Student Resumes: 9 Steps to a Resume that Avoids “Black Holes”

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Degrees2Dreams Student Resumes ATS Finding a job after collegeHow many times have you sent in your resume and not heard so much as a word back? No confirmation email. No interview invitation. Not even a rejection, polite or otherwise. It feels like your resume has disappeared into a black hole?Well, as far-stretched as a black hole may seem, an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) isn’t far from one.

A what?

Fully 100% of the 250 student interns who have worked for Degrees2Dreams have never been told by they college career counseling office what an ATS is, how pervasive they are (88% of all mid- and large-size US companies use them), or how to construct a resume to avoid being rejected by a computer before a human lays eyes on your application.

If you are not optimizing your resume for an ATS, you might as well save everyone a lot of time and energy and just throw your letter and resume in the trash right now.

Hiring managers program their ATS to find certain keywords and keyword phrases to help them sort through the hundreds of resumes that flood their offices when they post a job.

In other words, an actual living, breathing, human being doesn’t even see your resume until it’s been given a figurative thumbs-up by a computer. And if you don’t have the right words and right skills listed in the right places, the ATS assumes you have neither the skills nor the attributes they’re looking for.

See? I wasn’t lying about the black hole.

Hiring managers use an ATS to kill the majority of candidates’ chances and deliver just a handful for interviewing.

Ouch.

But don’t worry — we’ll show you how to build a resume to beat the ATS!

Here are nine easy steps to create an ATS-friendly resume (you should always submit two: one labeled “ATS-Friendly Resume” and one labeled “Graphic Resume” that contains QR codes and pictures). These are our tips for your ATS-Friendly Resume:

1. Dissect the job description AND the company’s mission statement.

It seems obvious. But surprisingly most candidates do not do this! The job description provides you with all of the information and keywords you need to verify that you meet (or better yet, exceed) the requirements. Pick out the main keywords (skills and attributes) and insert them into your resume profile and in the descriptions of your work experience to prove relevancy. The company’s About Page will contain keywords and phrases that encapsulate their culture and ethos. If those characteristics apply to you, grab those keywords and use them in your profile and job descriptions as well.

2. Keywords are the key to success, and their placement is critical

Hiring managers set the algorithm of the ATS to return candidates who meet the criteria they have set for the position. The keywords you discovered in Step #1 must be included, where true, in your Profile and in the description of other jobs you’ve held. You can repeat keywords but try to vary them a bit and put them in context of your earlier positions or achievements. You must be especially vigilant to list skills and systems expertise in each job description, not exclusively at the end of the resume. The ATS is looking for accumulated experience with a system or in a role and will add up the years you show experience with those tools or in those roles. So, if you list, for example, FinalCut Pro or Drupal or SalesForce as a skill at the end of your resume but not in each job listing above where you exercised those skills, the computer conclude you have none of those skills. Another trick is to simply stack the information, starting with one line for the company, one for the title and another for the dates. ATS resumes are ugly things, but an ATS has no aesthetic tastes. .

3. Include a Profile.

Have a professional summary at the top of your resume (“Profile) that starts with a the exact name of the position you are seeking, and is followed by a one- or two-sentence summary of your qualifications and achievements using the most important keywords from the job description and the company’s mission statement. Always customize this summary for each job you apply for because each company is seeking different things. This will help the machine easily match you to the requirements and deem you a good candidate. You can create a generic industry resume that you bring with you to networking events and job fairs.

4. When in doubt, spell it out.

The ATS can’t always read and recognize abbreviations so instead of writing “SVP” spell it out and make it clear that you were the senior vice president. Also put Co. or LLC or whatever is accurate behind the name of the company you worked for because an ATS will not know, for example, that Degrees2Dreams is a company and could skip over that entry.

5. Upload, don’t paste.

If given the option, always upload your resume instead of cutting and pasting from it into lots of different fields. By uploading it you will provide the cleanest presentation in most optimal format. And never upload your Graphic Resume. When a company asks you to upload a resume or fill in the fields, it’s a clue that your information is headed straight to an ATS. Send the Graphic Resume later as an attachment to an e-mail to the hiring manager.

 6. Upload Word or plain-text documents only

Never send your resume as a PDF because many ATS cannot cleanly convert the content of PDF documents, leaving your information full of unreadable characters.

7. Call your history “Work Experience” or “Professional (X field) Work Experience”

Call it what it is. Never label your work experience anything other than that.

8. There are no page limits for an ATS resume

When a human being is reading your resume, it’s best to keep it to one page. On the other hand, the length of your resume doesn’t matter one iota to an ATS. There is no need to keep it short. And because you are stacking things like company name, place, dates, etc., the resume will automatically be longer. There is something to be said for this approach because a longer resume allows you to include more information and more keywords that can potentially increase your chances of hire.

9. Format over Graphics.

Completely avoid any fancy designs, fonts, charts, tables, graphs, photos or anything other than plain text in order to have your resume be ATS friendly. A computer is reading your resume, so content is more important than appearance.

Even with our helpful tips, beating an ATS is not easy nor assured even if you follow our instructions to the letter (ATS algorithms are notoriously inconsistent and often, when progammed automatically from a job posting, filled with nonsense strings of keywords).

So here is our tip on how to successfully beat the ATS.

Go around it. Network!

It is as simple as that.

Whenever  possible, always try to get your resume into the hands of an actual human being, preferably someone you know within the company who can hand-deliver it to the hiring manager with his or her endorsement. Companies rank candidates referred to them by existing employees MUCH higher than almost anyone who comes through the posting process..

But you can’t know someone in every company where you might want to work, so get started today building your generic industry ATS-Friendly Resume, and you’ll then be ready to tweak it for each job you apply for.

Good luck!

Have any tips for us? How did your build your resume to optimize the ATS? Tell us, and we’ll make a list of the best ideas. We might even call you for an interview and feature you here on Degrees2Dreams. Or, would you like to write your own story about your experiences? Send a story pitch to me at ! We’d love to hear from you.

Blog post by Krista Scozzari, Degrees2Dreams Blogger

Creative Commons license photo by firepile

Krista Scozzari

Hi! My name is Krista Scozzari and I’m currently a junior at the University Of Connecticut studying communication. I’m part of the social media team here at Degrees2Dreams. I possess a very entrepreneurial and creative nature that has me always cooking up new ideas. My iphone is practically glued to my hand and I tweet an unhealthy amount. I love fashion and have a horrible shopping addiction. I can be reached at Krista
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