How To Write A Resume To Get Through The Applicant Tracking System (ATS) So Employers Find You

Jeff was a baby boomer executive who wrote to me to discuss his frustration that his resume wasn’t getting any results. He was a C-level executive, and he knew he was doing something wrong. Jeff wanted some help in writing a more effective resume. When I glanced at it, I quickly saw many problems and knew he wasn’t getting through the applicant tracking systems (ATS). Jeff was making some big mistakes that many other professionals and executives make.

I called on Jessica Hernandez, CEO of Great Resumes Fast, to offer some advice. She has a team of 17 resume writers, and the company focuses on executives.

“Many people make the mistake of thinking that only keywords matter when it comes to the applicant tracking system,” noted Hernandez. “Certainly, keywords are essential and important, but there is a big difference between what many people believe keywords to be and what works.” For example, executive clients will write about soft skills when really what the employer wants to know about are your hard skills. “So instead of saying something about teamwork you need to be talking about your budget management experience,” she said. “The reason for this is that recruiters never search for soft skills like team player or excellent communication skills. They are searching for hard skills such as financial analysis or data analytics or cybersecurity.”

Another issue to avoid is adding headers and footers, you can’t see them in the applicant tracking system. You don’t want to deviate too much from using the standard section headers to better align to the system’s upload capabilities. You won’t have to worry if you have Professional Experience and Education headings because your information should upload correctly. I always write a Summary of Qualifications section, this aligns well with applicant tracking systems so you can include a summary of qualifications. Sections for technical skills or certifications work too. Hernandez stated that you need to avoid text boxes and tables because it can create issues for the applicant tracking system.

All career counselors complain about clients who have one common problem. Hernandez was quick to point this out too. “Many people use acronyms and abbreviations. You do need to spell those out at least one time. Have it written as client relationship management (CRM) because you don’t know which way the recruiter is going to search that keyword phrase.

“Something unique that we do on our resumes is to add a personal branding and a value proposition and key differentiators. These are the things that are unique to the executive. For example, we will have the title of the job the person is looking for, and then the branding statement is usually one line of the value that they offer to the targeted jobs and employers that they are searching for. A recent client on her resume said this she was Chief Mindfulness Officer inspiring greatness through the integration of sports spirituality and science,” Hernandez mentioned.

Many executive clients struggle with putting their careers on paper. “Often the client struggles with putting their careers on paper, and they undersell themselves without focusing on what the next step might be,” Hernandez says. By underselling yourself, you often get calls that are demotions because recruiters are looking at lower-level jobs you’ve done. You must position yourself successfully, knowing what the next step in your career is. What is the next job title you’re looking for? Be sure that you have the appropriate keywords and bulleted sentences that will position you for that next job.

Hernandez’s top two tips for resume writing are:

  1. This means having clear direction on what you are looking for. You can’t have a generalized resume as it won’t resonate with employers. They are hiring a specialist. You must emphasize what your specific skill set is geared towards and the targeted job you’re looking for.
  2. Customize your resume as you apply to jobs. This may mean rearranging the bullets, changing the order, or even changing the job title you’re looking for. It does not have to be a laborious task. Just make sure the most relevant keywords are first. These simple changes will increase the number of responses you receive.

Having written over 5,000 resumes in my career, my top resume writing tip is this: Make it results and accomplishments oriented. Employers are not interested in long, boring job descriptions. That is a typical baby boomer mistake. Add in what you did, and the outcome achieved. Define these results by adding in numbers, stats, dollars, or time saved. Edit the experience carefully, so you focus on your best accomplishments. Noting all your results is what will get the attention of the hiring manager once your resume makes through the ATS and the employer is actually looking at your resume.

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