This is such a strange time to be looking for work – stranger than I’ve ever seen. When writing my recent Candidate Experience blog series, one of the biggest frustrations I heard was that applicants don’t feel their resumes are reviewed by human eyes and that they don’t parse well during the application process. This makes applying for roles painful, but worse, it starts to feel like a fruitless effort.
Let’s talk about Resume Dos and Don’ts in 2 ways:
- How to make sure your resume is optimized to parse well
- How to make sure your resume gets the attention you want and deserve
Making Sure Your Resume is Optimized to Parse Well
What do we mean by “parsing?” The use of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) is prevalent across industries and company sizes. In fact, over 98.8% of Fortune 500 companies use ATS while 66% of large companies and 35% of small organizations rely on them. An Applicant Tracking System is a tool that enables a company to track and measure each step of its recruitment process. An ATS collects and stores information about applicants, such as where they were sourced and which stage of the application process they’re in.
Resume parsing is how an ATS electronically analyzes the text in your resume. The ATS uses parsing to extract key data like names, job titles, and education into fields onto your applicant record. A company is not just storing your resume as a file (like a .pdf), they’re extracting key data into relevant fields on your record, allowing recruiters to search on any combination of parameters. For example, one field an ATS will parse is your major in college. Then, if recruiters are looking for candidates with a certain major, the ATS can search on that field.
Some resumes will parse very cleanly into ATS systems, creating a clean and complete candidate record. Some resumes do NOT parse cleanly, which can hurt your chances of being selected. More than likely if your resume isn’t parsing well, It’s too “fancy.” Some of the resumes I receive are gorgeous and aesthetically pleasing, but I can tell right away they won’t do well with an ATS. There’s a time and place for those fancy resumes: they’re best when you’re making a personal introduction and attaching to email, or when you’re giving a printed copy to an interviewer in person.
- Use a standard resume format
- Use the same font throughout the resume. It’s okay to change size, use all caps for headers, bold, italicize, etc.
- Use bullets, not paragraphs, and keep them concise by avoiding superfluous words
- If you need one, message me and I’ll be happy to share
- Include your contact information: omitting basic contact information indicates you feel you have something to hide. No one should have to research you to figure out how to contact you, especially if you’re openly applying to their role
- Don’t include your street address, but include your city/state or metropolitan area
- Incorporate your phone number, email, and LinkedIn profile (hyperlinked)
- Any portfolio websites you would like the reader to view (again, with hyperlinks)
- Have a summary section that lists your key skills and tech stack
- Many ATS systems are looking for these key word hits
- If you are in the creative or consulting space, list out the industries or even brands/clients you have worked with
- Simply separate them with commas; no need for dots or vertical lines
- Include specific accomplishments
- Keep them concise, but tangible
- State the problem, your solution, the result – in as few words as possible
- You can either have a separate section for this, or highlight them under each job (ideally above your day-to-day responsibilities)
- Keep your responsibilities to a minimum
- You don’t need to list out every minute of your day (trust me on this!)
- If you were promoted and retained your previous responsibilities, simply state that and then list your new and increased responsibilities under the new job. Duplicating those bullets takes up valuable resume real estate
- Add a photo:
- I tried – I REALLY did – but I can’t find a single source in favor of putting a photo on your resume unless you are an actor or model (and most of you are not, no matter how good looking you are)
- A photo uses valuable real estate on your resume and can be distracting
- Photos open the door for immediate biases
- They confuse ATS systems and come across as a coding catastrophe
- Icons and images: It may look cute to have a phone, location pin, or envelope symbol next to your contact information on your resume, but ATS systems don’t recognize these symbols and they can interfere with parsing your contact information
- Tables, columns, and text boxes: They looks aesthetically pleasing, but they’re a disaster for parsing purposes
- Multiple sources show that ATS systems such as Workday, Taleo, and iCIMS have trouble reading information in boxes or tables
- I frequently see information that is separated on a resume in either of these ways becoming jumbled together during the parsing process (i.e. your degree appears smack in the middle your most recent job responsibilities because it appears next to it on your resume to either the left the right)
- Pre-formatted templates on Word or resume websites are the BIGGEST DISASTER! Although you may think they LOOK pretty – you many times have no idea you’re even using tools that interfere with parsing. Plus, they are extremely difficult to format if you want to make changes
- Lines/colors/shapes: Similar to all of the above, avoid them on resumes that you plan to upload to an ATS
- Use an objective statement: the only caveat here is if you are making a significant career change and want to emphasize the type of roles you are seeking
Make Sure Your Resume Get the Attention You Want and Deserve
Multiple sources (i.e. Indeed, LinkedIn, and Harvard Business Review) all indicate recruiters will take 6-8 seconds to review a resume before deciding whether to read on or move on. You want the information they’re looking for to nearly jump out at them.
All of the “Dos” above apply here as well. Also:
- Leave plenty of white space: a crowded resume is unappealing. People don’t like to read if it’s not for fun
- Use clear headers and bullets:
- Make it easy to identify where the information they are looking for resides on your resume
- Bullets will keep your ideas separate and brief, whereas paragraphs will make the reader yawn and roll their eyes
- Rank your headers appropriately. For example, unless your Education has recently been updated or outweighs your experience, it should follow your Experience (rather than precede it)
- Tailor your resume when applying as often as you can:
- Review the job description and look for repeated words/phrases, then make sure you see those exact words/phrases in your resume
- To be clear – DON’T MAKE UP EXPERIENCE YOU DON’T HAVE! Just make sure the coinciding experience you have mirrors the terminology they are searching on
- Look at the order of the responsibilities/requirements listed on the job posting and rearrange your responsibilities to reflect a similar ranking. Many times, they are weighted by importance
- Use Subjective Language:
- If you want to sing your praises, reserve that for your accomplishments
- Think of your resume as a fact sheet, as opposed to a sales pitch
- Lead with verbs and action words as opposed to adjectives
- Add your references and testimonials:
- It is implied that you will need to submit references at the appropriate time in the selection process – don’t waste the space on the resume to share they are available
- Testimonials are for letters of reference which should be supplied separately from a resume
- Distract from your content with unnecessary images/icons:
- There’s nothing wrong with a little color and flair on a resume you are not uploading to an ATS, but save your flair for your interviews (and portfolios for my Creative industry friends)
- Your accomplishments will speak for themselves – let them be the attention catcher!
At Elevation Talent Group, our top priority is to provide best in class candidate experiences; our clients’ experience is elevated as a result. We understand that job changes are one of three most stressful life events you will experience and we’re committed to doing everything we can to help you navigate the uncertainties.
I would LOVE ideas for future blogs regarding the job search or talent search experience as well! Please feel free to email me at email@example.com or message me directly on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/lancasterheidi/