Brian Daniel gives his top tips to ensure your resume is read by a human
One of the biggest surprises of my recruiting career would have to be that many job seekers simply don’t understand the fundamental rules of the game when it comes to resume submissions. Every day I’m on LinkedIn reading the frustrations of job seekers, and they are pouring out their hearts in posts. It’s not uncommon to see people saying they submitted 100 or 200 resumes with no reply. Not even an invite for an exploratory interview by phone.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, it was a difficult marketplace for job seekers. Just one job ad usually garnered 100 to 200 resumes. Now, shockingly, sometimes I get that many the first hour the job posting goes live. I can get as many as 1,000 submissions if I don’t turn the ad off. In short, it’s an avalanche of resumes and it’s almost impossible to manage.
I’m one of the very few recruiters that doesn’t use an ATS – Applicant Tracking System – to sort resume submissions, so I do take the time to sift through them. But, again, I’m the exception. I can do that because I’m a boutique recruiter that specializes only in Executive Personal Assistants. But in the larger scheme of things, other big recruiting firms and corporate offices must use the software because they are handling a much higher volume of submissions, and you need to know how to “beat” the system if you want to get noticed.
All the training and expertise in the world won’t get you the interview if a human never even sees your resume.
How to pass the ATS
The ATS software is designed to save time and money. It allows HR teams and employment agencies to parse resumes and, essentially, it spits out the most qualified candidates based on the job description. Understanding how this system works can land you in the top 10% of applicants so you can at least get your resume seen by humans.
When I explain the process to candidates, I use this example to make is simple: 1,000 applicants, 100 potentials, call 20 by phone, interview 10 in-person, hire 1. Those are the brutal numbers. I certainly can’t speak for every recruiter, but this is how my outfit works.
So not only do candidates have to be great at marketing themselves in today’s job search scene, but you also need to understand SEO – Search Engine Optimization – as well. What is it? In a nutshell, it’s using key words. Just like websites need to use specific key words to be found in Google, resumes are essentially no different. If your resume lacks the key words needed, you will probably be filtered out. That’s the long and short of it.
Optimizing your resume for key words
Here comes the painful part. If you don’t customize your resume for each and every job submission you make, then you dramatically reduce your chances of getting called in. That’s it without the sugarcoating. When I tell this to candidates, some of them get upset and have a very visceral reaction. In fact, I used to be a featured writer on LinkedIn Pulse back in 2014 and 2015, and I quit writing on the platform for this express reason – it really upset some people. I did mostly get positive comments, but I was also flooded with some resentful emails from users because, basically, they were “shooting the messenger.” How dare I tell them that they needed to take the time to rewrite resumes for each submission.
Some people get really upset when they are told to customize each resume because it is so much work, and I completely understand. It is a lot of work; but this is the “new normal” that we live in.
Trying to successfully pass the ATS monster means to thoroughly scour the job description. That job description is your best friend and the key to your success. So, for example, if the job description calls for “calendar management,” then that exact phrase needs to appear on your resume more than once. Job seekers need to find the right balance because some candidates are now overusing key words (key word stuffing) to raise their ranking in the ATS results. Guess what? Google doesn’t like keyword stuffing, and recruiters don’t either. Just find a balance so that your resume reads naturally.
What you can do to increase your chances
My advice to job seekers is this: Don’t send out 100 generic resumes to job postings; it’s better to take that same time and customize 20 submissions instead. If you would like to send out 100 customized ones, of course the more the merrier.
I hope this doesn’t sound patronizing, but I would like to regurgitate this age-old adage: If you don’t have a job, then your new job is to find a job. Yes, it’s still true. Job seekers should spend eight hours a day searching for their next gig. Of course, It’s exhausting; but if you don’t do it, then someone else will and take the job that you deserve. I realize it seems like a sort of real-life “Hunger Games”, but putting in the time will certainly pay off. The HR Manager will never know how great you really are if you don’t get your resume seen in the deluge of submissions.
A checklist for success
If you’re currently employed, don’t apply during business hours or they might think you are using company time to do so.
Don’t apply during unusual hours either, like at 1:00 am. Some recruiters notice things like that, and they may judge you.
Mute all your social media profiles because 93% of HR managers and recruiters check social media. The smallest hint of anything controversial could get you knocked out of the running.
Make sure your LinkedIn profile matches your resume. You would be surprised the number of candidates that don’t do this (and have a professional photo on your profile as well, not one of you at a nightclub).
I know I’m being “Captain Obvious” with this one: Don’t use your current work email to send a resume to a new job (yes, people do it).
Your email address should only be some version of your name, not “[email protected]********.com (again, obvious, but people do it every day).
Your resume doesn’t need to be more than two pages (about 10 years of history). There is a persistent myth that resumes only need to be one page. Hogwash! I wish that one would die. If you are a fresh graduate, then okay; it will only be one page.
Let’s talk about cover letters
This has got to be one of the most controversial topics of all. Before I get into this one, I want to tell you a quick story. I used to be a personal trainer at a gym 30 years ago. If you ask 10 different trainers the best way to work your abs to get a 6-pack, they will give you 10 entirely different routines and each of them will be emphatic that their system is “the best way.”
Recruiters, career coaches and resume writers each have a certain “style,” and they all have their own ways of doing things; but over the past 15 years I have researched this topic of cover letters very exhaustively, and I’ve been trained by some of the industry’s highest-profile subject-matter experts. My (informed) opinion on cover letters is that you absolutely, positively need one – and I will tell you why.
Your resume is a marketing tool, which is like a movie preview to get them interested in your career history. The cover letter complements the resume and demonstrates in a very specific way that you are “the one” for the job. Not only does it showcase your writing ability – which employers are extremely interested in – it gives you an opportunity to stand out from the other hundreds of candidates who also want the same job.
The cover letter needs to show the potential employer why you are a fit for the position. Think of it like a short story with a beginning, middle and an end. In about 350 words: hook them, show them you did your “homework” on the company, prove you are a perfect fit (with examples), sum it up and give them a reason to call you.
Quick story: Many years ago, when I was in hospitality, I went to a job interview for a management position at a world-famous brand. I put about 20 hours of preparation into the interview. The HR manager, who had been at the company for 30 years, said I was the most prepared candidate that she had ever interviewed and that I knew more about the company’s history than she did. Hard work pays off, period.
In short, go in with so much “wow factor” that it’s impossible for them not to hire you.