Once upon a time, job applicants crafted a single version of their resume and used this version to apply for every job. And, brace yourself, they applied for jobs by sending these paper documents in the mail. There were even those who didn’t have regular access to a printer and had to hire a commercial printer to make several copies of their resume so that they would have plenty on hand when they wanted to apply for a job.

Then, personal computers and home printers arrived and with them the ability to update and print resumes on demand. Job applicants could now easily change their resume to suit the job. But those advances are nothing compared to options available to modern job seekers.

Today, resumes still get delivered via the mail sometimes. But more often, job seekers are applying for the position they seek either through an online portal or via email. And, frequently their resumes pass through a digital scanning process before they ever reach a human’s screen. Yes, you guessed it, I’m talking about the applicant tracking system (ATS).

Why most job applicants need an ATS-friendly resume

Applicant tracking systems scan and parse the information contained in a digitized resume so that it can be easily searched or sorted by employers and their recruiting teams.

Initially used by only the largest of organizations, ATS have become commonplace among large organizations.

An estimated 95% of Fortune 500 corporations use an ATS. Medium-sized businesses are using them too. If you’ve uploaded your resume to one of the major job platforms such as Indeed or CareerBuilder, your resume has probably been scanned by an ATS.

While there are still many small employers who don’t use automated systems to process the resumes they receive, the continued adoption of ATS by employers of all sizes means that, for most job seekers, creating an ATS-friendly resume isn’t optional. And, creating an ATS-friendly resume means taking care to ensure that your resume is easy for the machines to read.

An orange that is painted blue on the outside.

Should you forego creative elements to keep your resume ATS-ready?

Does the need to please the bots mean that your resume has to be boring? What about job applicants that want to demonstrate their creativity and craft a resume that appeals to the human reader? Shouldn’t job seekers try to stand out by creating visually stunning resumes like the ones featured on sites such as Canva and 99 Designs?

To make sure you wow prospective employers, should you create two separate resumes, one for the machines and one for humans?

For most job seekers the answer is no. Yes, that beautifully color-blocked resume may stand out in the stack. However, if your creative touches make your document difficult to skim, your standout resume won’t earn you many points with busy human resources personnel.

Additionally, having two versions of your resume doubles your proofreading burden. Every time you make a change to your resume’s content, you’ll have to make it twice. Instead, we recommend that job seekers focus their attention on designing a resume with a clear format that is easy for both humans and machines to quickly scan. Use standard headings so that both types of readers can find relevant information fast. Don’t include graphics that may obscure important data. And, give your most important skills and qualifications top billing.

Of course, there are some exceptions to this advice. Job seekers in creative industries may want to design a resume that showcases their artistic talents. But for most applicants, your resume should be a place to showcase your skills and qualifications, including your communications skills. So, rather than spending time creating two resumes for the same job, spend it creating one resume customized for the role you are seeking.