In the past, HR departments spent hours of time reviewing resumes—sometimes as many as 100 for a single position. Of course, that meant they had very little time to scan through each resume and screen out the best few for further review. As technology developed, however, so did the prospects of digital screening—a process that flags resumes in advance based upon criteria an employer enters for each position. Today, the chances of a robot handling your resume are more possible than not.
The Basic Concept
The operative phrase for these digital robots is known as “applicant tracking system,” but most all of them are based upon the same general concept. The “robot” screens each resume for pre-determined keywords and phrases, experience, and relevancy to the posted position. The process goes much like this:
- The resume is submitted digitally, according to the instructions on the job posting.
- The robot begins by “parsing” the resume. This process involves cutting through the styling and formatting and stripping the resume down to recognizable “strings” of text/characters.
- The strings of text are then analyzed and broken into categories: education, skills, work experience, contact information.
- Words/text are then matched with the employers’ criteria.
- The resume is given a score based upon its relevancy/match to those criteria.
- The employer determines the top number of resumes or the score parameters he wants.
- The robot then serves up those resumes to the employer for personal review.
Obviously, this process saves the hiring manager a lot of time. But applications that are not designed to “hack” the system well will be trashed and never seen by that manager.
Here, then, are the best tips for avoiding that trash can.
1. Watch Your Formatting
If you have added any “dramatic” flair to your resume, you might want to consider deleting it. While you may believe that makes your resume a bit boring and just like everyone else’s, remember that bots know nothing about color, borders, shadings, photos, artistic graphics, and such. In fact, they can become confused by these things, rendering them unable to detect the relevant text.
The same goes for formats. It’s fun to use different types of fonts to emphasize different points, but tracking systems don’t think they are fun at all. In fact, they will become confused and unable to read them. So, stick to the common fonts: Times New Roman, Arial, Courier, etc.
2. Choose Common Sections
Common sections for resumes include Education, Work Experience, and Skills. If you add uncommon sections, your important information may be skipped over as not relevant. So, try to get the important information that really relates to the position underneath those common headings. You can talk about your outside interests if and when you get to that interview. It’s fine to “bold” your headings and to bullet the points under them, but again, be basic and simple.
3. Now, About Those Keywords
Every career niche has some language specifics: unique terminology, words and phrases that are used when describing skills and task responsibilities, licenses and certifications, etc. Robots will be programmed to look for these. Choosing words and phrases involves some basic review of the job description posting, and some other clever digging that your competition may not think to do.
- Read through the job description and highlight words and phrases that relate to skills, background, education, etc. Of course, you should include the job title description, but put it somewhere within your experience or education sections and at least in one other place in your resume—at least two places. If the job title is “IT Project Manager,” for example, find ways to incorporate that title into your resume.
- A lot of scanners have gotten pretty sophisticated. They look not only for the job title but also for other related semantic matches. If, for example, you are an accountant and have experience with SEC regulations and compliance, and the position description for which you are applying speaks to that, you will want to insert “SEC” somewhere. Try to come up with words that are related to your niche and spatter them around.
- There are also tools you can use that will provide a type of mind map for keywords you type in. They will give you the most commonly used semantic synonyms for some of the keywords you find in the posting. You can then sprinkle these words throughout your resume. Sophisticated robots will pick them up and your score will rise naturally. Using the same keyword too many times will not improve your score at all.
- Prioritize the keywords/phrases you intend to use. Primary keywords are those used in the job title and in the description. Try to use these twice. Secondary keywords/phrases are those related terms you have found. Use these one time each.
- If you are unsure about keywords, see if you can find someone in HR in a related company and consult with them about keyword terms. You can also check out the LinkedIn profiles of people who already hold positions similar to the one for which you are applying. You may find in those profiles related keywords/terms you have not considered.
- When you use an acronym, such as SEC, use it and also the complete form (Securities & Exchange Commission). You do not know whether the system has been programmed to pick up on only one of these forms, so be prepared with both. The same goes for organizations and certifications/licenses you may hold.
4. How to Avoid Redundancy of Keywords
Remember, you only want to use your primary keywords/terms twice and your secondary terms once. Once you resume is finished, check this. If you have too many, see how you can cut them out. Either find less common terms as replacements or eliminate them altogether.
One thing you can do is eliminate your “Career Objective” section. These have become a bit passé anyway, and most recruiters and hiring managers don’t read them. They are really not interested in your career goals; they are more interested in what value you can bring to their organization.
You can replace your career goal section with a summary of your qualifications, sometimes called an “Executive Summary.” But rather than write it in prose, use bulletpoints with primary and secondary keywords in them. Robots will definitely pick these up. When this comes at the top of your resume, the robot is quickly satisfied and any hiring manager reading your resume can find your qualifications easily.
5. Watch Your Spelling
This is huge. If there are misspellings, no robot will read and “understand” those words. They will not form any type of match.
Don’t count on spell checks to do this for you. If you type “SEC” as “SDC,” for example, spell check will not catch it and a robot will have no idea what you mean. The only way to guard against this is to check and re-check and have at least one other person do the same.
The other problem is this: If you resume does make it through the digital screening and has minor spelling errors in non-critical words, the human reader will catch them and toss your paperwork anyway—they mean you are not a person with good attention to detail or one who is really serious about making a great impression.
Don’t underestimate the power of an applicant tracking system. They are performing more and more functions for the recruiter and hiring manager. And as technology continues to develop, more screening functions will be available.
- Many recruiters and HR pros are using Reppify, a program that will check social media profiles/pages and perform background checks. You might want to access this site and study up a bit on what the program will check. Just be certain that all of your social media channels, your website (if you have one), your blog, or any other content you have published anywhere on the web jibes with what you have put on your resume.
- Don’t use photos. They won’t be “read” by bots, and hiring managers now think of them as a bit narcissistic.
- Don’t use lengthy prose paragraphs to describe your responsibilities and accomplishments—they are too hard to “screen.” Always use bullet points.
- Remember, after your resume makes it through the ATS screening it will then be reviewed by an actual human. Make sure that you have covered all of the basics of the job description and have relevant experience that speaks to each one of them.
- If you are going to list programming languages and other computer skills, do not place all of them in your bulleted executive summary. If there are specific skills in the job description, then list only those in the executive summary. And, a simple listing will not do. Hiring managers want to see your skills in the context of your job experience. Get them into those sections, not as a separate section.
- To keep your resume as short as possible, do not spend time describing experience that does not relate to the specifics of this position. Mention those irrelevant experiences only to fill in the time frame of your job history.
By now, you have realized that generic resumes will no longer be effective. Every position and every organization is unique. If you do not tailor your resume with the relevancy and keywords (in the right places and an appropriate number of times) that are right for each position, you will not be getting calls for interviews. Follow these tips, and you will “outsmart” those bots every time.