Ensure Your Client’s Word Resume Passes the Screen

By Sharon Graham.

We know that technology plays a huge part in the screening process – not just for resumes that are emailed or posted on internet job boards, but also for hard copies received at job fairs or through snail mail. If you want your client’s resume to rise to the top of the list of candidates, it’s crucial that the resume is optimized.

You may have developed your client’s resume in Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx) or converted it to a PDF (.pdf). Either way, when the document is submitted, it will get scanned into a database where it’s analyzed for words that match open job descriptions. The system that stores and reads the resume is called an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). It’s designed to save the hiring manager time spent sorting through hundreds – and even thousands – of resumes.

ATS software uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to read the text on your client’s resume. Current OCR technology may be good, but it is not foolproof. Qualified candidates are often overlooked. Savvy candidates and employers know that good people are being disqualified because they happened to not use the right strategies and keywords.

In general, ATS software reads text files the best, but it does accept Word or PDF documents. Here are some suggestions to ensure that a fully formatted resume has the best chance of being read correctly and selected for the right positions:

  1. For the very best results, your client should apply for each individual job posting separately, optimizing the resume each time he or she applies.
  2. Make sure that that the document is not password-protected and is fully searchable by the OCR.
  3. Use a simple font without any bold or italics so that the reader picks up all the characters.
  4. Ensure that there is lots of white space to help overall readability.
  5. Don’t fully justify text as the odd spacing might interfere with the reader.
  6. Include all the pertinent key words and phrases that appear in the job posting. Match competencies and qualifications required.
  7. Don’t play any games like stuffing keywords into the resume in an invisible font, or the resume runs the risk of being blacklisted by the system.
  8. Apply a reverse chronological format, as this allows the ATS to calculate and apply credits towards the number of years of experience in specific areas.
  9. Use simple ASCII characters and symbols for bullet points to separate achievements and help the readability of the document.
  10. Don’t put credentials next to your client’s name. Spell out credentials separately and include the acronym as well.
  11. ATS reads tables up and down instead of left to right, so you are better off just leaving them out and opting for a simpler structure.
  12. Some ATS software programs ignore boxes altogether, so avoid putting text in boxes.
  13. Avoid graphics, images, and any designs as they will get ignored completely.
  14. Avoid inserting content in your document’s headers and footers as they often don’t get parsed very well and the information may be missed entirely.
  15. ATS does not look at the properties within the Word document, so don’t bother to put keywords there.
  16. Avoid keyboard characters such as slashes, as the ATS might ignore content before or after the symbol.

Once you have optimized your client’s Word document or PDF, test it carefully. Ideally, the resume should look and read exceptionally well in text format. Convert it to plain text to ensure that it does not degrade and you can read everything clearly.

When it comes to the intangibles, computers will never replace humans completely. A computer might be doing all the initial thinking, but there is always a human element to the recruitment and selection process. Make sure that you deal with the technology requirements, but do not let the resume’s overall appearance and readability suffer. No technology ever replaces a real relationship with a decision-maker. For the best chance of success, cater to computers and humans every time.

Take your resume development to the next level. Join our next Advanced Resume Development Program and learn how to make your client’s resumes effective.

Thank you for reading my blog! Please email me if you spot any errors in this post.

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great write up!

Amin Saleem.

Excellent learning stuff, very well articulated.