Over 70% of resumes are rejected before a human even sees them. In this article, we’ll share 6 tips to ensure yours isn’t one of them.
1. Check to See Where Your Resume is Going
An applicant tracking system (or ATS) is software that many hiring companies use to collect, sort, and rank the high volume of resumes they receive. With 99% of Fortune 500 companies using applicant tracking systems, there’s a good chance your resume will encounter one if you’re applying online. Fortunately, there’s an easy trick you can use to spot an ATS. Keep in mind that this will not work in every circumstance, but it can be an effective way to see how often companies you’re applying to are using an ATS.
Here’s how it works: while on the careers page of a company's website, watch the URL in the address bar of your browser to see if it changes after you click an “apply now” button. After you click “apply now” look for names in the URL like “workday”, “applytracking.com”, “paycom”, “brassring”, “jazzhr”, and “lever”. These are the names of popular applicant tracking systems. There are more out there, these are just some examples. Just be on the lookout for a change in the URL after clicking the apply now button.
The same principle applies if you’re on one of the major job boards. After you click the apply now button, look for the name of an applicant tracking system in the URL.
Once you know if your resume is going through an ATS you can then take steps to optimize your resume’s format and content for these systems. We’ll cover that in our next tip.
2. Optimize Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems
Many hiring companies use applicant tracking systems to manage and rank the high volume of resumes they receive. These software systems scan the text of resumes and compare them to the job description. The ATS is looking to see how many keywords and qualifications it can find in your resume that match the job description. Once the ATS scans your resume it assigns it a score based on how well the algorithm thinks the resume matches the job description. This score or grade is oftentimes what a recruiter or hiring manager first sees. If the grade is poor your resume likely won’t be viewed by a human. Therefore, describing your skills, education, and experience in the way the ATS wants to see them is essential. So how do you make sure your resume receives a high score?
It’s not a matter of simply adding every keyword from the job listing to a skills section of your resume. The ATS is looking to see how much experience you have with the skills on your resume. Interestingly, skills listed in a so-called “skills section” of a resume often receive little ranking. Why? Because the ATS cannot associate those skills with any kind of months or years of experience. However, when you weave skills into your work history section the ATS can associate dates or periods of time with the named skills. For example, if you worked at Acme Inc from 2015 - 2020 the ATS know you worked there for 5 years. If you then explain how you used Microsoft Excel to achieve a measurable result while working at Acme Inc the ATS now knows you have at least 5 years of experience using Microsoft Excel and you can generate measurable outcomes. It might look something like this on your resume:
ACME INC. JANUARY 2015 - MARCH 2020
“As project manager, utilized Microsoft Excel to create a team collaboration tool that reduced costs by 15% and led to project completion 1 month ahead of schedule.”
Now the ATS knows you have 5 years of experience as a project manager with Microsoft Excel and can produce measurable results with these skills. This is the ideal way to include skills in your resume to get a top ranking from an ATS. Now all you have to do is scan the job listing you’re applying to, identify important skills, and add them to your resume in the manner described above. Do this, and you will see significant results in the number of interviews you receive.
3. List Your Skills in Their Proper Place
Where should you really list skills on your resume? Turns out those separate skills sections seen in many resumes may actually be hurting your interview chances if your resume is going through an ATS.
Most applicant tracking systems (ATS) can actually match your skills to the job dates and compute your total years of experience for each skill and the date that you last used each skill. This is very important information. You can still use a separate SKILLS section on your resume, just be certain that you also put those same skills into the individual positions in your WORK EXPERIENCE. For example, suppose your resume contains a separate SKILLS section where you have mentioned Microsoft Excel, but Microsoft Excel is not found in your WORK EXPERIENCE section. An ATS will label that skill something like this: Microsoft Excel, total months experience: 0 months. Whereas if you add Microsoft Excel into a position in your WORK HISTORY section that changes things. Notice these 2 contrasting examples:
Acme Inc. | Director of Marketing | January 2015 - January 2020
Utilized Microsoft Excel to create and monitor budgets while identifying opportunities for a 15% reduction in costs.
Microsoft Excel | Quickbooks | Budgeting | Microsoft Office
Example 1 would lead to 5 years of experience with Microsoft Excel being credited to you as a candidate. (Notice the years of experience we underlined in example 1 above) Example 2 would lead to zero years of experience with Microsoft Excel being credited to you because there are no dates for the ATS to associate with the skills listed in the SKILLS section. This same principle applies to any and all skills on your resume. Whenever possible, include your skills in the relevant WORK EXPERIENCE section of your resume and get full credit. Also, if you used the same skill in more than one of your positions then list that skill in both roles. This isn’t redundant. The reason for doing so is that the ATS will tally the total months or years of experience with that skill from both positions. Don’t cut your total experience short!
Bottom line: a separate skills section is fine to have, it can make it easy for a recruiter or hiring manager to easily spot your skills. However, you should also add all of your relevant skills to the work experience portion of your resume.
4. Avoid Certain Resume Templates
If you used tip one and found that your resume is going through an ATS then you definitely want to apply this suggestion as well. Most applicant tracking systems are designed to only interpret text. That means that extra graphics or multi-column layouts that may look attractive to the human eye are actually unreadable to an ATS.
The main purpose of an ATS is to scan the text of your resume and try to organize it into a standard template that is displayed to a recruiter or hiring manager in an HR software dashboard so they can manage hundreds if not thousands of resumes. The problem with all of those graphics and icons is that the ATS usually doesn’t understand them or know what to do with them. With the main purpose of an ATS in mind, ask yourself, do graphics and icons help tell the ATS I am a qualified candidate for a particular job?
The more graphics and icons a resume contains the harder it is for an ATS to know what to do with them. For example, putting your name in an elaborate font with a specially designed box around it may lead to an ATS not even being able to recognize your name. Imagine, your name may get scrubbed from your resume if the ATS can’t get past the fancy graphics!
Another example has to do with contact information. Ever seen a mailbox icon next to an email address or a phone icon next to the phone number on a resume?
The ATS doesn’t know what those are. The ATS ends up removing those icons from your resume. You don’t want anything anywhere near your contact information getting scrubbed from your resume.
The exception to these rules of avoiding graphics and special designs on your resume is when you are either providing a printed version of your resume or emailing it directly to a recruiter or hiring manager at their request. In these cases, you know a human is looking at your resume and not an ATS and they’ll understand the extra design elements. Even in these instances, unless you’re applying to a creative industry job, does a line graph next to skills really reveal anything about your experience with a skill?
Instead, weave important skills into your work history so a recruiter, hiring manager, and a computer (ATS) can see how you have used those skills and for how long.
In short, unless you’re applying to a creative industry job, or handing a copy of your resume directly to a human, skip the fancy graphics and designer resume templates and you’ll give your job prospects a significant boost.
5. Tailor Your Resume to The Job Description
The best scenario is to tailor your resume to each job you apply to. While this does take more time than using the same copy of your resume for every job, it also yields significantly better results. Here’s how to do it:
When you find a job that you want to apply to, review the job description and look for skills and keywords that you can include in your resume. The more keywords and skills from the job description that your resume contain the better your chances of getting an interview. Performing this on your resume not only benefits your ATS score, it can also make you stand out to a hiring manager as you speak the language of their job description.
Ideal Resume makes it easy to not only see how well your resume matches a job but also how you can improve your score. You’ll be shown all of the important keywords and skills from the job description that are missing from your resume. You can see these skills and keywords highlighted in their original context in the job description. This feature can help generate ideas on how to include the skill in your resume and speak the language of the job description. Try it out now >
6. Include Your Measurable Results
Whenever possible include measurable results on your resume while including important skills and keywords. To identify your measurable results, think in terms of time and money. For example, describe something you did, developed, or implemented that saved the company or customer time or money.
Ideal Resume is a resume optimization platform for job seekers, recruiters, and career coaches. Easily optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems and increase your interview chances.