATS. If you don’t already know an employee at the company, do what you can to reach out to the humans who will (hopefully) get to see your résumé after the ATS is done with it. Human connection is very valuable during the hiring process. Good luck out there.

For additional résumé resources, visit Career Connector, powered by Goodwill.