By Marie Zimenoff
Career Thought Leaders & Resume Writing Academy
and Cheryl Minnick
When you apply online, your resume is likely not going directly to the recruiter. It will be processed through an applicant tracking system—an ATS.
ATS is an integrated platform used to streamline talent sourcing and HR management processes, handle volumes of applications, and search for criteria for each job. It keeps resumes in one place and helps recruiters or hiring managers stay organized and compliant with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Why do we need to care about ATS?
As of 2020, there are now 476 Fortune 500 companies that use ATS. Talent acquisition is a $120 billion global market and 95% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS to centralize recruitment. Almost all companies configure their ATS according to their needs and what kind of talent they are looking for.
We have to understand how the job boards work, how applications interface with the ATS, and how recruiters use ATS in sourcing in partnership with social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook. When your resume goes inside an ATS, it is completely text inside. Your profile information is the default data. The parsing function populates the education and employment history from the resume. And, the original resume does still exist and is used by many recruiters to pass on to hiring managers.
If you have a network inside the company, does it increase your chances to land an interview? The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in its study, found that candidates that were referred from the inside were twice as likely to be interviewed than all other applicants. But, they still reviewed and stored resumes for compliance with equal opportunity. If you have a referral, you might move to the top, but you still have to meet the minimum qualifications by your resume.
Why do resumes slip through the cracks?
The best way to make sure your resume demonstrates the qualifications in the resume is to start with the end in mind. Get focused on the types of jobs you will target and the types of companies. Seek out job descriptions and identify the top qualifications. Then, collect your professional stories, degrees, certifications, and other information that shows you meet the qualifications.
If your profile information does not meet minimum job qualifications, it can be automatically disqualified. iCIMS automatically sends emails stating, “did not meet one or more of the minimum qualifications,” through their recruiting portal.
Content and formatting errors can keep an applicant from rising to the top of the list for recruiters to review. These errors include the following:
- Keywords: ATS can be set to source one keyword (e.g., Admin Assistant) or search for multiple terms or combination of terms (e.g., Administrative Assistant AND payroll AND data entry AND Excel). Verb phrases and skills in the job description are probably the same keywords and phrases the hiring manager programmed the ATS to scan for. Use both acronym and spelled-out form of acronym, (Certified Public Accountant for CPA). Repeat a keyword in different sections but never keyword stuff. Make sure to use the words in context, not just in a list, and many systems (and all human readers!) score the document higher if you demonstrate your use of the skill.
- Address: Some ATS allow recruiters to provide geographic radius requirements (iCIMS uses city names to search candidates, while Taleo uses zip codes). Recruiters are advised to use the Boolean “AND” operator to search for candidates who have both the required and desired skills, along with a specific area denoted by zip codes.
- Header or footer: Not every ATS can read information in a header or footer. Avoid putting contact information in the 1st-page header. Although it is not likely that this will cause your resume to automatically be rejected, it does make it easier for the recruiter if your contact information loads into the ATS automatically.
- Text boxes and graphics: As the resume is scanned, scored and ranked, text boxes and graphics disappear within the system as if they are not even there. They usually don’t prevent the other text from being scored, but any text within the box or graphic is not scored.
- Font: Because ATS changes the resume into plain text, not all the systems can change all the fonts into the plain text. Most ATS can only read San Serif and almost never third-party installed fonts (like Disney) because they are not supported by Microsoft. The common denominators are Calibri, Helvetica, Verdana, and Arial.
- PDF: A resume might disappear because it was uploaded in PDF, HTML, Open Office, or Apple Pages rather than Word. A PDF goes into the system fine, but in some systems the score is automatically zero. ATS are getting better at reading PDFs, but not all can, so play to the common denominator—WORD.
- Incomplete: Not filling out all the questions in the job application can really block you in the system. Not following the directions is most more likely the problem than the actual resume itself.
Whether the bullets are in circle, square or diamond, it may turn into funny characters on the other side. It does not matter because they still function as bullets and don’t prevent the system from scoring the resume content. Lines, shading, and color do not matter in ATS.
How to know what ATS the company is using?
Do acronyms and synonyms matter?
For synonymous words (for example developed and developing), there is no one straight answer if ATS would consider synonyms or only exact keywords. It is better to use both words separately.
The hard skills are likely what is programmed into an ATS. Can you imagine how many hits would happen if they programmed in “excellent communication skills” … only for most of the candidates to not actually have them? The best way to display your soft skills is through a great interview and a tight and wonderfully written resume and cover letter without grammar errors.
And, of course there are some soft skills that may be used in the ATS to look for qualified candidates. If you see the same soft skills showing up in the job descriptions you analyze as you are writing your resume, consider how you can work those into statements that demonstrate the value of that skill. Did your “excellent communication skills” lead to sales? Increase customer satisfaction rate? When tied into an example these skills help you not only get through the ATS, but stand out among other candidates.
There are many ways to learn about ATS. Go on Youtube and type “applicant tracking system” to watch company tutorials about how it works. Search “applicant tracking system” and go to the company website to read about it. Blogs are also a good source of information.
You can join LinkedIn resume writing groups. You can also take webinars or find a resume specialist from career associations. Keep up on what is going on and keep talking to each other. Keep asking questions such as: What and where did that come from? How did you find that? Where did you find that so that we can determine what is applicable to our clients?
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The death of the resume has been a hot topic for the last few years. Most recently, in a CNN article, a Cisco executive claimed that the resume is now less than 10% of the hiring process. But what 10%? How critical is the resume?
Similarly, in the 2017 Job Seeker Nation report, Jobvite found that only 26% of recruiters consider a cover letter important to their hiring decision.
This data confuses job seekers ... do they need a resume or not? How can they maneuver without one when they network into a position or apply on LinkedIn and then are asked for their resume anyway during the hiring process?
When you dig deeper into the data, it appears that resumes are still a part of the majority of hiring processes. We dug into this data in a recent Resume Writing Academy Open Mastery Call and you can view the recording of the webinar and read the summary below.
Echoing a sentiments of Pete Radloff from a Recruiting Daily blog, the reports of the death of the resume have been greatly exaggerated.
That said, new recruiting technology is changing how the resume is used in the hiring process and causing the resume to evolve and other communications tools -- like social media profiles -- to be more prominent in the hiring process (even if they are not replacing the resume).
Social Media Hiring
Data from the 2016 Jobvite Recruiter Nation report is widely known today -- that more than 87% of recruiters use LinkedIn at some point during the hiring process (to source candidates, receive applications, or evaluate potential candidates). Data from CareerBuilder's 2017 study supports this, showing 70% of recruiters use social media to screen candidates.
But how prevalent is the use of LinkedIn as an application tool? Is a LinkedIn profile replacing the resume during the application process? LinkedIn's marketing materials state that a "hire is made every 10 seconds on LinkedIn." But they don't share if this is through LinkedIn's application feature or through networking. My anecdotal data from hiring managers indicates that most require LinkedIn applicants to also send a resume or upload one to their applicant tracking system (ATS).
Obstacles to Social Media Profiles Replacing Resumes
It is feasible that at some point in the future social media profiles will replace the resume. For that to happen, here are some of the hurdles that human resources will have to overcome.
Resumes are currently the currency for storing and scoring in ATS. Nearly half of companies (48%) have HR software that is more than 7 years old ... meaning they are not adapting to accept LinkedIn profile applications into their ATS for scoring and use throughout the hiring process.
HR policies and procedures are slow to adapt as well, and most companies consider the resume the formal document they keep on file to meet EEO and other requirements. A LinkedIn profile is messy and lengthy to print and can change at a whim!
Lastly, LinkedIn has a big hurdle to overcome in attracting users to the platform. Recruiters have lamented the limited access to passive job seekers on the platform for the past few years, and data shows that LinkedIn's average monthly users are dismal compared to other social media -- both in terms of general users and those who are in active job search.
Hiring Technologies & The Resume of the Future
The most prevalent hiring technology used today -- the applicant tracking system (ATS) -- is currently keeping the resume alive and well. More than 95% of the Fortune 500 use applicant tracking systems, with 30% of this group choosing Taleo.
There are many misconceptions about resume formatting to pass through applicant tracking systems. Here are a few resources to help you keep up to date in sharing the correct information with clients and not create unnecessary ineffective formats.
Although artificial intelligence (AI) may upend the traditional resume in the future, the most common use of it today in recruiting is inside the ATS to improve scoring and selection of ... you guessed it ... resumes, or to rediscover resumes in the company's system to make sure candidates aren't missed.
AI may also be used to source and score candidates based on social media profiles (see profile augmentation) and as companies create and score hiring assessments or simulations that are being used in lieu of resumes by a few companies.
The technology that may have the most impact on candidates being able to control the narrative of their career and who gets to see that narrative is also the farthest out from implementation -- blockchain. This technology could allow candidates to take control of the visibility of all their social media profiles and background check information ... providing secure, reliable, validated data for hiring managers. Blockchain faces both practical and political hurdles as probably the most disruptive technology in the last few decades.
As professionals in the careers industry, it is important for us to stay on top of trends and know what is coming next for our clients. It is probable that the resume will look significantly different 5 years from today, but for now ... your clients still need a resume -- filled with accomplishments, designed for the human reader, and ready to go through an applicant tracking system.
By Marie Zimenoff
You want to be on top of your game and have the skills you need to move forward in your career. Keeping up with trends is a good goal, but it is equally important to understand how these trends apply to your situation. Trends can be confusing—especially when it comes to resumes!
Having a good resume that stands out improves your chances of getting an interview. However, before you jump into doing that cool new thing with your resume, ask this: Does that make sense for my target audience?
Understanding your target audience—your target companies—entails knowing the type of business, geography, and a little bit of its company culture. Traditional companies have certain expectations different from the techy ones such as Google or Apple, where you could be trendier with your resume.
Here’s a run-down on a few cool new things to help you decide which you might incorporate based on your target audience and the position you are targeting. What makes sense for you to communicate your value and fit?
You have probably seen articles talking about having the human voice in your resume, especially in your summary, and telling your story in the first-person point of view to make it more accessible. It is not a bad strategy if you are applying to more “hip” contemporary companies.
However, if you are applying to more traditional companies, they are going to see the use of pronouns in your resume as unprofessional. They expect it in a cover letter and on your LinkedIn profile. Your resume, according to those traditional people, is going to be more of a formal document where you are telling your story, but you're doing it in a professional way.
Those 2 things are not mutually exclusive. You do not have to use “I, me, and my” in your resume to tell your story in first person. Write short, crisp stories and cut down the flowery language. You can still tell your story in short little sound bites that start with a verb. The most powerful stories are specific accomplishments from your work.
If you write assuming the first-person pronouns (I, me, and my) but not actually put them in the sentence, your resume will still be in first person.
For example, “I managed.” In the resume, you write: “Managed a team of engineers.” That is a first-person voice. If you write “manages,” you’ve slipped into third person because the assumed pronoun is “he/she.” This is a frequent misunderstanding in resume writing that you need a pronoun for it to be first person.
Use the resume to communicate your business value. When you use graphics, whatever great data you have in the graphics does not go through an applicant tracking system (ATS). If you are applying online, it is not being scored by that system to help determine whether or not you get an interview. It is also not being looked at by the first reviewer of that data. If you are not applying online, it may not matter.
NOTE: the text in resumes with graphics will still be read by most ATS!
Good graphics tell a story. Most of the infographic resumes that use graphics for the sake of graphics do not add value. They are not building a picture of your success. Employers want to know the things that will help you do your job better. If your strength is in design, you do not want to cram your portfolio on your resume, right? Have a digital portfolio that highlights your work using multimedia and direct people to it from your resume.
When you are thinking about those graphics, they need to have a purpose. They need to be balanced with content if you are applying online so that that content gets through the scanners. If you are thinking it is appropriate for you to do an infographic resume in addition to your traditional resume, look at examples and figure out how you can create graphics that tell a story that is relevant for you, your career, and that target employer.
Most of the more traditional employers are not ready for your infographic resume, especially if you are applying online.
Learn more about infographic resumes, when to use them, and how to create them.
There are available templates online that can help you create a candy wrapper where, instead of the nutritional information, it includes your details, experience, skills, and anything you want to add. This cannot replace a resume, but it can be an additional part of your package as it can help you capture attention and stand out. You need 2 different things: that interest catcher, little snippets of your resume that you have made creatively, and then your normal resume to send to the human resources for the process of hiring.
The acceptable length of a resume is constantly shifting and a bit more complex. The length of your resume depends on the amount of relevant content you have and the level of position you are targeting. Most of the time when you hear someone say you should have a 1-page resume, it is because they hire more entry-level positions.
Recent research shows that 2-page resumes can be more effective for experienced professionals. This makes sense because the hiring managers need to know more about your qualifications and others applying to the same position will have experience that requires a 2-page resume and if you only have a 1-page resume you appear less qualified.
Some hiring managers may pull up your resume on their mobile phones, so you make sure it is easy to skim through the pages. This might end up being longer so that you can have some white space. You want to see how your resume looks on mobile, so pull it up on yours before submitting it.
Most hiring managers are still looking for a good amount of content because they have so many qualified candidates that they need content to decide who gets an interview. They are going to look at LinkedIn, but they wanted a little bit of different kind of content—more story, more personable. They still need the facts and figures on your traditional resume that they can put into that wonderful circular file, which most HR departments still have (even if it is digital).
We are in a gray area with the right length of a resume, but most people are still submitting a 2-page resume for a manager and director level position; 2 to 3 pages for an executive level position; and 1-page resumes for positions requiring around 5 years experience or less. Experienced job seekers can still have a 1-page “marketing brief” for when it is appropriate or a 1-page resume is requested.
No resume at all
Does your LinkedIn profile serve as your resume? When you are applying to a position, a person might see you on LinkedIn and decide to reach out to you, but they will still ask for a resume. Why? Go into LinkedIn and print off your profile and you will find out how hard it is to maneuver as a PDF file.
It is messy for HR managers to print out your LinkedIn profile and put it in their circular file (hard copy or digital), so they can say they did their research. Most HR departments are still required to do their research and that they followed their equal opportunity laws, rules, or regulations to have some documentation. A LinkedIn profile captured at one point in time is probably not going to meet that need in terms of their regulation.
The LinkedIn profile is definitely part of the picture, but it does not replace a resume yet until it can be verified, stamped, and printed easily, or eventually when HR is going paperless. But from what I have seen, they are just not there yet. It could be or should be at this point, it is just not there.
Do not put your picture on a resume, unless you are a pharmaceutical sales rep or a realtor, or your picture is part of the industry. Putting a picture creates legal and equal opportunity issues. People do not need that additional temptation for it to be considered discrimination. Most American companies and/or global companies probably do not want to see your picture at this point.
One of the company trends is avoiding from sharing any information with their hiring teams when they are screening applicants. The HR persons might see your resume, but, at some companies, they are actually removing your name, school names, and other little pieces of information which they found most people might base decisions on, but do not have any correlation to your success in that job.
Some people leave out their dates of graduation on their resume because it was in the 80s or they think it is not relevant. It is fine to leave off those graduation dates. However, the most important details employers are looking for when they look at your resume are your former titles and corresponding companies and employment dates. They want to see that structure. Where have you been? What have you been doing?
If you are hiding those, it is going to hurt you. Dates do not need to be the first thing people see. They do not need to be on the left side of your resume, which is a strange new trend (maybe a cool throwback hipster thing?). Dates belong on the right-hand side and can actually be tucked in right next to your title and company. If they are out on the right margin, the dates call a lot of attention and again, that is not what we are marketing. We are marketing our title and relevant experience.
You can put shading behind your name so it will show up on the document when the other person opens it. You can use a fancy font, although you need to be careful with that. Your resume is better to be in a Word document, not in PDF, as a PDF file may not get scored on an applicant tracking system (and just isn’t worth the risk!).
Send a Word document with your resume and choose a common font, as most cool fonts will not show up on their computers. They will be converted into fun little things called Wingdings, which are squares and other characters that 99.9% of people cannot read, translate, and comprehend.
You can use colors on a resume. However, you want to think about where it is drawing the eye. Does that color align with the company you are applying for? Maybe it is part of their brand colors. Is it part of your brand color? It is valuable if there is a meaning behind your choice of colors.
Get more formatting tips and tricks!
If you are inserting a live link in your resume to pull up your LinkedIn profile, it needs to be customized, personalized. You can Google how to customize your LinkedIn URL. It is something that you can use and helps it look more like a marketing document. Note that many companies' security systems break live links in documents. If you just put “LinkedIn Profile” in the resume with a link to your profile it is likely they will not be able to click on it. Use the critical part of the URL: LinkedIn.com/in/mariezimenoff
A video resume does not exist—it is a myth. Nobody is watching them. However, video is a substantial part of your overall branding package. It is not going to be on a resume. I would not encourage you to spend the time or money making a “video resume” where you talk about yourself for 90 seconds.
What does work is a video of you presenting something relevant to your field that you can upload to your LinkedIn profile. It can be a short video of you talking about a subject matter expertise. Sharing some knowledge and even a voiceover of a presentation can fill that video gap. You may share your knowledge and your story in the video, but not a verbatim of the narrative of your resume.
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