I spent an enlightening hour attending a webinar offered by Jonathan Ciampi, a former executive at an ATS (applicant tracking system) company. He has started a new business, Preptel, to help job seekers increase their odds of success. He talked about how ATS works and implications for your resume.
Putting his input together with other information about ATS, I've compiled the most important things to avoid in order to optimize your resume for search.
1. Format: Do not submit a highly formatted resume electronically. Stick to a simple format or save your highly formatted resume as a .txt (ASCII) file. Most ATS will scramble tables, graphs, and graphics, defeating your purpose in presenting them. Take your beautiful, creative resume to the interview.
2. Keywords: Don't assume that it is enough to include the common keywords for your position, level, function, and industry or the ones in a job posting! Many ATS will identify as keywords the uncommon, unique-to-the-job-posting words or phrases in the job ad. This practice cuts down dramatically on the number of resumes retrieved for consideration by the hiring authority or recruiter.
3. Headings: Most ATS will only recognize the common headings: Work Experience or Professional Experience, Education, and sometimes Professional Summary. Eliminate creative headings such as "Career Highlights."
4. Sections: Extra sections - that is, those that don't have the common titles listed in #3 - won't be stored. So if you have information essential to your application, such as certifications, community activities, publications etc., I suggest you include it under the Education heading.
5. Contact Information: Leave it out of the Header and Footer sections. Put it at the top of page one. And do include both home and mobile phone numbers if you have them.
6. Process: Don't paste your resume into a field online. Rather, upload it if given the opportunity. Chances are better that the formatting will remain intact with this method.
7. Acronyms & Abbreviations: Don't rely on acronyms alone. Include the full language. For instance, don't use USPs for "unique selling points." ATS should process common acronyms correctly, such as BA, MA, and MBA, but may not process other tech and business acronyms right.
8. Keyword Use: Newer ATS recognizes keywords in proper context within a sentence or word group. Don't rely solely on a keyword list. Let the job ad be your guide about which keywords to use in context. You may still want to provide a keyword list at the end of your resume under "Education" to cover the bases.
9. Source: Don't neglect to indicate where you heard about the job. ATS tracks sources and ranks some more highly than others, such as employee referrals over the big job boards.
10. Job Description: Don't forget that the ATS software will be searching for the descriptions of your jobs. Many people have been leaving that out in favor of just achievements. Time to put them back in!
If you are like a lot of people, you probably wish that the resume you worked so hard on to make visually attractive and easy to grasp would be seen on the first pass. Unfortunately, it isn't even seen on the second pass. The resume you submit to most large companies and many small-to-mid-sized ones gets mined for data that then populates fields on a form that the HR employee or recruiter sees (not your resume). Your resume may in fact only be seen at the time of an interview.
One further thought on length. If you need to go longer to adequately communicate what you've done and integrate keywords into context, go ahead. The software doesn't care!