How to get your resume past the (electronic) gatekeepers
As you may know, many companies use an applicant tracking system (ATS) these days.
These software systems are looking at resumes and deciding whether yours will make it to the next level and be seen by actual human eyes. They’re like the bouncer at the club that only lets in famous and/or beautiful people. Except this club leads to your bright career future and that club is just as likely to lead to rejection and self esteem issues, or hangovers and walks of shame.
And that annoying electronic system standing between you and your future can be a pretty tough gatekeeper. In one story that is famous in HR circles, a Philadelphia-area human-resources executive applied anonymously for a job in his own company as an experiment – and didn’t make it through the screening process.
What are they looking for? Indications that the applicant is qualified to do the job. But remember that the software is a computer and has its limitations. It’s not just about keywords, according to the experts in these things, but about making your resume legible. If you don’t get a call, it might be because of your formatting or use of graphics.
These are the top tips I’ve found for getting your resume past the applicant tracking systems and in front of human eyes. See more tips on getting past the applicant tracking systems here. You can probably pick and choose what you want to use and what you want to discard. After all, none of these systems are the same and at the end of the day it’s all a bit of a toss of the dice. But it’s still good information to have.
Customize to the specific position: You should, of course, be doing this anyway. Use the exact job title as well as the words listed in the job description and variations thereupon in both your resume and cover letter. Don’t get cute with terms like “Sales Rock Star” (don’t do this anyway. It’s so dumb), and if they ask for proficiency in a specific software like Excel or coding language like HTML 5, list that specifically.
Don’t use abbreviations. Spell out the words, suggests this University of Illinois article. So, you should write “Vice President of Marketing,” rather than “VP, Marketing.”
Save your document in Word. The ATS might not be able to read Pages, PDF, or whatever other format you’ve used to save your resume. In fact, the same UIC article suggests you save only in .doc format and says the system may not even be able to read .docx.
Don’t use templates. For the same reason. The ATS might not be able to read them.
Watch for typos, extra spaces, and odd characters beyond the standard bullet. Again, the ATS might not be able to read words like “resumé” (not that anyone would actually write that but I can’t think of anything else right now).
Keep formatting simple. Headers, footers, logos, graphics, anything too fancy apparently has the potential to trip up the ATS, according to this Ladders article. Keep all relevant information in the body of the resume. I think knowing that there is any potential for confusion would cause me to eschew design-y tricks altogether to stay on the safe side.
Use a standard font, such as Ariel, Calibri, or Verdana. Times New Roman is another, but there is a separate discussion over whether it might turn off some employers. Stick with sans serif and you’re less likely to go wrong.
Note: if you’re applying for a position that requires you to show off your design skills, this is not exactly the most appealing advice. I get that. You can ignore it altogether – after all, nothing is foolproof. Your other options in that case include dropping off a hard copy of your visually stunning resume, or directing employers to your web portfolio.