9 resume tips to get past the bot that reads it first

Are you sending out endless resumes and not hearing back from anyone, even though you’re pretty sure you’re qualified for the jobs you’re applying for? It’s possible that your resume isn’t making it past the electronic gatekeepers, also known as Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).

You’re probably already aware of this, but most medium- to large-size companies use these systems – software that sorts through applications and chooses those that move on to the next level to be seen by human eyes. These bots are trained to look for certain things in resumes.

It’s understandable. Some companies can receive hundreds of applications for one posting, and nobody wants to waste time going through many unqualified candidates. But the ATS can be pretty hard to impress. And many employers have admitted in the past that qualified candidates often get rejected because of them.

Here are 9 resume tips to help you get past the ATS and seen by a human.

Do not send a generic resume

This should be obvious. But tailor your resume to the specific job in question.

Use several of the exact keywords and phrases in the job posting

There have been recent developments, making Applicant Tracking Systems more sophisticated, but they are still looking for keywords. You might think it seems wiser to use synonyms, and you should use those also, but the system is looking for at least some of the words from the job posting. If the posting asks for “problem-solving and time management skills,” say you have “problem-solving and time management skills.”

Sometimes the “ATS” is an intern or entry-level employee doing a manual search for the words. So include them but don’t include all of them, though. The system might flag anything that looks too stuffed with keywords. It’s a fine line.

Have a “Skills and Qualifications” section in your resume

This is one way you can list the skills and qualifications as seen in the posting, rather than finding a way to fit them into your work history, where you should be listing accomplishments. Still, use your “Experience” section to demonstrate how you embody all the excellent skills you’ve listed.

Find more words they might be looking for

An idea from this Fast Company article: visit the LinkedIn Profiles of people with similar jobs to the one you’re applying for and make a list of the strongest words in their profiles. Find the ones that closely match your skills and qualifications, and incorporate those. These could also be keywords.

Omit the “objective” section

The ATS doesn’t care about your life goals. Include a professional summary statement instead. Use it to describe yourself in dynamic language that shows you will bring value to the company. If the job is a leadership role, include language that demonstrates that you’re an experienced leader. You can also probably get some keywords in there too.

Avoid cutesy job titles

You already shouldn’t be calling yourself a “ninja” or “rock star,” but if you still are, stop it now. If the ATS is looking for a “marketing manager,” it might not recognize a “marketing ninja” as the same thing.

Use basic formatting and simple characters

Unless you’re applying for a position that requires graphics (like, maybe a graphic artist), don’t include graphics or images of any sort. Use a sans serif font. Some older systems have trouble with serif fonts. And if you have any bullet-pointed lists, use round bullets instead of arrows or other characters, so the ATS is sure to recognize them for what they are. Use one-inch margins.

Save as a .doc or .docx

There is some debate over which file format is best for getting past the ATS, but I would use Word and avoid PDF unless the job posting specifies to use PDF or something else. Many older systems can’t read PDFs, and it’s safe to assume that many companies are still using older systems. Some recommend using .txt or other formats, but you lose all formatting. And thinking you do want your resume to be seen by a human at some point, you need to have bold headings in there to make things make sense.

Spell out all acronyms

Whether you’re writing for a human or a bot, this is a good idea. The ATS (applicant tracking system) (see what I did there?) won’t know what a lot of acronyms mean, and the actual words may contain valuable keywords and information.

This is not an exact science. But these resume tips should help.

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