Top Résumé Tips To Stand Out in Automated Screenings and With Recruiters

Job recruiters share advice to help applicants increase the chance of landing the job, even as more tech is used in the process.

The Washington Post

July 27, 2023

6 Min Read
Top Résumé Tips To Stand Out in Automated Screenings and With Recruiters
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Ever feel like your résumé is disappearing into the abyss after applying for a job?

Maybe you applied to several positions and are not hearing back.

You're not alone.

A rising number of applications spurred by new easy-to-apply online systems is making it hard for some employers to thoroughly review every candidate and send rejection letters. Some résumés only get a few seconds of a glance, while others are screened by artificial intelligence or tech filters. But recruiters say jobseekers can take a few easy steps to increase the chance of landing a job. Understanding the technology in use and taking extra care is becoming increasingly important as recruiting resources are stretched thin.

"I'm seeing a fourfold increase in applications for one job," said Jason Walker, co-founder of Thrive HR Consulting. "It's really clear people are just not getting calls on résumés that they're dumping into the system - that's just a black hole."

As a result, some job seekers are turning to hacks in hopes of getting past automated screenings. Recruiters who spoke to us sympathized with job candidates and suggested they prioritize their job hunt as though it were a job in itself. While rejection can feel defeating, candidates shouldn't give up, they said.

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"It's not a value judgment on you," said Tejal Wagadia, a senior technical recruiter for a big tech company who isn't permitted to disclose her employer's name. "Don't take it personally."

To help, we've rounded out some useful tips from recruiters to improve your chances of getting hired.

1. Check for errors

Typos and misspelled words are a turnoff. Recruiters said they're likely to toss out a résumé riddled with errors - and they could create problems with automated screenings and filters. Run your résumé through spell check, double-check company names and make sure you use proper grammar and punctuation.

2. Don't get cute

Find a standard résumé format and follow it. Don't use two columns unless you lack the experience to fill the page, Wagadia said. Use black and white text and avoid headshots, graphics or self-ratings of your skills. Unless you're applying for an artistic job like a graphics artist, recruiters aren't judging the design.

Complex designs may interfere with some systems' abilities to extract information, said Sachit Kamat, chief product officer at hiring and talent platform Eightfold AI. Make it easy for both tech and humans to scan.

"Keep it simple," said Reynaldo Ramirez, co-founder of Thrive HR. "That [extra] stuff turns recruiters off, especially if they have to look around for the information."

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3. Be clear up front

Communicate the role you want as well as your strengths, expertise and biggest accomplishments at the top with a professional summary, recruiters said. It should be a few lines max.

"You're saying, 'This is what I do, what I've accomplished, I have this many years of experience and have worked for small- and medium-sized companies,'" for example, Wagadia said. "A lot of recruiters only have 30 seconds to a minute."

Although the video format may be novel, systems and recruiters often view text résumés first.

4. Focus on results vs. responsibilities

A common faux pas candidates make is listing their duties under their previous jobs and using vague adjectives like "detail-oriented," or "experienced professional" to describe themselves. This doesn't impress recruiters or help with tech filters.

Recruiters want to know your impact. Candidates should use quantifiable terms, specific titles and skills as well as the results of your actions, Wagadia said. Include metrics where applicable (for example, years of experience or revenue generated). "Employers are looking for people who are going to bring value," she said. "So you need to show that."

5. Keep it short

Employers don't need to read your whole life story. Keep your résumé to one page max if you're early in your career or two pages if you're more experienced, recruiters said.

"Your résumé should be short, snappy and to the point," said Andreea Macoveschi, a senior director for global consulting firm Korn Ferry.

Get rid of statements that start with "I" and get right to the action verbs, said Marisol Maloney, a tech recruiter for defense contractor Firebird AST. You can even use bullets to list items. But don't let length keep you from being creative or showing a little personality for human reviewers.

"They actually want to see originality and a personalized touch," said Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief innovation officer at staffing firm ManpowerGroup. "I want to know what's unique about you because my job will be to tell an amazing story about you."

6. Tailor your materials to the job

Doing your homework on the company and job will not only help make your résumé relevant to recruiters, but it may also help with tech screenings and filters.

Use the job description as a guide to what to prioritize on your résumé. Employers often list the most important qualifications up top so highlight those, Wagadia said. Don't assume the recruiter or tech system knows every term related to the job. Match the keywords the company lists to make it clear, said Jon Stross, president and co-founder of hiring software company Greenhouse. Don't use abbreviations and change uncommon titles to those more widely used to help matching systems, ZipRecruiter recommends.

Skip hiding keywords in white font, Stross said. Some recruiters and systems look for it and exclude those applications, he added. Instead, use keywords to elaborate on your experience as some AI systems also scan for context. Ensure you meet most of the criteria in the job description and clearly state that as systems scrape for that, Chamorro-Premuzic said.

Go the extra mile to explain why you'd be a good fit for that specific company.

7. Experiment with AI

Some recruiters suggested candidates also use AI in the process. AI may help build or sharpen their résumés, find job openings, create professional headshots and prepare for interviews. But be careful and double check everything, as AI has the potential to get things wrong.

Some recruiters said candidates could simply run their résumés through a free service like ChatGPT, asking it to optimize it using specific keywords or for a specific role. Other AI platforms include Rezi for building a résumé, Jobscan to help check for keywords, Teal for tracking all of your applications and Big Interview for interview prep, according to Thrive HR.

"People have the ability to put their CV through generative AI and do things much faster now," Chamorro-Premuzic said.

8. Ensure the application is complete

A silly but common mistake applicants make is not completing the full application, Maloney said. Even though you've filled out your résumé, ensure you also fill in every field of the application, as systems may label incomplete applications. If a field calls for something from your résumé, copy and paste it to help both recruiters and screening systems. Don't type "refer to résumé," she said.

9. Network to make connections

The best way to stand out both to a recruiter and in any software system is by making personal connections, recruiters said.

Some applicant tracking systems automatically bounce candidates to the top of the list if they have an internal referral. A quick search on LinkedIn might help you find people who work for the company to you're applying, Walker said. Introduce yourself and see if they'll chat with you more about their job or employer. Try to attend networking events, invite people out to coffee or lunch. Sometimes making a personal connection with the recruiter can also help you make headway, Maloney said.

"People aren't going to come knock on your door," Chamorro-Premuzic said. "You need to put in a little bit of effort."

-- Danielle Abril, The Washington Post

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