You read the description of a job opening that you’re interested in. You think, “Hey! I can do that!” So you fire off a cover letter explaining how you heard about the position and why you’re interested – along with a copy of your most recent resume.

And then you wait. And you don’t get any reply at all from the employer. Tumbleweeds. Crickets. What went wrong? Where did your resume even go?

It sucks, but most job applications receive no response whatsoever. Here’s why.

Your application may be deleted by computer software without ever being read by an HR person or hiring manager.

Employers can receive anywhere between 75 and 250 applications per job posting. And because the web has made it so easy for people to apply to multiple jobs – many of the submissions are from candidates who really aren’t qualified to do the job.

In order to avoid having to read through the entire pile of resumes, most employers use applicant tracking systems (or ATS as they’re called in the industry) to screen all of the resumes submitted for a position, and filter them based on how the keywords they contain measure up to those sought by the hiring manager. If the keywords and phrases that you’ve used don’t match what the employer has set the ATS to scan for – your resume won’t ever be read by real person. Crickets.

You can determine which are the most relevant keywords for your job and industry by carefully reading job descriptions for opportunities in your field. Make sure that the wording you use to describe your skills and experience closely matches the language used by employers. Generally, they’ll be looking for things such as technology, job titles, industry-specific terms, degrees or certifications, specific skills, etc.

To help get you started, here are the exact keywords that employers search for in resumes on Workopolis by industry.

That’s just the first hurdle your resume has to overcome.

The other? Analysis of employer behaviour on Workopolis shows that most employers spend less than 11 seconds on a resume before shortlisting it for further review or rejecting it and moving on. (And that’s actually being generous – a similar study by The Ladders found that most employers spend less than six seconds on a resume.)

Of the small group of resumes that made it through the ATS software filters to actually be read by an employer, 80% are rejected in that initial few second scan. Some may have had enough industry keywords to pass the filter, but still lack the actual qualifications to do the job. Others could be generic resumes not demonstrating particular value to the opportunity at hand. Others could be difficult to read or contain spelling or grammatical errors that turn employers off. Tumbleweeds.

How to get past the few second resume scan:

    Only apply to jobs that you’re genuinely qualified for. This doesn’t mean you must have 100% of what is asked for in the job description – there is a phenomenon known as ‘credential creep,’ where employers are asking for more and more credentials for a role than were traditionally called for. Read job descriptions carefully, and to apply for those jobs where they have the ability to be of significant value in the role. And then to write a resume that demonstrates this specifically for the job at hand.

    Have an optimized resume title. A scan of the Workopolis resume database turns up many thousands of resumes with the title Resume, C.V., or Curriculum Vitae. Employers already know what a resume is, so labelling it as such is a waste of valuable real-estate. This is your headline, the first thing anyone will read on the document that is their first impression of you. Make it count. Your resume should be titled the name of the job that you are applying for – or how you best describe your career.

    Objectives are out. Don’t open with a wordy paragraph about what you are looking for. Start with a skills summary of what you can offer employers instead. You don’t want the first thing that an employer reads in that quick scan to be a description of what you want. Make it what you can do for them.

    Be sure it’s visually appealing to read. Use short sentences and paragraphs with bulleted lists for maximum readability. It’s harder to find information quickly in large blocks of text. When an employer has many resumes to go through, if you make it difficult for them to locate the information they’re looking for, there’s a good chance they’ll simply move on to the next resume.

    Make key information easy to find. List your work history with clear start and end dates in a consistent format in reverse chronological order. Employers say that what they want to see in a resume scan is where a candidate has worked, what they did on the job, and how their career has progressed.

    Proofread. An obvious spelling mistake or typo will get your resume rejected in less than 11 seconds. When employers are looking through numerous resumes trying to pick the best few to interview, why would they select someone who hasn’t taken care enough to submit an error-free application? It speaks to a candidate’s motivation, attention to detail, or capabilities.

The real job of your resume is to successfully market your abilities to an employer so that they will want to find out more about you in a job interview. Of course, your odds of impressing someone go way up when you’re actually being read by a real person – and you don’t turn that person off right away with poor layout or proofreading.

This is why experts say that only a tiny fraction of resumes submitted are ever selected for an interview. “98% of job seekers are eliminated at the initial resume screening, and only the top 2% of candidates make it to the interview,” says Robert Meier, President of Job Market Experts. And most employers only respond to those candidates that they wish to interview.

To be among the select few, you need to incorporate as many relevant keywords as you can into your resume to help it get past the search strings and automated filters that come between your writing and human eyes. And you must make sure you’re applying with a resume that shows how you can bring particular value to a job at hand.

That’s how you can drown out the crickets and tumbleweeds with the sound of your phone actually ringing.

See also:

The only skill that matters in your resume
Three things employers want to see is resumes
The biggest mistake in a resume (and how to create a masterpiece)


Peter Harris
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