Applying for a job takes time and effort, especially when navigating online application software. And sometimes, you may submit your resume only to be rejected by applicant tracking systems due to formatting issues, according to a Thursday report from Great Resumes Fast.

More than 98% of Fortune 500 companies use applicant tracking software to parse through resumes, according to a recent Jobscan report. Therefore, it’s important to ensure your resume is formatting to advance through the system and make it to the hiring manager’s desk.

This is even true at the executive level, the report noted. “Many executives and C-level job seekers assume that at that level, they don’t need to be concerned with Applicant Tracking Systems,” according to the report. “However, it is important to keep in mind that many companies use ATS for regulatory compliance with fair hiring practices, so an ATS scan might still be a part of the process, even for high-level employees who network their way to an interview.” (Note: This article about getting your resume through an applicant tracking system is available as a free PDF download.)

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Here are 15 tips for formatting your resume so it will easily pass through screening systems and connect with employers, according to the report.

1. Target your resume to a specific role

Applicant tracking systems are built on the premise that a quality candidate will have a targeted, focused resume that includes relevant keywords found in the job posting. Candidates should look through the posting for important qualifications, skills, and experience, and add in applicable keywords to their resume.

2. Know where to include keywords

Applicants should place keywords throughout every section of their resume. When tailoring a resume for a specific job posting, it’s easiest to swap in keywords in the Key Competencies/Areas of Expertise section.

3. Different keywords carry different weight

It’s important to note that not all keywords are equally weighted in application tracking systems: Some, like “full-time” or “collaborative,” will not be as important as more specific technical skills or job functions, like “risk mitigation.”

4. Avoid headers and footers, even for contact information

Some tracking systems cannot read content that appears in the header or footer of a Word document, so applicants should avoid putting their name or contact information in those sections.

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5. Leave off titles after your name

Some applicant tracking systems will read post-nominal titles or abbreviations (such as Ph.D., RN, or CFP) as part of the candidate’s name, which can cause issues in the program. Instead, place these qualifications into later sections, like Career Summary and Education.

6. Use standard section headers

Screening systems need to recognize section headers to scan each correctly, so make sure applications include standard headers like “Professional experience” and “Education.” You should also label “Certifications” as such to get credited for them.

7. Format dates properly

Candidates should include months with years on their resume, particularly if they hold jobs for less than a year. Applicant tracking systems calculate the dates, so if they see a single year (like 2013), it will calculate no time in that role, as opposed to a specific number of months (like 5/2013 to 12/2013).

8. Avoid live links

While it is important to include your email address and LinkedIn URL on your resume, you should make sure that neither are live links (highlighted in blue), as some screening software will read those as a virus.

9. Remove graphics, charts, graphs, or tablets

Older tracking systems have trouble processing graphics in a resume, and may send them to a reject pile. You may want to hold onto a version with graphics to give to the hiring manager when you make it through the screening process.

10. If you do include graphs, make sure the content is also written out

If you know that the applicant tracking system the company uses can handle charts or graphcs, you should make sure the content conveyed in each graphic is also written out in a paragraph or bullet.

11. Avoid unusual symbols

Only include symbols found on the keyboard, such as “*” or “-” to avoid formatting issues in the scanning system.

12. Learn what designs are safe

Many design elements are safe to include on an resume, such as bolded text, lines, and borders, and color shading.

13. Be wary of abbreviations

The best practice for abbreviations is to spell out a term the first time you use it. For example, spell out “Client Relationship Management” upon first mention, and then use “CRM” for additional uses.

14. Send in your resume as a .doc file

Some applicant tracking systems can handle PDFs or .docx files, but to be safe, a .doc file is ideal.

15. Test your resume

At a basic level, applicant tracking systems convert your resume to plain text to read it. Therefore, you can check how your resume will look to these programs by saving it as a plain text ASCII file. If you see a blank page, or if everything gets out of order, you should reformat it in Word before submitting it.

Image: iStockphoto/AndreyPopov