If your resume doesn’t impress a computer, it might end up in the trash before a human ever sets eyes on it.
Companies spanning many industries are increasingly using computer screening tools and software, along with traditional human-resources specialists, to scan resumes and decide which candidates deserve interviews.
“I always tell my clients that you have to write your resume for three audiences,” said Chrissy Littledale, client services manager and transition specialist at Hire Heroes USA.
Those are: the computer program that may take the first look at your resume, the human-resources specialist who will review your resume and the hiring manager who will make the final decision on who gets the job, she said.
Scanning software is mostly used for the sake of efficiency, said Littledale. It simplifies things for employers by narrowing down the number of resumes they need to sift through.
”Most companies only use them as the first line of defense,” she said. “For many of them, it’s practically a requirement.”
Jon Christiansen, chief intelligence officer of marketing research firm Sparks Research, said that companies have been using software like this for at least the last decade.
“You’d be hard-pressed not to find any publicly traded company that’s not using some version of it,” he said. He mentioned Google, Boeing and General Electric as examples of companies he has heard utilize them.
With that in mind, here are 10 tips for veterans on how to sail past automatic resume scanners and land more job interviews with humans.
1. Get the basics right
Littledale emphasized the importance of “required information” — your name, phone number and address.
If a computer scans your resume and those are missing, it will probably mark your application as incomplete and end your chances of getting hired right there, she said.
It’s also worth pointing out that scanning software generally can’t see anything in your resume’s header, according to Littledale. She advised veterans to not put any required information on top of their resumes.
2. Keep it simple
Don’t try to get too fancy with your resume’s appearance.
“If you’ve ever opened a document with a unique font … and it looks like a bunch of Egyptian hieroglyphics, it’s because your generic word processor doesn’t know how to read it,” Christiansen said. “You really want to keep it professional.”
He recommended using bullets, indents and tabs to organize your resume in an easily digestible format.
3. Keywords are everything
The software is generally scanning for keywords on a resume that match words in the job description, Christiansen and Littledale said.
To that end, Christiansen laid out a few types of keywords to make sure you have on your resume:
- “Surface-level attributes,” like how long you worked certain jobs, your educational background, any licenses or certificates you might have, etc.
- Your background experience, or, as Christiansen put it, anything that a hiring manager might call your former bosses to verify that you’ve done
- “Soft skills,” meaning more intangible abilities like leadership and project coordination
4. Don’t try the ‘white font trick’
Fun fact: In the early days of the Internet, websites would sometimes sprinkle in hidden keywords in white font, over a white background, to generate more traffic from search engines. Google and Yahoo eventually caught on to the trick and began penalizing sites for that shady tactic.
Some folks try that same approach on their resumes, to get scanning software to recognize keywords that they can’t otherwise work into their resumes. Christiansen advised against this method.
“If you’re throwing in keywords and hiding them because you want to optimize space, programs are going to pick up on that and will flag you,” he said.
Littledale agreed, essentially calling that practice lazy.
“Just properly tailor your resume to the keywords,” she said. “Just put in the work.”
5. The job description is your friend
The language in the initial job description is your best indicator of what keywords the software will be looking for, so take advantage of that knowledge.
“What folks tend to do … is they go for volume, and they just send out a generic resume,” Christiansen said. “It’s not going to ping anything, because it’s not speaking to the specific job.”
Littledale said that she makes every effort to tailor her clients’ resumes to the job announcement, including looking for words in the description that repeat a lot.
6. Use recognizable job titles
If your title at your previous job was funky, that might be a problem for the scanning tools.
“If your job title was something cute like ‘brand guru,’ it’s not going to process that,” Christiansen said. “If you can’t look up on a database the job title that you have, then find the one that fits that’s just like it.”
The same goes for degree programs, Christiansen said. If the name of your degree was something that requires further explanation, do your best to simplify it on your resume.
7. Play up your military background
The skills veterans picked up in the military usually translate well to the civilian world, Christiansen said.
“A lot of people are looking for people who fit, who are teachable and coachable and can see something through and work across teams,” he said. “What part of that doesn’t scream military background?”
He suggested looking for keywords in the job description that match up with your military background and emphasizing those on your resume.
Of course, it’s still up to the veteran to explain how exactly those skills were employed during their service in a way the scanning software will recognize.
“You don’t want to leave it up to your employer to figure that out based on your resume or application," Littledale said.
8. Ask for help
Trying to make a computer understand why your military skills are useful for this job isn’t an easy task.
To that end, as Littledale put it: “If you have a toothache, you wouldn’t pull your own tooth. Use your resources."
She also recommended that veterans get either someone who knows how to translate military language to civilian lingo — or someone who knows nothing about the military — to go over their resumes.
9. Take the companies’ advice
Sometimes the place you’re applying has tools to help you get your resume ready for its scanning software.
For example, Boeing has a free Military Skills Translator designed to help veterans match their military skills and experience to openings at that company.
Fifteen percent of Boeing’s workforce are self-identified veterans, and the defense giant has hired and trained more than 10,000 veterans since 2011, a Boeing spokesperson told the Military Times via email.
The Department of Labor’s Employee and Training Administration sponsors a website called CareerOneStop that is full of tips for the job-application process. It even has military-specific advice on its Veteran and Military Transition Center site.
A spokesperson for the Office of Personnel Management pointed any veteran interested in government work toward USAJOBS, its portal for applying for federal employment.
10. Control your narrative
Littledale said veterans should “start with a narrative” that generally explains their professional experience, including their military service.
The simpler the language, the easier it will be for the screening technology to figure out why your resume should be selected, she said.
“Try to think about how you would tell Grandma Sally what you did in the military and work from there,” she said.
Christiansen said not to sweat it if you don’t exactly match the requirements of a job application. Just do your best to convince the scanning program that you’re the best person for this particular job.
“You’d be really surprised by how well you’d actually might fit,” he said. “So don’t sell yourself short because you don’t have every little thing.”