It’s not you: Why no one’s reading your resume

By now, you’ve rewritten your resume more times than you can count. You’ve labored over every word and formatted it within an inch of its life. Blogs with titles like “Jumpstart your Job Search with 5 Resume Tips!” and “4 Foolproof Ways to Get a Recruiter’s Attention!” dominate your bookmarks. You’ve shown it to your friends, your mom, a few trusted colleagues, and that HR manager you dated a while back. Everyone agrees: you look great on paper.

So Why Don’t They Call?

One likely answer is that your resume – at least the resume as you know it – rarely makes it to a human reader. The problem starts with that shiny “Upload A Resume” button. It looks promising, but don’t be deceived: this button is the doorway into a void, a purgatory of waiting, wondering, and never hearing back. This abyss has a name, and it’s “ATS.”

After you upload your resume (and spend the rest of the day staring into your empty inbox), an Applicant Tracking System immediately disassembles your masterpiece and presents you to a prospective employer as just one row in a list of applicants sorted by keywords and job titles. Users then cruise the assembled applicants, searching for candidates worth a further look.

If it sounds a lot like online dating, that’s because it is. These systems present recruiters and hiring managers with assumed matches, usually based on predetermined criteria like the presence of certain keywords on the resume. Some systems even screen out applicants automatically before a human end-user is ever involved.

Before the problem solver in you grudgingly admits that this sounds like a solid workflow management system, read on.

The Future is Here. And it Doesn’t Quite Work.

Most major companies use an ATS of some sort. But despite their pervasiveness, Applicant Tracking Systems are maddeningly ineffective at doing what they’re designed to do: pairing employers with the right candidates. They’re so ineffective that the Wall Street Journal recently devoted not one but two pieces to the problem of getting the right resumes into recruiters’ hands.

WSJ’s Lauren Weber notes that even though jobseekers and recruiters alike find the systems frustrating, companies are expected to spend $5.75 billion on online recruitment tools and services in 2012. This is great news for job boards, but the truth is that the technology is still very young and still very flawed. While some services try to mitigate the ATS black hole by using detailed profile systems rather than siQmanmple resume parsing, the end result is ultimately the same: resumes are disassembled and sorted into searchable pieces. Recruiters and hiring managers must still comb through lists of criteria before deciding to view an individual applicant’s details.

Four Tips for Getting Noticed in an ATS

Now that you know what’s on the other side of the looking glass, you can start to do something about it. While there are countless Applicant Tracking Systems available, some key criteria remains constant. Start here:

  • Have a Second Resume. You can keep your brilliantly formatted resume for email attachments and personal networking, but keep a simple.txt file on hand for online applications.
  • Dress It Down. That.txt file needs to be as simple as possible. If your resume contains advanced formatting components like boxes, borders, tables, or images, pull them out. Text only.
  • Name Your Sections. While your “real” resume might not contain section headings, your ATS-ready version should. Don’t be creative here. Use common headings like “Experience,” “Professional Experience,” and “Education.” ATS systems look for these headings and break your resume down accordingly.
  • Understand Search. Populate your resume with keywords that fit each job posting. Don’t just dump a keyword section into your existing resume – do the work and make the keywords integrate seamlessly with your skills and experience. The desired skills listed in the job posting are good indicators of what keywords the recruiter or hiring manager will be searching for.

So how can foolproof your resume to make it to the top of a recruiter’s list? The answer is that you can’t. Like so many other components of the job search, the needs of the organization and the opinions of the reader will control much of your resume’s success or failure.

However, the steps above are a fine start toward getting your resume noticed in almost all ATS systems. Do your research and put in the work before you hit “Submit.” Next time, the void may answer back.