Resume Parsing: How to Get Your Resume Past an ATS Scanner

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March 29, 2024
Edited by
Camille Trent
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min read

3 key takeaways

  • Employers use parsing to quickly process, analyze, and organize information from resumes.
  • Resume parsing typically involves an application tracking system (ATS) scanning documents for specific keywords which are predetermined by the employer.
  • You need to choose a resume format that parsers can process (all of Teal’s templates within the AI Resume Builder are compatible).

"Robots will review your resume before it ever gets in front of a human hiring manager."

For the past few decades, that piece of folklore has been passed from job seeker to job seeker. And there’s some truth to it: Many employers do use software to help speed up the recruitment process.

However, if you have visions of cartoon robots meticulously sorting through tall stacks of applications with their many arms, that’s not what’s happening. Recruiters and hiring managers rely on resume parsing software to help sort and vet applicants.

What is resume parsing? How is it used in the hiring process? And how can you make sure your own document makes it past those first-round robots? This guide covers everything you need to know about resume parsing:

  • What resume parsing is and why it matters
  • 3 common resume parsing issues
  • Make it past the parser
  • FAQs about resume parsing

Struggling to land interviews with your resume? Get started with Teal’s AI Resume Builder today.

Understanding resume parsing: What it is and why it matters

Resume parsing is the process of using software to extract, analyze, categorize, and store information from a resume—usually to find the applicants that are the best fit for the open role. Resume parsing tools often come with an employer’s applicant tracking system (ATS), so they don’t need an entirely separate resume parser to sort through documents.

You don’t need to understand the technical ins and outs of resume parsing software to make it through your job search. But in general, these tools work like this:

  • Extract the resume data: The parsing software scans the resume to identify and pull out any relevant data points (like your name, contact details, work history, education history, skills, and more).
  • Analyze the resume data: It uses algorithms to analyze the extracted information and better understand the structure and context.
  • Clean up the resume data: It standardizes the candidate information into a format that makes it easy to process, search, and compare.
  • Enter and store the resume data: Parsed data is stored directly in a database or the ATS so it can be used for further resume screening and evaluation.

Put simply, rather than a hiring manager needing to weed through every single resume submitted, resume parsers do the first step for them to surface the most suitable candidates. 

How do keywords work in resume parsing?

Different employers use several types of parsing processes when hiring. But in most cases, when candidates talk about the dreaded “robots” reviewing their applications, they’re referring to keyword-based parsing.

In keyword-based resume screening, the parsing software scans resumes looking for specific keywords and phrases the employer set up within the software. For example, if the employer is only considering potential candidates who are proficient in Photoshop, they could enter “Photoshop” as a keyword within the CV parsing software.

When that’s in place, the resume parser scans all of the submitted documents for that keyword and surfaces only the ones that meet the criteria. That way, recruiters only review applications from  candidates whose qualifications match the job description.

As a candidate, it’s easy to think of this automated first step as a barrier in the screening process. But resume parsing tools don’t exist to hurt applicants—they exist to help recruiters. Ultimately, parsing software reduces the manual processes involved in resume screening and saves time for recruiters who are responsible for finding the most qualified candidates. 

To learn more about how an ATS scans for keywords within resumes, check out this guide to applicant tracking system keywords

3 common resume parsing problems (and how to avoid them)

The resume parsing benefits for employers are obvious. It’s a speedy and cost-effective way for them to sort through a vast number of resumes and get the candidate information they need to make informed hiring decisions.

And, while you can take some comfort in the fact that the parsing process isn’t intended to stand in your way as a job seeker, there can still be some hiccups in the candidate experience when an employer relies on resume parsing technology.

Don’t panic yet—there are steps you can take to help your resume make it past the parser and get your most impressive and relevant information in front of the hiring manager.

Here’s a look at three of the most common resume parsing problems, and how you can make sure they don’t hold you back.

1. Using messy formatting

If there’s one thing to know about parsing software, it’s this: It likes to spit out structured data, and it has a much easier time generating clean and accurate data when resumes are organized. In short, it’s hard to parse resumes that are jumbled or lack a clear order.

When it comes to your file format, there’s a long-running myth that only Word document resumes can be parsed. That’s not true—modern resume parsers are capable of scanning various formats, including PDFs.

Formatting tips to make it past resume parsing:

  • Keep your resume format simple and clean. Choose a common font (like Arial, Cambria, or Times New Roman), avoid too many colors or graphic elements, and ensure there’s enough white space to balance your text. All of the templates within Teal’s Resume Builder are compatible with parsers.
  • Label your sections clearly. Use intuitive language to label your sections (for example, put “work experience” above your work history) along with resume headers that are bolder and slightly bigger than the rest of your text.
  • Follow the employer’s directions for submitting your resume. Take note of what resume formats they accept and if you need to use a specific naming convention for your document file.

2. Neglecting keywords

It’s hard to overstate the importance of keywords when creating an ATS-friendly resume.

The parser combs through your work experience, skills, summary, and other candidate data looking for specific terms. If they appear on your document, you increase your chances of landing in the “to be interviewed” pile. 

You’re not a mind-reader, so how can you figure out what keywords to include? It hinges on taking a closer look at the job descriptions for open roles you're considering. 

Keyword tips to make it past parsing

  • Don’t neglect the importance of tailoring your resume. Parsers aren’t looking for great people—they’re looking for great potential hires, meaning people who demonstrate that they’re a clear fit for the open role. You can’t connect those dots for the employer if you use the same, generic resume for every single position.
job description keywords
Job seekers use Teal to match their resume to the job description

Teal's AI Resume Builder

  • Comb through the job description. When you’re looking for clues about what to include in your document, the job posting itself is your best resource. Pay close attention to what the employer is asking for, such as certain skills or responsibilities that are emphasized. You can analyze the job description manually or use the Matching feature within Teal’s AI Resume Builder to attach the posting to your resume and see how your content matches up.
  • Incorporate relevant keywords. When you identify something that seems important to the employer, that should be added somewhere on your resume. Again, you can do this on your own, but it’s easier with Teal’s Job Description Keyword Finder and Matching Mode, which quickly scans job descriptions for the most important keywords, while providing a “match score” to help you build a resume that stands out to employers.
  • Prioritize honesty. Keywords matter, but honesty does too. Resist the urge to list skills and qualifications you don’t actually possess just to make it through the first round of screening. That will only come back to bite you later in the hiring process.

To learn more about selecting the right keywords for your resume, read this guide to resume keywords and make more strategic choices. 

3. Assuming that parsing won’t happen

Here’s one of the worst things you can do: Assume that an employer won’t use a resume parser. 

There’s often a lack of transparency in hiring processes, which makes it tough to know for certain whether or not a company is relying on this type of recruitment software. But your safest bet is to assume that every company is using resume parsing software and adjust your resume accordingly. Plus, the same best practices that make your resume more appealing to a resume parser also make it more appealing to recruiters, so you can’t go wrong either way.

Additional tips to make it past parsing

  • Do a detailed resume analysis. The Analysis feature in Teal’s Resume Builder gives your resume an overall score, as well as personalized suggestions for ways you can make your resume even stronger. It’s a great way to go beyond only keywords and ensure your resume is all-around impressive.
  • Take your time. When you’re eager to apply for a position, it’s tempting to fire off your resume as quickly as possible. Slow down and take a breath. Rushing leads to errors and other oversights. Remember, a resume you sped through isn’t likely to be your best one. 

Of course, there are some other potential problems with parsing—like machine learning algorithms failing to capture some of your job data correctly. As always, technology has its shortcomings.

Unfortunately, you don’t have any control over the inner workings of the resume parser an employer is using. However, you do have control over the resume you submit. That’s where you should focus your time, energy, and attention. 

For more tips on making it past a resume parser, check out this comprehensive guide on how to optimize your resume for ATS

Make it past resume parsers

Feel intimidated by applicant tracking, resume parsing software, and all of the potential wrenches this technology can throw in the recruitment process? Teal’s Resume Builder can help you submit a strong resume that puts you at the top of the talent pool.

Choose a format that’s compatible with resume parsing software

In Teal’s Design Mode, you can customize your font, alignment, and layout as well as browse a variety of polished resume templates—all of which are compatible with ATS and resume parsing software. 

resume templates on Teal
Teal offers dozens of free and paid resume templates

Incorporate the most impactful keywords

With Teal’s Matching Mode, you can attach a job description to each version of your resume and see how your document compares to the posting. Teal acts as your own resume parser—pulling out keywords from both the position listing and your resume to see how you stack up. Teal will give you an overall “Match Score” as well as a list of keywords to incorporate into your resume.

resume keywords
Teal lets you chose which job description keywords to include in your resume

Analyze and improve your content

You don’t just need your information to impress robots—you need it to impress recruiters. Teal’s Analysis Mode gives you an overall score for your resume by analyzing factors like structure, keyword usage, and inclusion of measurable results. It calls attention to specific issues in your document and provides expert suggestions to address those improvement areas. 

resume checker
Teal's checks your resume against best practices and gives it a score

Organize your job search and documents

Tailoring your resume matters, but it can also be messy. It isn’t long before you end up with multiple resumes—all of which are slightly different from each other. On your Teal dashboard, you can see all of your different versions at a glance with key information, including the name of the document, the score, the date it was created, and a link to the job description you attached. 

save multiple resumes
Teal lets you save multiple versions of your resume for different roles and titles

Resume parsing can raise a lot of questions in your search for a new position—and it can be discouraging to know that, in all likelihood, some sort of artificial intelligence (AI) tool will parse and review your candidate details before a real, breathing human ever does.

The good news is that, much like employers do, you can leverage resume tech to make sure every part of your resume is scannable and readable—by humans and resume parsers. Get started with Teal’s Resume Builder to swap application mystery for mastery.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I parse my resume?

You don’t parse your resume—it’s something an employer does. It saves time when organizing and reviewing candidate data during the screening phase, so recruiters' hours can be spent on other tasks. 

That said, you can do your own version of parsing to make it past that first stage and stand out from other candidates. Teal’s Resume Builder parses both a job description and your resume to identify keywords and see how the two compare, so you can increase your chances of moving beyond the robot round. 

What is a parsing issue on a resume?

A parsing issue is anything that stands in the way of your resume being parsed and processed correctly. This could include things like using poor formatting, labeling sections incorrectly or unclearly, incorporating complex fonts or graphic elements, or failing to submit your resume in the format required by the employer. Use ATS-compatible resume templates in Teal’s AI Resume Builder to ensure your resume is fully parsable.

How are ATS and resume parsing connected?

Resume parsing is usually part of an ATS. While the ATS handles all aspects of organizing candidates and the hiring process, the parser is a subset or specific feature that focuses on scanning candidate resumes, organizing the information into usable data, and storing it in a database (again, usually directly within the ATS).

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a freelance writer focused on the world of work. When she's not at her computer, you'll find her with her family—which includes two adorable sons and two rebellious rescue mutts.

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