Given the high volume of applications received by many large organizations, it’s no surprise that they’ve turned to electronic resume review systems to handle some of the initial vetting process. However, this also means that applicants are often best served by tailoring their resumes to perform well when read by these systems. Here, we’ll cover a few essential points to consider when optimizing your resume for hiring algorithms.
Do: Consider phrasing and keywords
The first thing to remember is that word choice matters. For starters, because a computer will be reading your resume instead of a human, you want to use common words for your section headers. Examples of common headings for resume sections include “Education”, “Skills”, and “Work Experience”. An example of overly complex or novel phrasing would be choosing to use “Professional Accomplishments” instead of “Work Experience”.
In past pieces, we’ve covered the importance of tailoring your resume for each job opportunity. That also applies here. It is a good idea to borrow wording from the description of the job for which you’re applying, because these are the keywords that are important to the hiring algorithm for a particular role. This doesn’t mean you should just copy and paste the job description into your experience, but – when you have experience that matches the desired qualifications – you should word those points to closely resemble the phrasing as written in the job description to ensure you won’t be passed over.
Don’t: Use complex formatting
When it comes to building an optimized resume, your best bet is to keep it simple. Like we mentioned earlier, the idea is to make it as easy as possible for a computer to scan the information and classify it into sections. A resume-reading algorithm will attempt to scan the text for information that implies you may be a good candidate. The program will not be prepared for – nor able to appreciate – any embedded graphics or intricate symbols (anything more complex than a bullet point or the standard set of characters on your keyboard is too much).
It can also be an interesting and creative choice to adjust the formatting of your resume beyond simple sections of bulleted lists – however, this is not the time to try for creativity. Visual interest can be important to human resume reviewers, but it will win you no points with automated review systems. Keep it simple and save your creativity for the later interview stages. Also, avoid placing any information in the header or the footer of the document, as it’s less likely to be noticed/correctly interpreted by these systems.
Bonus: Save your resume in the right format
Finally, while it has become common to submit your resume in PDF form, this isn’t necessarily a good idea if you’re dealing with an automated system. To ensure that your document will be read correctly, leaving it in Microsoft Word (.doc) form should be enough. Only submit a PDF version if you’re directed to do so by the instructions on the online application.
Remember, you won’t always be faced with an electronic resume review system, and you’re free to disregard some of the advice (particularly on formatting) in cases where your resume will be reviewed by a human. The trend in recent years though, particularly among larger firms, has been to adopt these automated systems. Fortunately, with the guidance above you should be able to submit a resume capable of meeting the necessary qualifications and allowing you to advance to the next stage of the hiring process.