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By Caroline Ceniza-Levine
June 2, 2015

Job seekers fear the resume robots – the automatic filtering of resumes that prevents your application from even being read. First of all, the good news: I have recruited for brand-name companies and cutting edge start-ups, and I have never seen a filtering tool that is so good that recruiters rely on it 100%. Therefore, there is no one magic password that will get you past an auto resume screen, and you don’t have to worry about being left out while everyone else who knows the magic password skirts by you.

However, now for the bad news: recruiters don’t spend that much more time reviewing your resume than an automatic filter would. Given the pace of recruiting and how many searches a typical recruiter is inundated with, unsolicited resumes get seconds of attention, if any at all. Many times there are so many resumes coming in that a recruiter will prioritize the ones that get referred or that s/he filters out manually. To this end, you still need to get past these filters (albeit more likely a human filter, not a robot). Here are three ways to adapt your resume to get it to the top of the pile:

Include keywords

Whether it’s by automatic or human filter, if a job opening calls for a specific skill or experience that is easily summarized into a keyword, you better believe the recruiter will search by that keyword. When I did an animation search, I used “Aftereffects” as a filter because that was the software of choice and the candidate absolutely needed that skill. When I hired at the executive level for a cultural institution, I used the sector expertise (American art) as the basis for my keywords because, while the overall skill set would be quite varied, the ultimate hire needed a specialization that could be summarized in a few keywords.

Keyword searches are mostly relied on for those openings with narrowly defined criteria. To ensure your resume gets selected, include keywords that tightly describe your skills, expertise, and experience. All resumes can use specificity — technical skills, languages, industry buzzwords (e.g., Big Data), certifications (e.g., CPA), and sector expertise (e.g., American impressionism). Thus, keywords should be in all resumes, not just because they are searchable, but because they are descriptive and descriptive resumes attract human readers as well.

Put findings into context

Even when a keyword search is first used, the recruiter will then filter through the shortlist of those keyword-selected resumes. If it’s not apparent why the keyword appears – say you list Aftereffects as a skill but it doesn’t otherwise relate to anything else in your resume – you still may not get called in. As a recruiter, I would not only want a skill or buzzword listed but I would want to see how it is incorporated in your career to date. Are you just tech savvy in general, so picked up Aftereffects along with a bevy of other software? That type of diverse tech knowledge may be great for some jobs but not if I need an Aftereffects specialist.

You might think that getting noticed by a recruiter is always positive. But if you don’t want to be an Aftereffects specialist, or if your level of skill is not competitive to be a specialist, then it’s a waste of time for both you and me. You want to be called in for the right positions. Make sure that you include keywords for roles that you want and put such keywords into the broader context of your experience so that it’s clear what roles you want and are qualified for.

Make the resume easy to skim

You might think that all this talk about context means a recruiter is sitting with your resume and considering it at length. Whether by auto filter or human filter, resumes are read in seconds – there is just too much volume to do otherwise. Therefore, you want to make yours easy on the eyes of recruiters who will be reviewing dozens or hundreds of resumes in close succession.

  • Use at least 10-point font.
  • Use bold, italics and underlining to emphasize, but use these sparingly, or else everything runs together.
  • Keep the structure parallel – dates on the same side (left or right, just consistent); companies, geographies and titles in the same place and in the same format – so the eye can easily jump around as needed.
  • Prioritize white space and margins because it makes what information you do include easier to read. When resumes are too crowded, the reader might miss something or skip reading it altogether.

There is no one word that will ensure your resume gets read. That should be good news to you because it means that not everyone is right for every role and there is some method to the madness of hiring! So if you want to use one word to guide your resume writing, then think “keyword” or “context” or “readability”. If you can include the keywords that matter to the role you want in a context that shows you fit that role and in a readable manner that lets the recruiter discover your value in seconds, then you improve your chances of getting your resume to the top of the pile. Remember that an employee referral always helps, so don’t stop your networking in pursuit of the perfect resume.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with executives from American Express, Citigroup, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic, so she’s not your typical coach. Connect with Caroline on Google+.

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