The Key To Getting Your Resume Noticed

Understanding how resume software works will boost the chances that an actual person will read your resume.

Software programs “read” resumes at 72 percent of companies, sometimes before the resume ever is read by a hiring manager, according to CareerBliss.

That means your resume might never reach a human if the software can’t read it or misdirects it.

As CareerBliss puts it:

More than ever before, employers and recruiters are turning to applicant tracking systems (ATS for short) to help them sort, weed and keep track of the overwhelming number of applications they now receive for every job position advertised. …

The downside of this is that a machine will most likely read your resume before it reaches the hands of a human — and in some cases, your resume may never reach a real person at all. A resume may get rejected purely because the ATS can’t read it properly, due to formatting errors, confusing wording or simply an incorrect format.

The key to getting your resume past the ATS and getting it directed to the right human? Use a simple two-step process to learn how the software works.

Step 1: Understand ATS

The applicants in a machine-sorted pool who are called in for interviews are the applicants scored highest by the software, CareerBliss says.

This process starts with a machine receiving your resume and a program called a “parser” that converts your resume to plain text.

Then, the system processes the plain text, filing it under sections such as contact information, education and work experience.

A hiring manager searches the ATS for keywords for a particular position, and the system selects the resumes that best match those keywords.

In short, keywords are important if you want to work for a large employer likely to use an applicant tracking system, or if you have a LinkedIn profile. (Searching the social network functions similarly, whether you’re an applicant seeking a job or a hiring manager seeking an applicant.)

Step 2: Master keywords

CareerBliss says:

The best written cover letter, or the resume with the best designed professional template simply don’t make the cut any more if you don’t include the right keywords in your resume.

A fancy resume design might actually hurt the chances of your resume reaching a person. And crafting keywords that will be “read” by a software program can be tricky in itself nowadays.

CareerBliss offers these tips:

  • Don’t “keyword stuff”: Keyword stuffing is essentially working the same word into as many parts of your resume as possible. Like modern search engines, applicant tracking systems recognize – and may penalize your resume score for – this practice.
  • Make semantic matches instead: Semantic matches are related words that tell an applicant tracking system that you have actual experience. For example, if you’re applying for a digital magazine editor position, sprinkle your resume with words related to the field: editing, editorial, edit, proofreading, writing, spelling, AP style, SEO, content, content management systems, picture editing, photos.
  • Add your top keywords into each prior job on your resume: Software will look at how often a keyword appears in your prior jobs to assess how many years of experience you have for a skill.
  • Don’t copy-paste from a Word document: Word embeds invisible formatting code into your text, and that code can render your resume unreadable to an ATS. You can remove the code from your text by copy-pasting all the text into Notepad or a similar text-only program, reselecting it, copying it, and pasting it back into the resume document.
  • Keep it simple: Images, special characters, fancy formatting (like tables, shading, text boxes, borders and separators) – as well as typos – can also confuse an applicant tracking system.
Stacy Johnson

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