Have you noticed it's becoming increasingly more difficult to get noticed in our highly competitive job market? Not to mention how hard it is to get past a company's applicant tracking system or ATS? (If you have no idea what that is, keep reading!)
You know you're ready to make a change, so you sit down to formulate a plan of attack for your job search. It takes most of your Saturday, but you do your homework and you research several companies for which you might like to work. You check their job sites, read many job descriptions, find some you really like, and you think, "Yes! That's me." You send your resume out to dozens of application sites, excited about the prospects of a new career. By the time you finish, your eyes hurt and you're exhausted, but you think, "I can't wait to see who responds this week". Then, days, or maybe even weeks go by and …. crickets… no responses. What happened?
In most companies, there are typically two gatekeepers: the applicant tracking system or ATS, which is a company's application database or the dark hole where all your information disappears, and the internal recruitment team. Having been one of those internal recruiters and worked in the recruitment industry for the past 15 years, I'm going to offer you a few resume tips that will help you get past the ATS and noticed by the internal recruiter. At the end of this post, I will also include a link to my Essential Resume Builder, which is a downloadable document to help you update your current resume or build a new one.
Remember that tricky ATS I mentioned? In most cases, when you go to a company's career site to complete an application, it links directly to their ATS. You are asked to upload your resume and then the ATS parses it, or takes key criteria like your name, company, or title, and inputs it into the fields of the company's application. If you thought you might be creative to stand out and you added a picture, graphics, a QR code, or any other type of creative formatting to your resume, the ATS is going to have a hard time parsing information. This may make more work for you by requiring you to manually fill in sections of the application. In some cases, if you're resume isn't in a standard Word or PDF document, the system may not even accept it. Instead, add emphasis by bolding key words, or adding a pop of color. Keep your font crisp and easily readable. Keep standard margins and simple style.
If you've got "Objective" as the opening section on your resume, time to change it! The company is going to ask what your objectives are later in the process. Right now, they want to know what you can do for them that's better than all the other people who sent resumes. Replace your Objective with a Summary or Highlights section and make sure it's the first thing they see. Most recruiters are scanning through dozens, if not hundreds, of resumes and if they don't like what they see in the first third of your resume, they won't keep reading. Use no more than 2 to 3 sentences to emphasize your greatest strengths, expertise, or most noteworthy skills. Tell the company what you can do for them or what makes you better than your peers. What is your superpower?
Now it's time to get to your experience. Lots of people are uncomfortable with self-promotion, but this is the one time and the one document where you've got to dig deep and pull out the good stuff. Try to think of it as your career story or personal brand and not just the hum drum tasks that you completed on a day-to-day basis. What were you responsible for? How did that help your team and the company? Did you learn a new skill or maybe even teach a new skill to the team? Did you save the company money? Time? Effort? Did you help them save face? Your sentences should start with action verbs and end with outcomes or contributions. If there were special achievements, highlight them. Having trouble thinking of things? Refer back to your prior job descriptions, talk to past co-workers, think about your employee reviews. What compliments were you given? It may sound like a lot of work, but it will help you not only get past the ATS and noticed by the recruiter, it will prepare you for your interview… the next step! That's your goal!!
Be sure to highlight your skills in a section of their own and possibly throughout your resume as you describe experiences where you used them. These key words are important! In every job description, there is specific vernacular that the company uses as well as basic and preferred requirements of the job. When you apply, the ATS scans your resume for similar vernacular or words that relate to those requirements, and in many cases, rates your resume according to how well it matches. Yes, that's right, I said rates or scores. So, let's say that C++, embedded, and use of algorithms are the main requirements in the job description. The more heavily your resume is peppered with those words, the higher it will score as a match to that job description and the higher it will be ranked in the stack of resumes that the recruiter reviews. Recruiters don't have time to go through every resume. They run key word searches. They set parameters within the ATS. They filter. If you're not thoroughly reading job descriptions and then ensuring that the language you're using in your resume has some significant matches, you're wasting your time. No, that doesn't mean fabricate new skills. It means make sure some of your words match their words so that the bot calculating those words in the ATS will score you higher!
While the majority of your resume and the space you have available should focus on your experience and what you have to offer, there are scenarios when a unique experience can be relevant and help you stand out. For example, maybe you're applying for a Project Management position and you've also volunteered with an organization where you helped organize large scale events - that would be a great thing to mention and it's relevant to the skills they seek! Or, maybe the company makes products for kids and in your spare time you tutor kids. It may not be relevant to your specific job but it shows that you have similar values to those of the company and could be a good culture fit. Volunteer work is always a great conversation starter, as are things like awards, hobbies or travel that have contributed to your unique skills, perspective, or mindset.
Despite how much the resume landscape has changed, succinct and to the point are still good rules of thumb. If you're less than 3 years out of school, your resume should be one page, unless you've got a PhD and you want to include relevant published works and research. If you're mid-career level or older, it's not necessary to go back further than 10 years unless it directly relates to your narrative. You can control your timeline. If it looks crowded and the font is too small, it's better to have a second page. If your resume is longer than 2 pages, there's a good chance the third page will never be read. Longer than three, good luck!
Want a basic template with suggestions and tips included, click this link to get my Essential Resume Builder. Then, get out there and happy hunting!
If you'd like to hear more about specific topics related to your job search be sure to add a comment and tell us your questions!
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