Artwork by: Tal Yavin
If you are preparing to submit your resume for a job application, wait! First, read through these tips for boosting your resume so it passes the ATS scan and gets noticed by recruiters.
Every new job hunt should begin with sprucing up the resume. It’s not hard for recruiters and employers to tell when they are looking at a stale resume. A freshly updated resume indicates to employers that you are actively and eagerly seeking new opportunities and professional growth.
We understand how intimidating it can be to edit a resume, especially if it’s been a while since your last update. We’ve compiled the following list of 15 tips and tricks to help boost your resume and excel in the current job market.
We’ll cover real resume boosters, like
Updating with keywords, skills, and deliverables
Resume sections you might not be using
The little details you might be overlooking
But first, let’s talk about why it’s important to edit your resume using the following guideline. While it’s great to appease individual recruiters, your real goal should be to write a resume that stands out on Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). ATS is an automated process for reviewing resumes. These systems scan resumes for keywords and organizes prospects based on skill sets, experience, and sometimes even education. Essentially, applicant tracking systems are big automatic filters that filter out resumes that do not align with the job criteria. Your goal is to make it past those filters and get your resume into the hands of a recruiter.
To learn more about ATS, read our article on resume keyword scanning.
Because ATS is an automated system that uses algorithms to find what it’s looking for, the tips below are actually a proven strategy for boosting your resume through an ATS scan so it gets noticed by a recruiter. It’s in your best interest to follow this list.
If there is one tip that should be shouted from the rooftops, it’s this one. Using keywords on your resume that are specifically denoted in the job description is imperative to landing the position. When ATS is set up for a given job, it is fed the same job posting that you read. The keywords that it is looking for, that will get your resume onto the recruiter’s shortlist, are already provided for you. A lot of people don’t utilize this tip to its full potential. It does take some extra effort to go back through your resume for every single new job you apply for, but the reward is monumental. If you want a job, take the time to do this step.
There are some career advisors who have suggested copying and pasting the job posting onto the bottom of your resume using white text color. While there are many pitfalls to this approach and it is not recommended, it does go to show you the length that people will go to to make sure all the keywords are accounted for on their resume.
LinkedIn is an incredibly useful tool on its own, so why not merge it with your resume? It also gives recruiters a better idea of your professional interests, network, and history. Resumes are a refined description of what we bring to the table, but LinkedIn gives us enough space to elaborate on our skills and experiences.
Better yet, before you submit your job application, go onto the LinkedIn profile of the recruiter and connect with them. Visit the company’s page and follow them. When your resume is reviewed by the recruiter, they will then visit your LinkedIn, they’ll see that you are already connected, and you’ll stand out from the crowd.
If you don’t already have a LinkedIn, this is your sign to make one. The benefits are innumerable, and it will absolutely have a positive effect on your job hunt.
The term deliverables refers to quantifying your skills. This practice is a way of turning a qualification into an achievement. Look at the following example:
Skill or qualification: event planning
Written as an achievement: Launched fundraising event for 350 attendees, yielding over $10K in profit and prospering 10+ vital partnerships.
Turning your skills into deliverables or achievements is truly the new standard in the world of recruitment. Recruiters are more interested in knowing how your skill benefits a company, not simply that you possess the knowledge of it.
Dictating the skills you possess from one industry so that they are relevant in a different industry is a key component of the job hunt, especially if you’re pursuing a career change. By describing your skills as transferable, you’re essentially saying that you understand the skill so well that you can apply it to multiple areas.
To start thinking of your skills as transferable, try getting to the root of the skill. Instead of saying you have experience in management in the childcare field, break it apart and describe the pieces. You’ll find that you are skilled in conflict management, creating and maintaining schedules, have an affinity for risk management, are detail-oriented, and have completed state-compliant documentation. All of those traits are going to allow you to be seen as an asset in multiple fields because you are not strictly associating them with the field of childcare.
If a recruiter is looking at your resume, that’s great, it means that you passed the ATS scan. Continue to shine by making your resume easily digestible by the recruiter. You can use formatting to your advantage here. If you look up resume templates, you’ll find that it’s a common practice by today’s standards to include line spacers and varying font sizes that portray different sections, and tell the eye where to go next. If a resume is too busy or wordy, a recruiter may never fully realize all the skills you bring to the table.
If you utilize line spacers, feel free to change the color. It is common today to see navy blue, crimson red, forest green, or shades of gray on resumes. Keep in mind though that all body text should remain black, and it’s recommended to steer clear of any bright or pastel shades for coloring. The colors you choose should still reflect professionalism, and there should typically only be one single accent color.
Change your margins to allow more space on your paper. If you are using spacers and formatting effectively, you can use up more space while still keeping it skimmable.
At some point not too long ago, many of us were advised to have an objective statement at the top of our resumes. These essentially were basic statements of intent. That practice has been replaced by a professional summary, a much stronger power statement that tells the recruiter more. When you apply for a job, it’s usually clear to the recruiter that your interest and intentions lay within that field. There’s no need to repeat it in an ambiguous statement on your resume.
Consider the example below:
Objective statement: Looking for a position in the information technologies (IT) field, specifically relating to cyber security or development operations (DevOps).
Professional summary: Bringing over 15 years of information technologies (IT) experience, with a strong history of success in cyber security strategies while adhering to coding principles and philosophies of development operations (DevOps).
Although the two statements above are similar in nature, you can see how the objective statement is a mere intention, whereas the professional summary is a boast about your skills as a professional. That slight change in approach makes quite an impact.
A great way to boost your resume is by including additional sections. Some examples that you can include on your resume are volunteer experience, tech proficiencies, published works, relevant coursework, licenses and certifications, events (that you helped put on), strategic partnerships, or additional experience.
Going back to ATS scans, a commonly missed opportunity is in regard to tech proficiencies. Many ATS scans give results in the form of a percentage or score (Ex: 76% match). One of the easiest ways to increase your score is to include the basic technologies that most of us use every day anyway.
This includes programs like Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Gmail, Outlook, Zoom, Google Meets, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.
If you look at job postings, most of them do list these basic proficiencies, but it’s often overlooked to add them to a resume because people consider them to be no-brainers. However true that may be, the reality is that simply having the words on your resume can greatly increase your likelihood of being reviewed by a recruiter. So, everyone from the most entry-level person to a high-ranking executive should include this section, and take the time to type out each individual program.
If you are a graphic designer or in a similar creative field, this tip might not apply to you. Everyone else, delete your photos from your resume. In some countries outside of the US, it is standard practice to include a photo of yourself near your personal information. In the US, however, it is not recommended.
The same goes for graphics and images. Over the last ten or so years, there has been a push to include creative flair on resumes, but the practice has never taken hold. It looks unprofessional and has the potential to group you in with a younger (read: inexperienced) crowd. It’s best to avoid the harm and just stick to line spacers and a modern format for your resume flair.
In some industries, it pays to have worked on high-visibility projects. Listing those projects on your resume can actually work for you the same way listing your achievements does. That’s not the case in every industry though. Here are two examples to help show when it’s appropriate and not.
Example #1: An event planner and professional fundraiser whose resume is a list of payments and perks they received from happy clients. The list includes shopping sprees and tickets to events, as well as famous people they have met at the different events they helped put on.
None of these items showcase the client’s transferable skills, deliverables, or experience, and therefore this is not an appropriate use of name-dropping.
Example #2: An oil rig engineer and machinist. The main body of their resume utilizes a skills-based format. At the end of their resume is a section titled ‘Affiliated Projects’ with a simple list of industry-known projects and the individual’s respective start and end dates.
Because the same companies fund most of the big projects in this industry, a recruiter can skim through the list of projects and understand the candidate's scope of expertise. This is an appropriate use of name-dropping.
Having a full address on your resume opens you up to location discrimination and it can be harmful to your personal safety.
Location discrimination can apply if you live in a less-affluent part of town. Perhaps you would be offered a lower salary and have your address used to justify it because the cost of living is lower where you live.
Personal safety applies because you don’t know all the eyes that read a resume. If it’s put through an unsecured review process, your data may be leaked. It’s best to take off your specific address, and instead, only write the city and state where you reside.
What if you’re looking for work in a certain city where you don’t live, should you say you live there? No. It will inevitably come to the attention of the recruiter that you don’t currently live in that city, and it could make you look dishonest.
Unless you graduated in the last five years, it’s best to keep your graduation year private. An employer could potentially use it for age discrimination if they see you graduated college 35 years ago.
Alternatively, if you are a recent grad, it would explain any gaps in your resume or limited work experience.
This tip is again specific to ATS. Although many ATS are configured to target common acronyms, you run a risk of your skill being skipped nonetheless. Perhaps the ATS is meant to catch “DEI” but you have on your resume “D, E, & I”. If the job you’re applying to is specifically looking for an expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion, then your score would come up short.
It’s best to get yourself noticed accurately by writing out all acronyms at least once. Use the common strategy of fully writing out the acronym the first time it’s introduced, immediately followed by the acronym in parentheses. The next time you go to use it, you can cut straight to the acronym.
Example: Spokesperson for the company’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) team, leading groups of 150+ individuals in DE&I workshops and skill-building seminars.
Relevance on a resume is important. One way to establish this is to only include work experience from the last 15 years. If there is an achievement from your past that you really want to include, it can go into a separate category titled ‘additional experience’.
Hopefully, it can go without saying, but just in case, don't forget to proofread your document! This is so incredibly important. If a recruiter sees a typo on your resume, it says that you are not detail-oriented and probably lack professionalism. Additionally, misspelled words don’t get noticed in an ATS scan.
Whether you use MS Word or Google Docs to write your resume, it needs to be in PDF form when sent to a job. There are a couple of ways to create a PDF.
MS Word: File → Export → Create PDF/XPS Document
Google Doc: File → Download → PDF Document (.pdf)
Other: If you’re using a different program for creating your document, first look for similar cues as the ones listed above. If all else fails, there is another route. Go to file, then press print. A pop-up box will appear with details about the document and printer. You’ll see a drop-down list of available printers, press the arrow button so the full list appears. At the bottom of the list, you should see an option to “Save as PDF”. Choose this option then press continue.
A PDF is essentially a webpage of your document. It is universally compatible and it is not editable by viewers.
If you created your document on Google Docs but the recruiter only uses Word, the document either won’t be readable on their computer or will appear unformatted. This could ultimately be perceived as a poorly written resume, and reflect badly on you as a candidate.
Another benefit of sending in your resume as a PDF is that no one can make edits to it. Typically an occurrence like this would be purely accidental, but it would be a major inconvenience to have to re-create your entire resume because someone deleted the whole thing. Keep yourself safe from vulnerabilities like this by only saving and sending your document as a PDF.
Resumes should be written with regard to Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
Take the time to make adjustments to your resume following these recommendations, it’ll go a long way.
Emma is a certified employment specialist with over six years of experience in career mentorship and employment training. Emma is passionate about nurturing professional growth and helping people gain momentum in their field. She uses her writing and strategic career planning skills to help her clients fulfill their aspirations and reach new chapters in their professions. In 2020, she helped design Colorado’s first state-certified training program for people with disabilities entering the workforce.