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How to Format a Resume Header

Updated: Jul 20, 2021

Candidates may be shocked to hear that their contact information went missing after clicking apply.

It’s an error observed at all experience levels, geographic region, and candidate sophistication due to formatting discrepancies between your word processor and the ATS.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction to Resume Headers 2. Why Most Applicants Make Header Mistakes 3. What Happens to Your Resume Header During an Application 4. How Can You Ensure That Your Resume Header Parses ATS? 5. Resume Header Examples 6. Other Items to Avoid When Building an ATS Friendly Header 7. Summary

1. Introduction to Resume Headers

The biggest pitfall when writing an ATS friendly resume is often hiding in plain sight. It’s an error observed at all experience levels, geographic region, and candidate sophistication.

The good news is, however, that once it’s identified, it may also be the easiest problem to fix. At Resume Atelier, we observe nearly 50% of candidates making this critical error. Yes, even with executive resume candidates. So what is it?

The biggest mistake candidates make is incorrectly formatting their resume header that leads to the loss of contact information.

According to an executive recruiter at StephenDouglas who maintains a large, proprietary resume database, “I see resumes with missing names and emails all of the time.”

It’s hard to be contacted for that hot, new tech job if no one can find your email or phone number.

2. Why Most Applicants Make Header Mistakes

Both Microsoft Word and Google Docs provide a helpful field for students, authors, and armchair note-takers alike. It’s the Header within the word processor. Don’t confuse this area of a word processor with the practice of including your name and contact information at the top of the page. Hint: you’ll need to double-click to enter this field at the top of the page.

This field allows for convenient replication of redundant information that’s helpful to have on every page, such as titles, an author’s name, or page numbers, etc. It’s a genuinely innocent field, that’s darn handy in practically every use case except executive resume writing.

3. What Happens to Your Resume Header During an Application

In the days of printing things out and handing them over (did you ever carry a paper resume to an interview?) we would likely breeze through this topic. Your resume header would never be lost (unless you ran out of ink). However, in the era of online applications, where companies receive hundreds if not thousands of resumes in every conceivable format, it begs for deeper thought.

Everything comes down to what happens after you upload your resume and press “Apply”. When your resume is processed by an ATS, it is first translated into plain text from whatever format you’ve supplied. That means that your PDF or .docx is immediately stripped of formatting in order to harmonize the inputs the ATS receives from candidates. This is also when unusual or multi-column formatting that disturbs the natural flow of text is uncovered.

Sadly, at this stage, content within the Header area is frequently lost. Your resume will arrive to HR starting with your executive summary or professional experience. Or more dramatically, a Headless Horseman of a resume

4. How can you ensure that your resume header parses ATS?

Don’t put anything in the Header or Footer field of a word processor. Ever. No, not even page numbers. Assume that any detail that’s in these two fields will be (quite literally) lost in translation.

5. Resume Header Examples

First Name Last Name Full Address, City, State Phone Number | Email


John Smith 1700 Orchard Way, New York, NY 555-555-5555 |

Stacked textually in this way, there is little opportunity for data loss. Most popular resume portals (like ZipRecruiter) will only map properly formatted resumes for engagement where recruiters commonly pay for each email address accessed.

Due to both the complexity and volume of application submissions and resume portal uploads, candidates who have improperly formatted resume headers commonly remain unaware of the issue. HR, hiring managers, and recruiters alike will simply move to the next candidate. If you find yourself asking, “Why is no one reaching out from my job applications?”, you should immediately double-check your header.

6. Other Items to Avoid When Building an ATS Friendly Header

Your contact information, like every other component of your resume, should be written in plain text, without cells, tables, or other rich formatting. While using an accent color for your name may be tempting, remember that all formatting is wiped clean the moment you click “Apply”.

7. In Summary

We realize your name is important, if not something to be genuinely proud of, so against all impulses, please (for robot’s sake), keep formatting in your resume header as simple as possible to ensure no contact information is lost during your application process. We want your phone to be ringing off-the-hook with opportunities.

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