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Is Your Resume Invisible?

Do you ever feel like you are sending your resume out into a black hole never to be heard from again?  Perhaps you are.  Most large companies use Applicant Tracking Systems, which are essentially automated systems that screen resumes.  When you consider that Applicant Tracking Systems screen out roughly 70% of the applicants, you can see that it is essential to optimize your resume for this type of screening.   Here are some strategies that will get your resume through the Applicant Tracking System so that a human will actually read it:

Include relevant keywords in your application.  The keywords that you use will be the main determining factor for how well your resume performs in an Applicant Tracking System.  Look at the job posting and make a list of the keywords that are used, particularly those that are repeated.  You can also find relevant keywords by looking at similar positions with other companies.  Use the keywords two or three times throughout your resume for maximum impact. 

Customize your resume for each position.  Customization is absolutely essential if you want to pass through the Applicant Tracking System.  Even when hiring for similar positions, companies may be using slightly different keywords.  If you aren't using the exact same language as the company, you will be screened out.  Even just swapping out a few key phrases can make a huge difference in your results.    .   

Keep the formatting simple.  If you use fancy formatting on your resume, the Applicant Tracking System may not be able to read it.  Use a standard 11pt or 12 pt font like Arial, Courier or Times New Roman.  Avoid pictures, graphics and shading and don't send it as a pdf. 

Include a qualifications summary.  After your heading, put in a bulleted section with your most relevant achievements, skills and experiences.  This is your answer to the question, 'Why should we hire you for this job?'.  This is a great opportunity to insert a lot of keywords. 

Don't forget that a human will eventually read it.  Your goal is to get through the Applicant Tracking System so that your resume will be reviewed by an actual human.  Once you get to this point it is important that your resume is actually readable.  While it is important to limit your formatting and to insert keywords, it is also essential that your resume flows nicely.         

These strategies are primarily targeted for an Applicant Tracking System, but if you are applying to smaller companies (less than 50 people), they may not be using them.  You might even consider having two resumes- one for an ATS and one for a human screener so that you can keep your options open and use whichever one is most appropriate.


(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of GraphicsMouse at