Applying for a job? Here are 9 keys to online resume success

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At the onset of a shiny new year, many of us decide it’s time to stretch our wings and seek a new job. With so many online resources available, you might assume that submitting several applications will surely garner at least a few results. 

Not so fast. 

These days, it’s highly likely that any job you apply for online will have an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) in place. What that means is that without the right keywords, font and format, your resume may just slip off into space — without you even realizing it.

These systems reject about 75% of candidates — even potentially great candidates. But despite the flaws, employers continue to use them, because they can cut through all the clutter much quicker and easier than an actual human being. 

9 keys to resume success

But don’t get discouraged! If you know how to work the system, you can give yourself a much better chance of getting your resume past the robots and onto the desks of the right people. When the system scans a resume, it sorts the content into four parts: education, contact info, skills and experience. So if you want your resume to make it past the robots and into the hands of a human, you need to make sure the system can recognize what it’s looking for.


1. Check for errors

For starters, carefully screen your resume for spelling and grammar errors — these little mistakes pretty much guarantee your resume a one-way ticket to the garbage can.

2. Formatting

Bear in mind that simple formatting is the best way to get your resume past these electronic wardens. Here are some tips on how to best format your resume for online tracking systems:

  • Bullets: Use bullets rather than paragraphs to describe your work experience. Bullets are easier for systems to navigate and easier for humans to read.
  • Don’t use complex tables, logos or graphics: They will confuse the system. And unless you’re a professional graphics designer, they’ll likely look unprofessional and just clutter up your resume.
  • Use text format (rather than PDF or Word): Submitting your resume in simple text format is the best way to get it past the robots and avoid any formatting errors when the system tries to sort through everything.
  • Get rid of the headers: Headers and footers can confuse the system and algorithm used to sort through the content of your resume.

3. Font

It may not seem like a big deal, but using certain standard fonts can be the equivalent of wearing sweatpants to an interview. In fact, tracking systems will actually reject some resumes just based on font. Then if your resume does make it to the right person’s desk, experts say certain fonts will get them tossed out of the mix immediately.

  • Do use: sans-serif fonts — like Helvetica. The letter in Sans-serif fonts don’t have the tiny ‘feet’ like the ‘T’ in Times New Roman. Other sans-serif fonts that typically get past the robots are Verdana and Tahoma.
  • Do not use: serif fonts. These are fonts like Times New Roman and Cambria. Screening softwares will often reject resumes with these fonts, as well as those with script fonts.
  • Don’t make the font too small: Don’t go any smaller than size 11 point font.

Read more: 8 interview tips to help you land that new job

4. Include specific keywords

Online application systems are scanning resumes for specific keywords, including those related to the specific job post. So yes, this means that you may need a custom resume for every job you apply for online. Systems track and score resumes based on a combination of how well they match the employer’s specific keywords and the applicant’s years of experience.

Here are some ways to use keywords in your resume:

  • Mirror wording from the actual job description in your resume: While you do not want a word-for-word match of the job description, if a nurse job description calls for someone with triage experience or primary care experience, for example, be sure that your resume contains those keywords. Similarly, if the job description asks for specific software experience, include your experience with that software.
  • Be specific: When these systems are scanning resumes for keywords, they’re looking for specific words. Using super creative and alternative phrasing can end up working against you, as the system may not recognize them.
  • Don’t forget acronyms: Make sure to use full keywords and acronyms for any organizations, certifications and other industry-specific skills. Again, if a nurse job is looking for experience in using electronic medical records, you should include that in your resume along with EMR to make sure the system doesn’t miss it.
  • Include basic and advanced skills: If a job posting is looking for certain skills, include both the basic and advanced ones that apply to you and the job. Explain all of your relevant skills in depth to make sure the system doesn’t miss anything it may be looking for.
  • Repeat the most important keywords: Don’t shove them all into one section, but repeating the most important keywords and skills identified in the job posting can help the system recognize you as a good candidate. 
  • Spread keywords out throughout your resume: You don’t want to list all the keywords in one section of your resume. Instead, give the job-related keywords some depth by using them throughout different sections. This will also be more appealing to any human who ends up reading your resume.
  • Use online tools to determine important keywords: There are online resources that can help you determine which keywords in a job posting will likely be most important to a tracking system. Check out Wordle and TagCrowd. Just pop the job description in and the tool will tell you which keywords are most important to include in your resume.

Read more: What you need to know to find a new job in 2016

5. Do your research

Turns out, it’s important to do your research not only before an interview, but also before you even apply. Carefully review the job posting and incorporate the relevant words into your job experience. Keywords from your industry – and the job description itself –  are essential to getting your resume to the right person.

Check out the company’s website for other words and phrases to use in your resume. Many companies will describe the workplace culture and lifestyle of current employees on their website — and including keywords around these values can improve your resume’s score in an online tracking system. Also, if a company has a clear interest in a particular topic like sustainability or environmental issues or innovation (or whatever it is), if you’ve ever done any volunteer work, been a member of a related organization or worked on any special projects related to that interest, make sure to include that on your resume. That may have relevance in screening process. Plus, it will be more appealing to any hiring manager who ends up reading your resume.

6. Use social media

Take a look at the LinkedIn profiles of some of the company’s current employees. How do they describe their job, experience, skills etc.? This may help you include relevant phrases in your resume that the employer may be looking for.

7. Include your address

Many systems search for a specific postal address, so it’s important to include your address on your resume. But remember, don’t put it in the header or footer, as the system may ignore those sections completely.


Lastly, if you’re among the 400 million on LinkedIn, there are ways to make sure your bio isn’t getting lost in the shuffle. When filling out the ‘summary’ part of your profile, be sure to write at least 40 words or more, as anything less won’t trigger inclusion in a search. While you’re at it, be sure to include those all-important industry keywords to generate matches most suited to your experience.

Read more: 11 ways to make an extra $1,000 or more

8. Make your qualifications stand out

Employers are first looking for qualified candidates. So you may want to replace a section that isn’t as relevant — like career objectives — with a bulleted explanation of your specific qualifications that make you a good fit for that job.

This will allow the system to recognize relevant keywords and it demonstrates what’s most important to the employer — that you’re actually qualified for the position. Once you get an interview, then you can explain how your career objectives fit well with the position, the company etc.

9. List experience before dates

The system is first scanning for your work experience, and then dates associated with that experience, so don’t confuse it. When describing your work experience, start with the name of your employer, your official title and then the date range. Make sure to include all titles you held at each former company and the dates for each of those positions.

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