The five most common reasons resumes get rejected – and how to fix them

Only a small fraction of the people who apply for a job are called in for job interviews. Even in a tight labour market, competition for many roles can be fierce. At most larger organizations, your resume has to get past the ATS, software filters, to even be read by a human recruiter.

Here are nine tips for optimizing your resume for Applicant Tracking Systems.

Once your resume lands on the actual hiring manager’s desk, it will have to stand up to close scrutiny by a professional who is comparing it to applications from similar candidates.

Here are the most common reasons that employers set one resume aside in favour of another – and how you can fix them.

The details that get most commonly resumes tossed

Naturally, typos or spelling mistakes top the list of things that can get your resume rejected. When employers are looking through numerous applications trying to select the best candidates to interview, why would they select someone who hasn’t taken care enough to submit an error-free resume? It speaks to a candidate’s motivation, attention to detail, or capabilities. You look like you either can’t produce work without mistakes – or you’re simply not motivated enough to bother producing it. Either way, not a great candidate.

See how to proofread like a professional editor.

Watch out for the most commonly misspelled words in resumes.

You don’t live in the region where the job is located. It has been established that employers have a bias towards candidates who live closer to the workplace. This can sometimes lead to a reflexive rejection of long-distance candidates.

Here are some strategies for overcoming the distance bias if you are considering applying for a job that is far from where you live.

Your resume is generic. If your resume doesn’t highlight how your skills and experience can relate specifically to the job you’re applying for, it won’t impress employers. Do your homework. Targeted resumes that are focused on the specific employer and job will always be more attractive than a generic application – even if their credentials are equivalent.

To get this right, see how to focus your application on the most important part of the job posting.

Your work experience is in another sector. If you have the skills and experience to do the job, but you’ve never worked in the industry before, your resume will be at a disadvantage compared with those of candidates working in that field.

Don’t expect the hiring manager to figure out how your skills and experience can be beneficial in the new sector. Prove that you’re the right person for the job by demonstrating how your credentials can fit with the job. Give them a clear list of the ways in which you meet the job posting criteria.

For more details, see How to break into a new industry where you have little or no experience.

Unaddressed red flags. Job hopping may be the new normal, as most people change jobs roughly every two years now, but if you’ve had five jobs over two years, it can make employers think twice.

Similarly, if there are long periods in between jobs on your resume, it can be a mark against you. Try to fill those gaps of time with details about what you were doing between jobs.

See how to handle gaps in your resume for more details.

Hiring managers are going to form their first impressions of what you can do and how you might fit with their team based on reading your resume. Paying attention to detail, focusing it on the specific job, and avoiding the most common red flags can greatly increase your chances acing that first impression and being called in for a job interview.

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