Before your résumé ever reaches the hands of a live person, it often goes through a computerized screening system. In fact, three-quarters of large companies and 99 percent of Fortune 500 companies use artificial intelligence in the form of applicant tracking system (ATS) software to prescreen résumés. The problem: 75 percent of résumés never make it into human hands because they don’t meet ATS criteria.
As a result, Colin von Liebtag, associate director of alumni career development at Rutgers’ Career Exploration and Success (CES), says that some applicants resort to tricks to make it through the robot round. “I’ve seen people copy-paste keywords and phrases into their résumé in very small white type, so the hiring managers won’t see it, but the bots will ‘read’ it,” he says. “I’ve also seen that backfire when people don’t have the skill set listed and they get called out on it during the interview.”
Luckily, there are some simple ways to make your résumé bot-friendly while staying authentic to your work experience. Here, von Liebtag LC’08, SSW’15 shares his top tips for doing both:
Learn their lingo
For every job application, start by researching the company and the position. Pay attention to the language, keywords, and phrases that are used, and try to mirror that language in your résumé. This will help an ATS identify you as a direct match, and it will show human readers you “speak their language.” Use the same lingo in emails, interviews, and other communications, too.
Beat the bots: To get more hits, insert important keywords and phrases in multiple points on the résumé, such as in the intro, skills section, and job description.
Keep your fonts straight
Not everything has to be Times New Roman, but you should choose fonts that are easy to read both for bots and, later, humans. That means nothing too graphic, like Lucida Handwriting. Also, limit yourself to two fonts (three at most) for a clean look.
Beat the bots: Experiment with the fonts Georgia, Helvetica, and/or Verdana on your résumé: Numerous sources cite them as very readable. For more options, take a look at this article, which includes suggestions for people creating Google docs.
Don’t paint a picture
Stay away from borders, charts, graphs, icons, tables, and other graphics. Use a logo only if it is vital (say, if you’re a graphic designer). “Extras” like these can trip up an ATS. Also, if you use a header or footer, don’t use the tool that inserts them in the margin: Instead, just type them manually into the main body of the page.
Beat the bots: The safest way to differentiate heads, sections, and key information is to use simple tools like bold, italics, underlining, capital letters, spacing, and centering.
Save (and send) it simply
In general, stick to PDFs or docs. PDFs are nice because they’re like a snapshot of the document, so they lock in format and style; these work well as email attachments. If you’re uploading a résumé online, a Microsoft Word doc or Google doc may work better. Some applicant tracking systems (especially older ones) can’t read a PDF easily (or at all).
Beat the bots: For online submissions, look for directions regarding which format is preferred and follow them to the letter.
Keep in mind the “best” way to beat the bots…
The good news is that all of the bot-friendly tips above are easy on human eyes, too.
“In most cases, people are scanning your résumé, spending only 30 to 60 seconds on it, at least initially,” von Liebtag says. “Those ways of differentiating yourself—using keywords and phrases, bold and italics, a readable font—will help the HR person see the value in you fairly quickly. And just like any other first impression, that will frame the rest of their experience with you.”
“The best way to beat the ‘boss’ is not to play the game,” says von Liebtag. “Circumvent ATS altogether by networking with people who make hiring decisions—or who can pass along your résumé to those who do.”
Being a Rutgers alumnus means you have abundant opportunities to build connections like these. Check out this article on networking for some easy ways to get started.
Rutgers Resources on Résumé Writing
Resources that address some of the basics include the following:
- Résumé Samples: These are organized by career cluster, such as Business, Financial Services, Logistics, Life Sciences, and Health.
- Student/Alumni Virtual Help Desk: Schedule a Zoom meeting using your Rutgers NetID.
- Résumé and Job Search Correspondence: These resources also offer help with cover letters and emails.
Interested in helping a fellow alumnus strengthen the content of their résumé? Check out the options available via Rutgers’ Student-Alumni Career Connect System.