Remember the days when resumes were formal, no-nonsense documents, printed in black and white – cream-colored stationary only if you dared – and the format was always the same? One page was recommended, and you didn’t dare deviate from from 1-inch margins and Times New Roman font. (I even remember updating my dad’s resume at one point, and being appalled that he had his hobbies and marital status listed at the bottom…) Thankfully, we can be a bit more creative these days. There are, however, still some guidelines that will improve the odds that your resume will make it through today’s vetting maze.
First, we have to understand where our resumes are [probably] going once we click “submit application”– whether on LinkedIn, the employer’s job site, or one of many other job boards. Mr. Resume’s Stop #1 is more and more frequently an ATS – or Applicant Tracking System. Employers can set their own criteria for applications, which they must meet before “passing” the filtering process. Pre-set requirements might be skills, qualifications, education level, or any other criteria.
So how does the system decide on Pass or Fail? If the employer does use an ATS, your resume is uploaded to the system once you click on “Submit.” There are many levels and versions of Applicant Tracking Systems, but your application will likely be scanned into text-recognizing software – where the search for key words will commence – though you may have been asked to manually extract your data into the application. (The latter may be a good opportunity to add more detail to your application than your resume can provide, but don’t assume this manual input supersedes the text from your resume in determining whether your resume passes through.)
Why is this important? Let’s consider the outcome of submitting a resume that is poorly (or overly) formatted, contains spelling errors, or uses uncommon terminology. ATS technology can be a high-tech, precision tool, but human it is not, and it will make mistakes. For example, let’s say the job posting is for an “Executive Assistant to the CEO,” requiring 5+ years in the candidate’s previous role and extensive experience with Board software and Microsoft 365. Robert B. Applicant submits his resume, certain that he will land at the top of the call-back list. He has 12 years of experience supporting the CEO of a large, public corporation; he passed four Microsoft certification exams last year and is his employer’s main resource for mentoring others in office technology, and the Board of Directors just loves him because he always keeps their meetings running smoothly and efficiently. However, Robert’s resume is submitted as a PDF, converted from a highly-formatted document containing tables, columns, and images. His contact information in the original document was embedded in a Header, and not all of it transferred into the PDF – including his email address. His resume does list his “MS Certification,” his “Board” experience, and impressive details of his “Executive-level” background.
He’s a shoo-in, right? Maybe not. Depending on ATS settings and the system itself, the software may completely miss that “MS” stands for Microsoft; “Board” means Board of Directors, and “Executive-level” refers to the C-suite. The columns did not allow the scanners to properly read his tenure with his previous employer, and Robert’s resume never even makes it to the recruiter.
This has many implications as you may imagine; punctuation, consistency, the targeted industry, and many other factors may affect whether or n ot your resume is even seen, so it is more important than ever to target your resume specifically to the job posting. Use language from the job description; do not over-format or use “hidden” fields such as headers and footers, and avoid using columns and similar layouts that may confuse scanners.*
Direct contact with a potential employer is always best. Use your networking skills (participating in O&GA | EiSi events is a fantastic way to meet leaders and peers!) and don’t forget to follow up on all resumes that you submit. For additional tips, or for assistance with your resume, we have two Career Coaches on board and either would be happy to provide a free consultation: contact Pamela Thompson at PCT Consulting Solutions, or Kristen Damon at The Mane Thing, LLC.