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Why recruiters and ATS hate your fancy resume template

Mark Daniel //  0 Comments

Whether you like it or not, here’s the ugly truth about the beautiful resume template you are using for your job applications.


When it comes to writing your resume, you can easily feel a bit frustrated and lost.

One problem is that it is a fair-sized document to produce so, if you are not that comfortable with writing, that’s a challenge in itself.

The other is that you’ve got to write about yourself, which probably makes you feel a bit uncomfortable.

That’s why so many turn to Google and look for resume templates they can download.

Reasons why people choose to use fancy resume templates

First, templates provide you with some structure to work with, especially if you haven’t written one for a while.

They eliminate that problem of having a blank screen and not knowing what to do.

Second, they solve the design problem for you.

Everyone knows its really tough out there so they want their resume to stand out and make an impression.

And, unless you are a graphic designer, this is hard to achieve on your own.

So, there’s a really good chance that you may have already done this – or are even thinking about doing this right now.

But I have one word to say on this – well actually two – please don’t!

Why Applicant Tracking Systems hate your fancy resume template 

When you apply online for a job, your resume will most likely be screened first by an Applicant Tracking System that will attempt to extract all your information and place it on a database for grading against the criteria set for a role.

Here’s the problem.

It is estimated that up to 75% of resumes are rejected for online jobs just because Applicant Tracking Software can’t extract the information it needs due to design.

Up to 75% of resumes are rejected for online jobs just because Applicant Tracking Software can’t extract the information it needs due to design.

Let’s put this another way. 

You apply for a job which is a perfect match for your skills and experience and you just know that you are going to get a call or an invite for an interview.

But time goes on, and on, and all you hear are… crickets!

Sound familiar?

Now of course there are a multitude of reasons why you might not get shortlisted for an interview, but if you submit your resume using a fancy template that ATS can’t read, you are definitely not going to be successful.

If an ATS can’t read it, it won’t record it.

If all or some of your skills and experience are not recorded on the application database, then your percentage match to the position you are applying for will be low or zero – even if you are the perfect candidate for the role.

Some resume templates claim to be ATS compliant but if they include any of the following beware:

  • Photos
  • Tables
  • Graphs
  • Heavily designed headers & footers
  • Multiple columns
  • Unusual curly serif fonts
  • Special icons for bullet points

The simple fact is they are not.

It’s true that some ATS platforms are less sensitive than others but if your current resume template includes one or more of the above, you are taking a risk.

Do you really want to do that?

Why recruiters hate your fancy resume template

ATS might reject you

The first reason recruiters don’t like your resume template is related to the ATS problem.

They have positions to fill and they want to present the very best shortlist of candidates to their clients.

However, perfect candidates can literally eliminate themselves from ever being seen by recruiters by using a fancy template and getting knocked out by ATS.

Design slows speed

The second reason recruiters are not going to be thankful you used a resume template is speed.

If your resume gets into the hands of a recruiter before it hits an ATS, they want to be able to screen it within a few seconds.

Yes, you literally have less than 10 seconds at this stage to make an impression.

Resume templates with information in unusual places such as columns and charts makes it much harder for them to find what they are looking for quickly.

Generic issue

Remember also that because so many people download the same templates, the one you are using might not be that unique anyway - so it won’t make you stand out.

In fact, it can just be seen as lazy and generic – the opposite of what you were hoping for.

Space restriction

Yes, a big reason for using a template is to help people write their resume as it gives them a structure to work within.

The problem though is exactly that – you only have a certain space to fit your career history in whether you are a fresh graduate or a Director with 30 years’ experience.

The result?

Great candidates selling themselves short by not adding essential skills and experience or templates that have become misaligned and look awful because an applicant’s details did not fit the space available.

Does this mean I have to pay a resume writer? 

I have seen several pro resume template articles arguing the same thing: the only reason a person or a company criticises a resume template is because they want you to pay a fee for writing it instead.

Of course, there are some that may be motivated by this, but I can assure you that it is only the minority.

In fact, you can easily twist that argument the other way round.

It is the companies selling resume templates and paid online resume builders that say templates are fine and ATS and recruiters love them – because they want your money.

But let’s not get sidetracked with the ‘who wants your money’ debate.

What’s important is the answer - no, you can write it yourself. After all, you were writing it yourself when you filled in the fancy template.

Is it ever OK to use a resume template? 

Now, you may be surprised about my answer being yes, sometimes it is.

If you are in the creative industries then yes, of course you need to do something different because you have been asked for something different such as a portfolio.

Further, if you are sending a resume as a one off directly to a hiring manager or a recruiter, it can make sense to use an attractive template – just make sure that you also send them a plain ATS optimised version as well that they can use for their ATS should they want to.

So, what type of resume should you be using instead of a template?

Opt for a plain, vanilla style format that ATS can definitely read.

It should have a reverse chronological format and the content should be the focus, not the design.

After all, both ATS and recruiters want to assess your key skills and experience to screen you for a position – not your ability to add funky bullet points and clip art!

In case you are feeling a little lost without the guidance of a template, we have free course for you that explains how to get your resume past Applicant Tracking Systems.

It also includes a free, truly ATS optimised template that you can download plus instructions on how to complete it.

Yes, I know I just used the word ‘resume template.’

Adjust your expectations though!

It’s not pretty, and it’s certainly not fancy.

Now, I understand that you may find it hard to give up your current template, especially if it looks great, but remember.

The job of your resume is to get you an interview.

And that fancy style that you love so much might be precisely the reason why you aren’t hearing back from your applications.

Key takeaways

If you really want a job, don’t apply with a fancy resume template.

Instead of making you stand out, it is far more likely to make you invisible.

You are going to  blend in with everyone else using exactly the same one and most likely be blocked by ATS, resulting in actual recruiters not even seeing your application

If you found this useful, please share.

Have a question regarding resume templates? Leave a comment below and I will be back to you soon.

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About the Author

A global resume writer and career coach, Mark is known for his honest, direct, and hard-hitting advice, helping people manage job applications and succeed at interviews. Now based on the Sunshine Coast in Australia, he is the co-founder of Real Life Career Advice and a prolific publisher, contributing to several industry magazines and his daily career advice blog to his 45,000 LinkedIn followers.

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