How to Get Your Resume Past Computer Screeners

Technology has made many areas of life more efficient, and it’s doing the same for human resource departments around the world. Today, according to some estimates, 90 percent of large companies use some type of resume-screening software. Companies claim these tools help them identify the best candidate for a position in hours or days, instead of weeks or months.

But what about the job seeker? The upside is that sophisticated software can assure that all resumes go into a single database and are reviewed – versus ending up in a spam folder or being deleted by mistake. The key, though, is to learn how an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), or Automated Resume Screener, program works. Then you can give your resume the best chances of ultimately ending up in front of a human being.

It’s About the Keywords

Most resume-screening tools run resumes through a parser. This program removes style and formatting from your resume and breaks the text into relevant words and phrases. The program then sorts the words and phrases into categories, such as skills, education and work experience.

At that point, the software matches keywords from the resume to the requirements the company is looking to fill. Most of the time, the resume receives a relevancy score to help recruiters quickly prioritize the candidate pool.

Making sure to include the right keywords, therefore, is critical when you’re applying for a position. Start with the posted job description to develop your list. Top priority goes to words used in the job title and main description, used multiple times and noted in any list of criteria for success. Next, pay attention to names of competitors, brand names, and important industry certifications and organizations.

Some newer resume-screening tools can identify terms related to keywords, too. For example, if you have experience in auditing or SEC work, go ahead and specify what you’ve done. Don’t worry about whether or not you need to write out “accounting,” “certified public accountant” or “CPA.” Beware of “keyword stuffing”; spread your keywords throughout your resume, rather than squeezing them all in at the top.

Be Specific and Results-Oriented

Most companies are looking to fill a position with someone who specializes in a particular function, not a generalist. To increase your chances, be as specific as you can about your relevant experience. For example, specify “client relationship management” instead of just “management” or “marketing.” It helps if you can list this information as part of your most recent two or three jobs.

It’s helpful to include specific results in your resume that show the value you brought to the organization. Some resume parsers hone in on data- and metric-based content. So instead of saying, “Project-managed a software upgrade,” say, “Led a sales software upgrade project and came in under budget by 10 percent, while completing the initiative on time. The project led the sales team to become more effective and drove a 15 percent year-over-year sales increase.”

When it comes to format, resume-screening software favors bulleted lists over paragraphs. Humans who read resumes also gravitate toward bullets. The standard rules for resume development apply for automated programs and human eyes. These include using action verbs and active voice.

A Few Don’ts

In general, avoid using photos or graphics on your resume. Automated systems often can’t read illustrations. If you’re a graphics professional, create a website where you can showcase your work once you get past the automated system.

Don’t forget to ask for help in preparing your resume. It always pays to have a second set of eyes review your resume for typos, grammar and style. A resume free of even the smallest errors can give you a competitive edge. If you can get to know a human resources professional in your industry or field, perhaps through a local business organization, you could ask them for input on how they use automated screening software and how they identify candidates at their company. You also may find good resources through industry group forums on LinkedIn.

Finally, don’t neglect social media. Some applicant tracking systems will attempt to locate your social media channels on sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. A recruiter may look at these as part of the screening process, so be sure all your information and posts match what your resume says.

When preparing your resume, remember that the objective is to get an interview with a real person, where you can share details of your accomplishments and achievements, your goals and your personality. By understanding more about how resume-screening tools work, you can significantly improve your chances of getting through to the right person, for the right job.


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