Finding a new job can be tough, tedious, and frustrating, especially in today’s job market. Most job openings attract hundreds of applications. These applications flood the desks and inboxes of employers, who are then tasked with sorting through those hundreds of resumes for a single job listing and often have multiple open positions.
Luckily, the Zipjob team of career experts and hiring managers have compiled some tips you can use today to make your resume really stand out.
How to make your resume stand out from the crowd
To ease the burden on hiring managers, most companies have integrated applicant tracking systems. These systems are meant to weed out the weak or unqualified resumes before they reach the employer’s desk.
These systems are called Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and they are incredibly prevalent in mid-to-large companies. Integrating an ATS makes it a lot easier for companies to find the applicants they are targeting; however, it also makes it a lot harder for the applicants to get their resumes are seen by human eyes.
Some resume writing services specialize in resumes for executives. Check out our list of the top executive resume services for 2021!
Fear not! With the correct recipe, it’s possible to ensure that your resume gets past the Applicant Tracking System and into the hands of human hiring managers.
The key to resume success
The secret to getting your resume noticed is to write for two audiences. Resumes need to stand out not only to humans but to those ATS scans as well. Writing a resume that stands out in today’s job market is a lot tougher than it was in the days when humans were the first line of applicant screening.
To ensure that your resume stands out from the crowd, it’s important to tailor it to both your audiences. Not only should it be easy to read for a human eye, but it should also have the keywords an ATS is scanning for.
There is a new need to make your resume stand out to an ATS as well as hiring managers. This need makes resume writing a balancing act of beauty, practicality, keywords, formatting, and plain old getting-the-point-across techniques, especially during a pandemic.
Related read: Is Your Resume Ready for the U.S. Job Market?
Let’s go over some of the “can’t miss tricks” to getting your resume past the screening systems while keeping it attractive enough to warrant attention after it reaches the hiring manager’s desk.
Your two audiences
To best understand how to make your resume stand out to human employers AND ensure that it passes the ATS, it’s important to understand what each one is looking for.
Luckily, applicant tracking systems were created with human practicality in mind, so there are many areas in which best practices for selection overlap.
Even after your resume makes it through the applicant tracking system, most employers spend about 6 seconds reviewing each resume. For this reason, it’s incredibly important to put your most valuable information obvious. Use clear formatting, bullet points, and maximize your use of space on the page. Read on for more tips!
6 things that will stand out on your resume
The following are a few important steps you should take to help ensure that your potential employer will see all the information you want them to see without compromising your resume’s chances of passing the ATS scan.
1. Divide your resume into clear sections
You may have, far and away, the best resume for the position you are applying for. However, if your information isn’t easy to sort through, it won’t be noticed and will be tossed aside with all the others. For this reason, the organization of information is incredibly important.
Organize and split up your resume into clearly-labeled sections so your potential employer will know exactly where to find the information that’s most important to them.
Remember, make your section headers obvious both in placement and labeling. You don’t want employers to throw your resume aside just because they can’t locate the information they’re looking for.
In addition to making it easier on the human eye, you also need to remember that many ATS scans rely on section headers to parse your information. You don’t want to confuse the machine.
Again, if you organize and label correctly, the reader will know exactly where to find the information they care about. If they can’t find the important stuff right away, they will simply move on to the next resume. Make sure to clearly and neatly label each section header to let the reader know where to find the information they need.
Don’t try to be original with your headings, you will only confuse the ATS and probably humans too. Stick to the classics: “Experience,” “Education,” “Skills,” and so on.
The following is a wonderful example put together by the professional writers at Zipjob.
2. Choose the right font
Your resume’s font is incredibly important because it is the very first thing that the reader will notice. It sets the tone for the resume and is used to convey the purpose of your application. Think about it: do you read comic books and textbooks in the same way, in the same tone? Of course not! So why would it be a good idea to use comic-style, goofy fonts on a professional document?
We have a whole article devoted to the best fonts for resumes, but here are the highlights.
Use a professional-looking font
Use a font that will be easy for a machine to read
As you can see, a problem arises in which fonts that may be easy for humans to read are not always the best fonts for an ATS.
To ensure that most ATS tools are able to read your resume, it’s important to use a basic font. Keep the color dark, and avoid any special characters such as fancy bullet points or ampersands in your vital information.
For the human readers, keep the font size above 11 at all times and try not to go any bigger than 14 except for headers.
It’s also important to note that, while some fonts are professional-looking and great for an ATS, they may fail to help your resume stand out. For example, Times New Roman is easily scanned by ATS and looks simple and professional. Yet, it’s incredibly common and may look stale to a hiring manager who’s just looked through 15 other resumes with the same font.
Using a font like Verdana or Arial will maintain the professional feel and automated readability, but will also give your resume a unique look that stands out from the rest.
3. Include the right skills
The skill section may sound easy–you’re pretty much just making a list of things that you’re able to do particularly well. Everyone knows what they’re good at, right? Not quite.
It’s very important to note that skills can be categorized into more specific skills or “hard skills” (computer programming, mechanical engineering, languages), or less specific skills or “soft skills” (communication, teamwork, and conflict resolution). One of the biggest mistakes people make is failing to differentiate between their skill sets, and including too many of one or the other.
Pay attention to job listings and adjust your skills to better match the listing you’re applying to. If the role is particularly technical, weigh your skill section towards your applicable hard skills. If the role is something like sales or account management, make sure to include key soft skills like “communication” or “organization”.
Your skills section is the best place to make sure you match your resume’s keywords with the keywords required by the ATS. For ideas on what skills employers are looking for, check out this post on the best skills to put on your resume.
Focus on keywords
Look at the skills mentioned in the job description, if you have any of them and left them out of this section, get them in there. This is super important for getting through the applicant tracking system. It’s also very important in showing the employer that you have the basic skills necessary to be successful. You can check out this post on keywords for your resume.
For human readers, make sure your skills are organized by category, even though you don’t need to label or separate those categories. For example, first, list all of your computer skills and then continue the list with your known languages. If you have many technical skills, you’ll want to read this article on how to write a technical skill section.
There are certain professions where it’s best to put the skill section at the top. For example, if a job requires extensive technical skills, it’s best to put your strengths pertaining to those skills at the top of your resume.
4. Write a two page resume
There’s been a lot of chatter recently about the importance of the length of your resume. Traditionally, resumes were supposed to be one page, no exceptions. Whether you’re a fresh college grad or a seasoned CEO, you were expected to limit your resume to one page.
With the advent of ATS systems, you probably need two pages to include all of the relevant keywords they’re scanning for. Whether you’re over or under that target, this article on resume length will help you adjust your content.
5. Simplify your resume
Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager: if you had limited time to sort through large piles of resumes, what would make it easier for you? Simple formatting, to-the-point sentences and bullet points, and cutting out the clichés are all very good starts.
You’d be hard-pressed to find an employer who is going to sit there and read through an entire paragraph on a resume, so you should get to the point quickly.
A few sentences to summarize your experience can be effective, but only if kept very brief and only if they immediately make it clear who you are as a professional. Be specific about your most important skills and avoid cliché terms like “team player” or “hard worker.” Hiring managers don’t like buzzwords! Make every word attention-grabbing to ensure the reader is compelled to move on to the rest of your resume.
6. Know your audience
You’re already writing for an ATS and a human, but you can really make your resume stand out if you know the company you’re applying to. Read the job description thoroughly, peruse the company website, and look at what it’s been up to in the news.
Then, edit your resume to best reflect the skills and qualities the company values and you possess. This will help your resume match the keywords required by the ATS. In addition, it will also help you stand out to the employer as a good fit for the company culture.
A great way to keep your resume flexible for each company is to include a “Core Competencies” section. This section lists some of the responsibilities common throughout your work history. That way, you can reword or add relevant competencies that best match the description for each specific job.
For example, a software engineer may include the competency “software development life-cycle.” This is something central to jobs in the industry and is likely to be in many of the job descriptions. This is an indication that it is likely important in bypassing the ATS filters. Include 6 to 8 of these in your Core Competencies section and adapt them to best match the specific job description.
Let’s summarize the key points
Getting your resume noticed is tougher than ever
Solution: balance the content and aesthetic appeal of your resume to delight both the ATS scan and the hiring manager.
You need to maximize your resume’s skill section
Use this section to match your skills exactly to the job description. Balance hard and soft skills, but focus on hard skills in this section. Organize the skills by type, listing computer skills or language skills together.
The look of your resume matters
Good organization makes it easier for ATS and humans to quickly locate relevant information. If they can’t locate it in 6 seconds, it might as well not be included.
Use a good resume format.
Use traditional titles for your sections.
Use a font similar to Arial or Verdana; both are professional fonts that are not overused.
The length of your resume matters
Keep your information relevant and tailored to the job post, but don’t miss keyword opportunities. Two pages are standard in 2020, but a one page resume is suitable for entry-level applicants.
Get to the point quickly
Make your resume easy to read, and make it obvious that you are the right applicant for each job.
Today’s job market is more competitive and more complicated than ever. The combination of high volume listings, Applicant Tracking Systems, and a highly competitive market make it important to use every trick in the book to get your resume noticed.
Learning how to make your resume stand out is more complicated than it’s ever been. We have to write to impress both a computer and a human. Luckily, with the right tools, techniques, and resources, we can bypass these systems and give ourselves the best chance of landing that dream job.
Good luck with your job search!
Caitlin Proctor, CPRW, Certified Professional Résumé Writer
Caitlin joined the ZipJob team in 2019 as a professional resume writer and career advisor. She specializes in strategic advice for executives, career pivots, and remote workers. Read more resume advice from Caitlin on ZipJob’s blog.