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A resume has one job: to get you an interview. But when you're crafting a modern-day resume, you may need to write for computers and humans alike.
Almost every Fortune 500 uses an applicant tracking system (ATS), according to Jobscan, which creates tools for job seekers. Many smaller companies also use an ATS, which can organize, screen and rank or score resumes. Your resume might not wind up in front of human eyes if it doesn't make it past the ATS. But you also want it to be compelling and coherent to the recruiters and hiring managers who do get to see it.
Here's how to prepare your resume to help you land a new job
Use keywords that align with the job description
Some automated systems try to see if there's a match between the words or phrases in job descriptions and applicant resumes. Knowing this, you'll want to make sure you include relevant keywords in your resume – such as job titles, skills and common industry terms.
Weave these words into different parts of your resume, including the job descriptions and an introductory summary of your experience or accomplishments. If the job involves using a specific type of software you have experience with, be sure to mention the name of that software somewhere in your resume.
However, you don't want to simply add a list of words you think the computer wants to see. And don't try tricks – like adding in keywords with a white font. The ATS will also likely copy and paste all the text from your resume into the system, and the recruiter will see it and know you're playing games.
Here are a few more tips to keep in mind:
- Using keywords a couple of times is enough – don't overdo it
- Spell out an abbreviation the first time you use it
- Avoid using two spaces between words if the keyword is a phrase
- Use the MM/YYYY format for dates
- Try using both singular and plural forms of the keywords
- If you're unsure of formatting (such as using a hyphen between words, or 10 versus ten), match the format and spelling with what's in the job description
You also might want to make certain changes with keywords in mind. For example, if you previously had a unique job title, you might want to use a more standard title on this version of your resume.
The bright side: Using the keyword-based approach can be helpful for your job search even if you don't get this particular role. The company may save your resume and some human resources platforms use similar technology to highlight candidates in their databases when there's a new open role.
Stick with basic formatting
While a fancy font and layout can look appealing, recruiters might be reviewing what the ATS copies and pastes into their system. And the systems might not be able to correctly read certain fonts, graphics, columns, text boxes, headers, footers or links.
Instead, keep your formatting simple and use standard section names, such as "work history" and "education," to avoid mismatches. Bulleted lists are common and readable by ATSs, but use the basic bullets rather than a different symbol.
The file's format can also matter. PDFs can be a good option when you're sending a resume directly to someone's email. But if you're applying for a job online, ATSs may have the easiest time correctly pulling your information from a Microsoft Word file (.doc or .docx). You can save a Google Doc with this format if you don't have access to Microsoft Word.
Customize your resume for each job
Tailoring your resume to the specific job can be important when you're matching keywords. But it's helpful even if the company doesn't use an ATS because you want to show how your experience aligns with the role.
For the resume itself, you might want to list your experience in reverse chronological order, which is easy to review. You could also try a hybrid or combination resume, which lets you highlight your most relevant skills or experience at the beginning, followed by your work experience. However, functional resumes that focus on skills rather than your work experience have largely gone out of favor.
Adding relevant volunteer work or passion projects can also help round out your resume and give recruiters a better sense of who you are and your interests.
Don't shy away from pandemic-related gaps or skills
The pandemic changed if, how and where people work – and there's no reason to deny it.
Recruiters might not see a large gap in your work experience as a negative if you lost or left your job due to the pandemic. Whether you were taking care of family, learning new skills or trying to start your own business, you may want to expand on what you did during that time.
If you've been consistently working, you may want to update your job descriptions to highlight how the pandemic changed your job and what you were able to accomplish. Perhaps you had to take on additional work, were under high-stress conditions or became an expert at facilitating meetings with a remote workforce.
Get a free resume assessment and credit report
Writing a resume that can get past computer screeners and still appeal to hiring managers can be difficult. But companies like JobScan, ResumeWorded and SkillSyncer create similar tools you can use to check your resume before you apply. While there's often a fee for more advanced features, you may be able to get an initial assessment for free.
Additionally, some employers review credit reports before making certain hires or promotions. Check your credit report before applying to ensure everything is correct. You can request a free copy of your credit reports on AnnualCreditReport.com.