Resume Scanning and Applicant Tracking Systems. How to help your resume make the cut.

I’m writing this post in response to a discussion topic in one of my favorite career-related FB groups for military spouses.  There are probably many of you out there applying for jobs at major companies and never hearing a word back despite being well-qualified.

Large companies receive thousands of job applications to their advertised positions.  To reduce the resumes down to a workable number (and to eliminate early those applicants who don’t meet the minimum essential requirements) many companies and recruiters use automated systems to scan resumes and applications and reduce the field to more manageable numbers.

You can increase the chances of your resume making it through the first cut by making sure it’s suited to automated systems (or applicant tracking systems).  The two main things to focus on are keywords and format.  Whether you are applying online or submitting a hard copy or file which will be scanned it’s important to make sure that the software can read your resume and its content and that it will stand out in a database keyword search.

Essentially you want your resume to be clean, simple and include appropriate key words.  The software will be scanning resumes for key words, minimum qualifications and experience levels etc. and filtering and scoring the resumes; only those resumes who rank highly will make it to the next round and hopefully into the hands of an actual person.  If your resume format isn’t clean and simple then the software won’t be able to read it properly and your resume won’t make it through even if you are the most suitable candidate.

Here are my tips for the most important aspects to focus on when writing a scannable resume:

1. Keywords: use industry keywords that match those listed in the job description and that are used by the company. Don’t forget the basics like job titles!  Include both nouns and verbs.  Be as specific as you can and avoid the use of acronyms (unless they are used in the job description in which case the software may specifically look for them or if they are common to your industry).  Take a look at the company website to get a feel for the language they use and and incorporate it into your application (don’t limit your search to their home page; be sure to check out other sections such as their community involvement projects).

Think about how you find exactly what you’re looking for when you do a Google search- the more specific your search criteria the more likely you are to find what you are looking for.

2. Personal Details:  place your name at the top of EACH page and use a standard format for address and telephone etc.  Use one line each for your name, address, telephone number (if more than one each should be on its own line), email address and LinkedIn URL.

3. Font: use 10-12pt standard sans serif fonts (such as Arial).  Serif fonts such as Times New Roman can be read but may bleed together and cause the software to “misread” your content.  Keep font consistent throughout. Avoid italics and underlining which can also make the characters difficult to read.

4. Page Layout:  KEEP IT SIMPLE! This can’t be emphasized enough.  The software can’t read fancy fonts and layouts.  Left justify your text, use adequate margins, and avoid the use of headers and footers (the software won’t read the content in these). Don’t use horizontal lines or similar between sections.

5. Length:  use multiple pages if you need to.  The software can read multiple pages and you want to get as much information read as possible.   Keep in mind though that if the resume is then passed to a person for follow-up they still won’t want to read 5 pages!

6. Content presentation:  again, keep it simple!  Use clear, commonly used headings e.g Education, Employment History.  Don’t use tables, graphs or charts as these can’t be read.  As with any resume proof-read and proof-read again (and then get someone else to proof read it for you) to ensure there are no spelling or grammatical errors.

7. Hard copy submission:  if you are sending in a hard copy of your resume which will be scanned use standard size (A4 for Australia, Letter for the U.S), crisp, white paper with black laser printing (this provides maximum contrast and avoids smudging and bleeding of characters); print only on one side; do not staple; do not fold (this will cause creases and reduce readability).

8. Electronic submission: use a suitable file format.

You may want to create two versions of your resume- one that can be read by software and submitted and one standard format which you can print off and take to an interview.

Large and small businesses alike receive hundreds and thousands of responses to advertised positions and whether they have scanning software or not they are unlikely to have the capacity to search all of them for the right candidate.  If you are going to apply for advertised positions as part of your job search strategy tap into your network (see Networking for Job Hunters) to see if you know someone who works there who can either introduce you to the hiring manager or can let someone know you’ll be applying so they can look out for your application or better yet receive it directly.  It may be just what you need to bypass the first cull.


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