I recently worked with Dave, an over 50 client who had his resume written by a service, and they made his resume look sharp, eye-catching, colorful, and very creative in appeal. Unfortunately, he said, “I’ve gotten no results. What’s wrong?”
Sadly, a great deal. On examination, the resume writer didn’t have any experience understanding how the employer’s Applicant Tracking System (ATS) works. And if you don’t get through the ATS system, no one will see your resume. Why? ATS electronically scans your resume, scores your qualiﬁcations based on the description for that position, and ranks your application. Recruiters rely on the ATS to make their screening process more effective.
CNBC reported that over 75% of resumes never get seen by human eyes. 75%! So if your resume is not getting any responses from employers, you are likely stuck in ATS limbo. The reality is that the employer never saw your resume.
MISTAKE #1 — Formatting
Dave thought he had paid $400 for a great-looking resume. It was very creative, and it looks terrific on paper. Yet, creative, fancy formatted resumes fail miserably in an ATS system. People love it when they see the finished product. The designer has used colored ink, tables, shading, graphics, headers, and footers to make the resume look like a magazine advertisement. The problem is that most of these elements won’t be “seen” by the unsophisticated ATS robots.
Content is more important than design. Use the traditional, plain standard format. That means:
- No graphics
- No tables, columns and text boxes
- No colored ink
- No reversed out shading
- No lines across the page
- No headers or footers
Are employers responding to your resume?
MISTAKE #2 — Missing Keywords
Most people have no clue what these are or should be. They think there is a magic formula, and there is not. You can try to put your resume into a scanning system and see if you have the right keywords, but that hasn’t proved to be effective either.
You must understand how the ATS works. An uploaded resume goes through the initial scanning. A recruiter or hiring manager then adds in some keywords to search through the applicants. To be found, you need to have added appropriate keywords. This does not mean copying every word from the job opening and put them into your resume. Instead, try making a list of your job’s work tasks.
Next, review several job openings. Look for a pattern where employers all want similar specific skills and work tasks done. For example, they want a manager who has hired and coached the team. They may seek market research skills, or want program management experience. It might be a specific software, like Salesforce, they ask for.
After you have looked at the job announcements, then refine your keyword list. Add those keywords into your work experience sentence descriptions as you create the details on each job you have had. Don’t just make an extensive list of keywords. The systems won’t respond to that. Incorporate the words into the sentence to say: “Served as a project manager handling large installation projects from conception through completion.”
MISTAKE #3 — No Substance
Many people create a generic resume that doesn’t stress the skills necessary to get the job. And they fail to load the resume with accomplishments.
Results and accomplishments have the most significant influence on a resume. Employers want to see that you have made vital contributions and how the company benefited. Adding that your actions made money or delivered cost or time savings, noting productivity increases, especially if you created new things like processes, systems, designs, etc. are essential. An effective formula to use when writing about your work experience is this: WHAT were your ACTIONS, and then note WHAT the RESULTS were.
MISTAKE #4 — Skipping the Extra Fields
Some employers systems want you to fill out various fields, and it can feel like you are just repeating your resume. These fields have a crucial purpose for the ATS system and help with vetting your resume. Messing up on these “knockout questions” can torpedo your resume.
Put out your best effort into answering these fields even if the information already exists in your resume and cover letter. You can add more details, or mention a relevant skill. Try to incorporate measurable results into an answer whenever possible. Do include hard skills like writing manuals, training teams, designing new tools, etc.
MISTAKE #5 — Applying for the Wrong Jobs
When people desperately want a job, they start applying for everything and anything. They think that if they can get their foot in the door, they’ll be able to move up. Not true. The ATS system will overlook you every time.
Today employers hire for a person with the skillset necessary to succeed in THAT advertised job. They aren’t seeking those that are overqualified or underqualified. They want the person who will succeed and be happy doing the exact job they advertised to get done. So be careful to evaluate the role before you hit “send.” Assess your skills, experience, and the industry. Be sure the job is a close fit, and you are qualified to do it. If you need to make a career change, review openings to determine if you need new skills to land the job. Be sure you take those courses or get the certifications before you apply.
Dave found out that hiring a professional resume writer doesn’t guarantee success. He likely needed to have asked many more questions and understood more clearly what he was paying for. There are many talented resume writers out there, but there are so many people like those that Dave hired.
An earlier version of this article was originally published in Forbes.com.