By Allison Saunders

Zing!, June 19, 2018 —

When it comes to the job application process, your most important asset is your resume. It’s the employer’s first impression of you as an applicant – a summation of your educational status, professional endeavors and winning attributes laid out on just one or two pages.

It’s important for your resume to stand out and make a good impression, in hopes of receiving an invitation to an in-person interview and, ultimately, a job offer. However, even candidates with the most well-written resumes are finding it hard to make it to the in-person interview. So, what’s the hang-up?

The answer lies in Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), automated systems designed to screen and filter resumes based on keywords and key phrases established by an employer or HR staff at a company. It’s like a search engine of the professional hiring world.

Based on factors like keywords, formatting and structure, resumes are ranked by relevancy, with the most relevant finding their way onto the screens of employers. In fact, 75% of resumes submitted for an open position are filtered out by ATS. That means the chances of your resume making it onto a human’s radar are entirely determined by the keywords and formatting.

If you’re finding it hard to make it past the initial application process, try implementing the following tips into your resume.

Copy Keywords from the Job Posting

Think about the last time you searched for something using a search engine. You likely typed in a question or phrase and were redirected to a page highlighting the 10 most relevant and applicable answers based on the wording of your question. How many of those answers did you actually click? Did you even bother to go to the second page of search results?

Think of your resume in the same sense as your most recent Google search

Think of your resume in the same sense as your most recent Google search: Employers are looking to fill a specific role in their company, so they call out the titles, skills and experiences that they’re looking for in the job description and implement them into the company ATS.

The ATS, programmed to search for these keywords, will scan a resume and determine its relevancy to the role based on the keywords and key phrases used in the resume. If the percentage is high enough, it is more likely to be reviewed by the actual employer or hiring staff, who might reach out to the applicant directly.

That’s why it’s important to use the exact language of the job description in your resume. For example, if your current or previous title was “banker” and you’re applying to a mortgage company in search of a “loan officer,” use the language of the job description in your resume, in order to be ranked higher by the ATS. More often than not, if the employer uses specific titles, skills and experiences required for the position, they will program these keywords into the ATS.

“You need to optimize your resume to speak the language of the company and position,” explained Justin Mendoza, team member of the HR recruiting team at Quicken Loans, and team leader of the Veteran Hiring Program. “If you got a degree in Marketing and then participated in a marketing project for a nonprofit, the keyword ‘Marketing’ will come up repeatedly in the ATS and will be ranked higher for relevancy.”

Here’s the kicker: Don’t go overboard with keywords. Remember, quality over quantity. Try incorporating two to three powerful keywords and phrases in your resume, as too many will raise a red flag in the ATS.

Keep Formatting Simple

Let’s stick with the search engine metaphor to talk about formatting. Let’s say you searched for “easy Thanksgiving turkey recipes.” You’re redirected to the top answers and click on the first answer that amazingly reads “easy Thanksgiving turkey recipes.”

However, upon reading the result, you discover that the author had spent the first two pages of the article talking about their favorite Thanksgiving memories and meals, including pictures of their last holiday family gathering, with the actual recipe (the content you had searched for) all the way down at the bottom.

Did your search result include your keywords “easy,” “Thanksgiving,” “turkey” and “recipe”? Yes. However, the general content and structure of the article, along with the addition of images not related to the recipe, was irrelevant and unhelpful in your search.

The same goes for the way an ATS reads your resume. Special formatting and artistic additions cannot be read by ATS and, consequently, ranks these resumes lower or irrelevant in regard to the position description. This includes:

  • Tables
  • Charts
  • Graphs
  • Images
  • Columns
  • Non-traditional fonts (anything other than Arial, Verdana and Times New Roman)

Instead of taking up valuable resume real estate by using images, graphics and fonts that an ATS can’t read and rank, type your resume content in either short, keyword-optimized sentences or clear bullet points.

“Formatting makes your resume readable,” explained Mendoza. “Having a clear and concise resume helps a candidate stand out in the hiring process, especially since recruiters and hiring managers tend to spend very little time reading resumes.”

Include the most relevant and applicable information for the position at the top of your resume and highlight your industry strengths and competencies, degrees, job titles products and organizations, utilizing the language of the keywords found in the job description.

Additionally, use traditional language for your section headings. As it does with keywords and phrases, an ATS will read your resume’s headings then rank them relevant to how the job description is worded.

Traditional, conventional headings include:

  • Qualifications
  • Professional Experience
  • Education
  • Skills
  • Summary

For example, when you’re calling out your specific skills that are applicable to the job description, use a header that clearly reads “skills.” Using words like “abilities” or “competencies,” though similar in meaning, might not be recognized by an ATS.

Ditch the Career Objective Section

This isn’t your high school or college career writing class, and the days of the career objective section are over. We hate to break it to you, but they’re a waste of valuable resume space.

Traditionally, the section for the career objective, located at the top of your resume, was reserved for an explanation of what you were looking for, which was essentially a job. You were instructed to use phrases like “seeking an entry-level position” while you applied for an entry-level position. In other words, it was a given.

Instead of wasting the prime real estate space that is the top of your resume, use that space to include a summary – two to three sentences or bullet points filled with ATS-optimized keywords that highlight your top achievements, major skills and relevant experiences.

A powerful formula to implement into this section: an action verb + keyword + a fact or figure that resulted from your action = an optimized resume for ATS.

This section should be tailored to the job you’re applying for and should change based on what each position highlights in the job description. However, if you keep this formula in mind, constructing a powerful and optimized resume should be as easy as switching out specific keywords.

While we’re talking about the top of your resume, it’s also important to structure your experience in a clear and ATS-friendly way.

Each experience you choose to highlight in your resume, keeping in mind that you only want to include what’s relevant to the position you’re applying for, should look like this:

  • Company name (include dates or timeline)
  • Position title (keyword)
  • Description of work (keywords and key phrases)

Once again, make sure the position title and description match the keywords called out in the job description, keeping in mind that using two to three keywords should rank well with the ATS.

Have a Second Resume Ready for the Interview

To reiterate, simplicity is key when optimizing your resume for an ATS. Clean and purposeful keywords and formatting are more likely to be read and ranked to be relevant by an ATS than personalized graphics and unique fonts.

However, if you’re feeling like you’re losing your individuality in your resume, you can write a second, more personalized and unique resume for an in-person interview. The interview is your time to show what traits set you apart as an applicant, so feel free to reflect that in your second resume.

Because it’s being read by human eye and not an ATS, this version of your resume can include special formatting that highlight your skills and might make your resume stand out in the crowd. Don’t forget to include your contact information at the very top of the resume, clearly labeling your phone and email.

Be prepared to bring copies of both your ATS-optimized resume and customized resume for every person present in the interview.

By implementing these tips, you’re more likely to make it past the employer’s ATS filter and land an in-person interview with the hiring employer.

“Resumes are an essential piece of the job-hunting puzzle,” said Mendoza. “Take the next step by networking with recruiters, hiring managers and current employees.”