Five Tips for Helping Your Students Create ATS-Compatible Resumes


In a world with unlimited career possibilities, technology places a dominant role in many aspects of the process—Virtual Reality simulations in the trades, online application submissions, online portfolios, social media branding, Google searches of candidates, networking through LinkedIn, and computer-based candidate selection. We used to focus on teaching job seekers what to wear when they “pound the pavement” to look for jobs, how to portray confidence with eye contact and a strong handshake, and the importance of using good manners with everyone they meet. Oh, how times have changed!

It is now essential for us to keep up with the digital job search requirements and continue our role to teach youth “how to play the game and how to play it well.” Using keywords, trying to embrace algorithms, and ensuring resumes are ATS (Automated Tracking System) compatible are new and important job search skills. It is no longer enough to have a well-designed resume. The ability to create a document that can stand out in the crowd when being screened by human resource software is now a survival skill in order to make it to the interview phase. That may sound daunting, and it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking such software is only used for corporate positions. Not true! The company Jobscan cites that a Kelly OCG survey estimated 66% of large companies and 35% of small organizations rely on recruitment software.

While ATS makes the selection process smoother, and more time- and cost-efficient for the employer, resume ranking systems can rule out good applicants. Try an experiment with your students—ask them to walk into ten businesses with a hard copy resume and report back on how many employers directed them to apply online. This is where anyone who does not understand how to navigate recruitment software can be at a serious disadvantage, but it does not have to be this way.

The following tips will provide a framework to help your students develop the skills to write a more ATS-compatible resume.

  1. View job postings. Teaching students to read job postings on multiple sites such as Indeed, Jobbank, and LinkedIn will help them become more familiar with the job requirements and industry terminology. Incorporating relevant language into a resume will increase a student’s chance of receiving a higher ATS rating. Gone are the days when we have one resume that is distributed to everyone. Using keywords in both a cover letter and resume that complement the individual posting allows the student to better align with the job requirements. Even though many students are limited in what they have to add to a resume, the smallest alteration can make a difference in the ATS process.
  2. Use the recommended resume design. Garamond, Georgia, and Helvetica are recommended font styles, and resumes need to be saved as a doc, docx or plain text file, rather than the traditional PDF. Applicant Tracking Systems are very specific regarding the resume format. Teaching students these simple tips will ensure they are meeting requirements regardless of the type of word processing software they are using.
  3. Take advantage of freebies. Sites such as Jobscan, Resumeworded, and Fullprepped have the option for students to create a free account, scan a current resume, and receive feedback regarding ATS compatibility. This activity is even more valuable if a sample job posting is submitted as well. The ability for students to see the criteria their resume is assessed against and how it relates to their job interests provides a real-world perspective on the candidate matching criteria including resume length, buzz words and cliches, repetition, keywords, and education.
  4. Make resume revisions using feedback outlined in the ATS ranking report. Reports from the sites listed above are very specific and provide students with concrete steps. Using the various tools will provide a deeper understanding of the different criteria used by each. Providing your students with the opportunity to increase their score integrates learning and is reinforcing. Consider dividing your resume grading to assess the before and after resumes. This way students will not be discouraged by a low score but rather see it as part of a continuous improvement process.
  5. Sign up for the free ATS sites yourself. Add your current resume and find a posting similar to your current job online. Take screenshots of your feedback highlighting the feedback and improvement that can be made to share with your students. This is an eye-opening process and perhaps a bit humbling when we demonstrate to students that we can improve as well.

Applicant recruitment and screening processes have changed dramatically over the years. To tell someone they need to change their resume to be ATS compatible can sound a bit like an episode of “The Jetsons.” But here we are in a marketplace where the opportunity to drop off a resume in person is decreasing and online screening software is the new starting point for candidate selection. Empowering students with the knowledge of how to create ATS-compatible resumes is a lifelong skill that will better position them to market their skills in a concise and relatable manner, moving them closer to the interview phase and landing their desired job.


Indeed Editorial Team, Get Your Resume Seen with ATS Keywords, February 22, 2021

Jobscan, 8 Things You Need to Know About Applicant Tracking Systems, May 27, 2021

themuse, Beat the Robots: How to Get Your Resume Past the System and Into Human Hands, Regina Borsellino


Jean Giroux
Jean Giroux is the founder of Expert Career Advice. Her background includes career counselling, assessment, facilitation, program design and blogging, along with education in social media, psychology, and cyber counselling. She has provided fee-based training for Cooperative Education departments in the Durham, Toronto, and Ottawa school boards, been an endnote speaker for PA Day training, and a conference speaker at annual educational conferences including Ontario Cooperative Education Association and Ontario School Counsellors Association. Jean’s passion is to provide career development practitioners with the necessary training and resources to support youth in developing the cutting-edge job search skills necessary to compete in today’s marketplace.

This article is featured in Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Winter 2023 issue.

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