Here at the ACT-1 Group, we often find that job candidates are hampered by a resume that’s formatted poorly and fails to express the candidates’ unique qualifications for the job at hand.
A clean, easy-to-follow resume that illustrates not just your skills for the job but the career path you took to acquire them is what hiring managers want to see. Dedication to craft, commitment to employers and a focused career plan are what shortlist candidates for an interview.
A well-formatted resume is also an ATS goldmine. ATSs (applicant tracking systems) are automated software tools that large companies use to identify candidates with job skill keywords. These systems, while decried by some as taking the human element out of the hiring process, can be used to your advantage if you know what the machine is looking for.
1. Understand the job description
When applying for a job, be sure to read (and reread) the description to fully comprehend what the employer is looking for – and how to best package yourself to stand out as meeting and exceeding the requirements. Pick out crucial keywords like “IT help desk experience” “MS Office” or “MBA preferred” and be sure to plug those into your resume as you tailor it to survive the ATS parsing engine.
2. Customize each resume
You must use the keywords from the job description and incorporate them into your tailored resume. Making your resume as customized as possible for every job will help get it noticed by applicant tracking systems and hopefully get you that interview.
3. Word or PDF?
Once upon a time, the ACT-1 Group strongly cautioned against sending your resume as an Adobe PDF because many ATS tools lacked the ability to parse them in the correct order/format and the machine would read it as a jumble. This is becoming less and less true and we still do recommend a RTF (Rich Text File) or Word document as the default resume file format. However, for some jobs where a uniquely stylized resume is essential (such as in the design world), a PDF can be acceptable.
4. Tables and Graphics
ATSs generally struggle to parse tables, graphics and other atypical text blocks. Generally, we advise against including them, but of course there are exceptions. A standing rule, however, is to not include any graphical or unusual text element on your resume that will make it not make sense if that element is removed.
5. Call your work experience “Work Experience” (as opposed to “Professional Experience” or “Career Achievements” etc.)
ATS are pretty dumb. They have a limited vocabulary and you don’t want to confuse them. Getting creative on your resume might be nice if there is a human reading it, but in the first round of resume selections, you have to impress the robots and unexpected titling conventions may get your resume tossed in the round file.
6. Lead your work experience entries with employer name and job title…not date.
The ATS default is company, title, date. Starting with date may confuse the machines and jumble your work experience order. Avoid this.
No one’s work history is perfect. Every career is a series of starts, stops, resets and re-directions. As you create your professional resume, your goal is to take what is doubtlessly a broad and varied catalog of your work experience and weave from those disparate threads a compelling narrative which will convince a hiring manager that you’re the exact person for the position.
The choices you make about what information you include and what to omit, as well as the formatting you select to display it are nearly as important as the actual real-world experience behind the resume. Remember, a resume’s job is not to get you hired by on its own. Rather, it must highlight core qualifications and pique enough interest to get you in the door. Once you land the interview, the strength of your interpersonal skills and professionalism is what will land you the job.
- Start by making a list of your job skills, both abstract and concrete. What do you know and howdid you learn it? What software proficiencies do you have? What core functions have you performed in the office environment?
- Next, list your work experience, from most recent to oldest, with months and years noted on your start and end dates. Take a moment to note every employment gap longer than three months or so – you will be addressing those gaps specifically, either in your resume formatting, or your interview.
- Come up with two or three bullet points for each resume entry that highlights key contributions you made while working for the company. At AppleOne, we call these “MSAs” – elements you “made, saved or achieved” at your job. Calling out concrete examples, such as “I redesigned the print-on-demand fulfillment process to be quicker by 30%, saving the company $18,000 over two years” is undeniable proof of your value.
- Always spell check your resume, playing close attention to date consistency and formatting. Have someone whose grammar you trust proof it.
Formatting and Addressing Specific Problems with Your Resume
Even if your work history is not perfect, a perfectly-formatted resume can market you in the best possible light.
- Been out of the workforce for a long time? A Functional Resume can address long periods of unemployment or gaps in your work history by directing the focus to the skills you possess first.
- Done a bit of job hopping? Leading your resume with a Profile can again redirect the focus to you, not the fact that you’ve held 4 jobs in the past five years.
- Have a rich work history, but some of your experience has nothing to do with the position for which you’re applying? A Chronological Resume with bullet-points tailored to how each job has prepared you for this one can help. Even if you drove an ice cream truck and are now applying to manage an IT team, your ability to solve problems, manage budgets and deliver what’s asked of you on time are all relevant job skills.
Diana De La Hoya has a three-year gap in her work history, but her skills-oriented Functional Resume directs the attention to her rich employment history and variety of valuable skills and accolades.
Rudy McBride’s long term of work at Blockbuster did not directly relate to his desired role as a graphic designer, but instead of leaving it off his resume, he chose to spin it as related to management and visual design within the video store.
Our recent college graduate, Gretchen Chen, does not have a whole lot of real-world job experience. But by highlighting her skills and presenting her coursework in a way that makes sense to hiring managers, she positions herself well to jump into the job market.