What Yalies need to know about resumes and ATSs

Article by Marc Cenedella ‘92

I’ve been writing on career topics for twenty years, covering resumes, high-paying jobs, and the job search.  I’ve helped millions of professionals improve their resumes.  The actual advice for writing your resume well isn’t hard once you learn it, but separating fact from urban legend and misguided advice is difficult, particularly when you’re just starting out.

I know from personal experience how the Yale liberal arts education can leave you in the dark on the real world practices involved in interviewing, hiring, and the job search. The fine folks here at OCS do a great job helping you get ahead, and I thought I’d share my own insights into resume writing, and what you need to know about the computer systems that read your resume once you apply.  So here’s what Yalies need to know about Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSs) based on my experience, research, and recent interviews with the CEOs of the top ATS companies

An ATS is an Applicant Tracking System.  This is the software that companies use to keep track of all of their applicants, interviews, job offers and salary negotiations during the recruiting process. When you visit a company website and apply, this system processes your resume and cover letter as they make their way through the company’s hiring system. 

Keep things simple.  Over and over, heads of ATS companies emphasize that resumes are best when they’re simple.  It can seem like a winning idea to add different fonts, colors, complex graphics or other features to try and make your resume stand out.  But this is not the best way to get additional attention for your resume.  Instead, the simplest format is the best format for a graduating senior.   Use single-column, reverse chronological order, with education at the top.  Don’t use tables, boxes, or other formatting structures.  Avoid communicating any important data in graphical form. And use a reasonable size font.

A simple and clean format makes it easiest on both the humans and the computers who will read your resume to understand what a great candidate you are for their role.

Never use a template you’ve found online. Googling ‘resume template’ will return millions of choices for pre-fabricated templates, provided by everyone from tiny online startups to Microsoft Word itself. Do not use these templates.  Because they’ve been created in different software programs, modified over the years, and aren’t ATS-tested, they often have formatting features that can harm your application. They may have hidden formatting, or outdated file types, or special character codes that aren’t readable by modern ATSs.  

Instead, always start your resume from a new document, that you’ve created yourself, and apply your own formatting. Great resumes don’t need fancy or advanced formatting, so please keep it simple.

Don’t use different fonts. Stick to the basic, default fonts. Times New Roman and Arial are best. My senior year at Yale, I spent a ridiculous amount of time choosing “Palatino” as my resume font. It doesn’t matter.  People who read resumes for a living have seen them all, and don’t care. They don’t give you bonus points for your aesthetic sensibilities based on your font choice.  Save yourself the aggravation and stick to the basics.

Also important to remember is that your audience is older and their eyesight may not be as sharp as yours – remember your parents’ reading glasses?  Make it easy on everybody and don’t try to squeeze more info into your resume by using a tiny 9-point font.  Stick to the default 11 point font and you’ll know your resume can always be read.

The one exception to this rule is for your full name, which ought to be in 14 point font, ALL CAPS, and bold. It makes your name stand out, which is helpful in the process.

Speaking of bold, use bold to indicate school name, the names of companies at which you’ve worked, your degree, job titles, and dates. In the body of the resume itself, be parsimonious with how much bold you use – a little bit helps your resume “pop”, too much feels like shouting.

Use the standard bullet point, such as • and do not feel tempted to use the more eclectic alternatives ⦿ ➢ ❖.

Do not use text boxes or tables. While these structures make your resume look more attractive in your word processing program on screen, these formatting choices do not travel well through ATSs.  ATSs strip formatting out of a document to read the underlying information, which means the information in these tables and text boxes can behave terribly jumbled or disorganized as a result.

Do not use graphics. One of the most popular choices in online resume templates today is the bar chart indicating various skills and the user’s level of proficiency in those skills – HTML, MS Word, Spanish, etc.  The problem is that ATSs can’t read these elements, and your info won’t transmit.  

In addition, the professionals who review resumes for a living have come to realize that everyone gives themselves a ‘9’ or ‘10’ out of 10 on their skills charts.  It’s easier and cleaner to simply list your skills in your keywords section.

Use MS Word (.docx) and not PDF. One piece of advice that has changed in recent years is that now we recommend that your resume should be always submitted in MS Word.  Even if you create it in Google Docs or Mac Pages, you should export it to MS Word for submissions. PDFs, which were at one time a popular choice for resume applications, are no longer recommended.  That’s because the file format choices used by PDFs (raster vs. vector) can be difficult for ATSs to read correctly.  As a result, please use MS Word exclusively. 

Always save your resume with a professional file name. “Resume1”, “Last Resume v11” and “My Resume” are poor choices because the reader can’t tell from the file name whose resume it is.  Instead, use your first name, last name, and year to make it crystal clear:

“Elihu Yale 2022 Resume” or


are your best choices.

I hope that’s helpful to you as you look to apply to jobs in the next year! Best of luck and Boola Boola!

Marc Cenedella ‘92 is Founder of Leet Resumes, free professional resume writing at www.leetresumes.com, and Ladders, the home for $100K+ Careers.





By Yale Office of Career Strategy
Yale Office of Career Strategy Yale Office of Career Strategy