dates on resume

The ATS Doesn’t Care How You Write Dates on Your Resume

I saw a blog post last week about how to write dates on resumes. 

It inferred that if job seekers don’t use the writer’s prescribed format, then applicant tracking systems (ATS) will shoot their resumes to the Black Hole of Death.

Not the case.

Parsing Software Reads Your Resume

First, to pick nits, the ATS doesn’t read your resume. Rather, applicant tracking systems include resume parsing software. The parsing software reads your resume seeking to populate a database of user-defined requirements.

Beyond that, organizations use many different parsers. They range in accuracy from “not so good” to “almost as good as a human reader.” Thus, a small real estate management company might use an inexpensive, not so good parser while a large Wall Street investment bank might have a parser that’s almost as good at parsing language as you would be.

Some companies write their own parsers. Other companies buy parsers and integrate them with their ATS. If you google around a bit, you can even find free parsing software.

The ATS Isn’t a Monolith

Bloggers often write about “the ATS” as if it’s a monolith with an inalienable set of truths and rules.

As you can see from the above, that’s far from true. Companies can choose from many systems and parsing options (which use a variety of parsing methodologies). Moreover, they define the data they want their parsers to find.

Thus, they tell their systems how to look at your work history, your years of experience, your job experience, whether or not they care about older jobs, etc.

Applicants Don’t All Write Dates on Resumes the Same Way

Beyond the variety found in parsing software, methodologies, and user requirements, applicants vary in how they present information in their resumes.

The people who develop parsing software know this, so they write code that enables their parser to recognize different presentations of the same information.

You hope the prospective employers you’re applying to have invested in highly accurate resume parsing software. However, you don’t know exactly how their parser works, so you don’t have a way to compensate within your resume if they haven’t.

That’s why it’s best for you to network your resume into the hands of the hiring manager.

How a Good Resume Parser Handles Dates on Resumes

Now let’s examine what parsers do with dates.

Applicants write dates of employment and graduation dates in a variety of ways. They might use months and years or just years. Some people leave dates off of their education.

A good developer will study reams of resumes to identify the different ways people write dates. They will then code their parser to recognize all of them. You can read a discussion of that here. As you will see, in all likelihood, the ATS doesn’t care how you write dates on your resume. It wants you to list the dates, but it should have your back on a variety of ways for you to do so.

Chill on the ATS Paranoia

While it’s good to be aware of resume parsing techniques, it’s also important to use common sense. Don’t believe everything you read about the evil ATS.

Ask yourself if it’s likely that parsing software would be written to compensate for what you’re worried about, such as how to present dates. If it is, then relax and move on with your job search.

Image Courtesy of Toa Heftiba
Updated March 2019

© 2015 – 2019, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.

Comments 8

  1. Over a period of time, I genuinely had to ask myself if I was presenting my information in such strange context that it wasn’t registering as anything positive. I’m pretty sure that the Overview at top isn’t registering– I used SEO type bing, bing, bing! for several skills that needed to be recognized, like MS Office, negotiating, project managing, expense reports, and my strength, high written communications ability.

    I still hate the scanning vs. knowing you can talk to a human about ‘extras’ that may not register *except* as information, not realllly count for you if its the real key and interviewer sees light same way you need them to..

  2. Hi Glenn,

    That’s a helpful comment! In researching this post, I learned that many resume parsers give more weight to keywords found in the text of the resume and less weight to keywords found in lists.


  3. Loved the article. The use of ATS have definitely changed the landscape of the job market. With so many companies now relying on the technology, I was super curious if anyone maybe had any predictions as to what this might look like, maybe 5, 10 years from now?

  4. Bernadette,

    I’m glad you found the post helpful. Thank you for your comment.


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