Get found, get hired: Resume optimization tips for tech pros
Over the past decade, the way companies hire has evolved.
The days of going door to door with a wallet of printed resumes are long gone (despite what the baby boomers in your life might insist), especially in the tech industry. Between the advent of resume scanning software and an increasingly competitive employment market, today's job seekers need to stay on their toes if they want to find their dream role.
Many of the changes have come via the advancement of technology. Companies are now able to automate large parts of the recruitment process, meaning candidates often need to get through a series of digital gates before their fitness can be gauged by a hiring manager.
Not that you can blame companies for wanting to take some of the graft out of the process; in the face of economic downturn, more people than ever are contending for the same positions. Many are also widening their job searches, meaning the number of applications businesses need to sort through has skyrocketed, while in many cases, the number of suitable candidates for each role is declining.
But all is not lost; there are some things you can do to improve your chances of getting your resume over those extra hurdles.
Optimize your resume for ATS
One way companies are streamlining the hiring process is through the use of Applicant Tracking Systems, or ATS. ATS are computer programs that scan job applications for specific criteria so that only applications that meet certain parameters are passed on to the next stage. If you've applied for a job at anywhere other than a Mom and Pop shop in the past ten years, you've probably come up against an ATS.
Employing an ATS can have a lot of benefits, not least the ability to look through thousands of resumes at an otherwise impossible pace. They also remove the potential for any discrimination based on the personal information on your resume. But despite these qualities, their sorting process is strictly mathematical; far too black and white a system to accurately discern a candidate's value.
While ATS programs were first employed by enterprise companies who received thousands upon thousands of applications for each role, the rise of SaaS apps has made ATSs more accessible. Combine that with a tough job market where job ads are receiving more applications than ever before, the ATS isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Relying solely on an ATS means great candidates might be thrown out at the first stage because their resumes aren't set up in a way that the system can read it, or it doesn't contain a specific phrase. But that doesn't mean you should try and "game" the ATS by stuffing in keywords, or trying to hide certain phrases in your resume; these programs are becoming increasingly intelligent. Besides, if you do manage to trick your way through an ATS, the human hiring manager at the other end probably won't be impressed if you've fudged your resume in any way.
The best way to optimize your resume for ATS is to focus on including relevant, specific information. But luckily, battling your way through an ATS isn't the only path to finding a great new job.
Optimize your resume for recruiters
Consider this: you see the perfect job online, you have tonnes of experience in all the right areas, provable skills that match the description to a tee, and maybe even some certifications. But the job calls for a computer science degree. You don't have one, so you don't check that box. Unfortunately, the ATS system can't see the value of your extensive experience with its robot eyes, and your application slips through the cracks.
That's where a great recruiter comes in. You can't match an ATS for speed and cold-hearted, but a recruiter can get a better view of the candidate as a whole. A recruiter looking to fill the same position might look at your resume and think, "sure, they don't have a degree, but all this hands-on experience likely equates to a degree, and then some". A recruiter can then contact you, get more information about your skills, present you as a complete package to the hiring manager and make your case.
Looking objectively at your achievements and marketing yourself to a hiring manager can be tricky, especially if you're not one to toot your own horn. The beauty of a having a recruiter in your corner is that they can do all of that for you.
A good recruiter is a boon for businesses too. Sometimes, especially for niche or candidate-scarce markets, putting an ad out there and narrowing applicants down with an ATS isn't enough, and companies look to experienced, knowledgeable recruiters to scour the market and bring the right candidates to them.
Unlike an ATS, which relies on candidates having seen the advertisement and submitted an application before being screened, optimizing your resume for recruiters means you could end up with a great job you didn't know was available. So even if you're not actively looking to leave your current role, uploading your resume to a job board is a good idea; you never know when things might change, or when an unmissable opportunity might arise.
Think of the job market as a cruise liner. It was all fun and games until it hit the big old iceberg of recession, and now you're in the water trying to make your way to safety. Recruiters are like rescue boat operators: they want to find you, you just need to flash your lights and blow on your whistle a little to give yourself the best chance of being spotted in those murky job-hunting waters.
So how can you make sure you're visible to the recruiter who could be looking for someone just like you? Here are our top tips for optimizing your resume for recruiters.
Use keywords – but don't go crazy
Recruiters use a variety of courses to find great candidates. The bulk of potential candidates, however, will be found either through LinkedIn or through job boards. Job boards such as Career Builder, Monster, Indeed and Dice that allow you to upload your resumes let professional recruiters search through job seeker profiles.
Usually, they'll search using certain keywords that apply to the position they're recruiting for. Keywords help you appear in searches and give a recruiter an indication of your skills and experience. This is why it's crucial to keep your resume updated and include relevant information.
Since the advent of ATS, it's become common for job seekers to try and stuff as many keywords into their resume as possible to increase their chances of getting past filters. This is a double-edged sword, however, as a resume optimized to pass an arbitrary computer test isn't necessarily going to be as well received once it hits the desk of a human hiring manager. A resume rammed with meaningless buzzwords rather than specific, concise information will fail to impress someone looking to get a better picture of you as a candidate.
You should also aim to use keywords often, provided their use gives an accurate picture of your experience, to help you appear in searches. For recruiters who're looking through endless piles of resumes every day, finding candidates with particular skills is ultimately a keyword search, so a candidate's core aptitudes and experience should be referenced throughout the resume.
Keep it snappy
It's generally good advice to keep your resume short and sweet, whether you're optimizing for recruiters, or hiring managers directly. Time is money, after all.
Recruiters look at a lot of resumes every day, and unlike their ATS counterparts, they're not robots. If you want to pique their interest, you need to make it as fast and as easy as possible for them to get the information they need. Try and keep your resume to a couple of pages; no unnecessarily large fonts, and no waffle.
Some people would recommend you keep your resume to a single page, but if you're an IT professional with a lot of technically detailed experience, don't worry about it running to a few more; provided the information is relevant to the type of position you're looking for.
Don't be afraid to be a little brutal when it comes to what you include. Remember; your resume is a representation of your professional skills and experience, not your autobiography.
If you're looking for jobs as a Microsoft Dynamics CRM Consultant, recruiters don't need to know about the eighteen months you spent pouring shots. Once you've got a few years of real work experience under your belt, you can probably drop any mention of your pre-degree education, and stick to courses and certifications that directly apply to your chosen profession.
Any other information that's nice but not essential—volunteer work, hobbies, internships—is what your LinkedIn profile is for.
If you need to axe something from your resume, ask yourself: does it refer to a specific responsibility or achievement? Does it show off a definitive skill? And is it applicable to the sort of job you're looking for?
Need some inspiration?
Download our optimized resume template.
Namedrop technologies and be specific
When you're working in tech, products and versions are important. Most recruiters will search by the technology area they're recruiting in before anything else, so be precise. It might seem contrary to keeping things brief, but recruiters need to know what technologies you have experience with so they can see if you fit the bill.
The hiring client might use a specific version of a technology, so be sure to include that too. Michael Radford, a recruitment consultant at Nigel Frank, suggested stipulating the particular editions you have experience with. "I recruit for Dynamics AX professionals, but there are so many different versions — AX 2007, AX 2012, AX7 — so it really helps if candidates specify which version they have experience with," says Michael. "List them in your skills section, and mention them in your experience too."
Resume buzzwords don't mean anything without context and specific information about your experience. Specialized, Leadership, Passionate, Strategic, Experienced, Focused, Expert, Certified, Creative, Excellent; these sorts of terms could apply to any job. Words like these don't tell recruiters anything about you, and are so overused in resumes they become white noise to anyone reading them.
When outlining projects you've worked on, you should detail not only the objective but the tools and techniques you used, for example, programming languages, and methodologies.
How many implementations have you overseen? Which industries have you worked in? What targets have you smashed? Give details. A good recruiter knows their market, and the value of your skills, so don't be afraid to use technical terminology.
Don't abbreviate yourself out of searches
Again, you want your resume to be found in searches, so don't lose out on any opportunities when naming technologies. If you're a wizard with Microsoft Teams, type out the Microsoft part. Tech-savvy recruiters will no doubt know what MS Teams means, but they might not necessarily search using the abbreviation.
Of course, everyone's resume is going to be slightly different. No one sticks to the same set of rules, and recruiters know that. They'll often search for variations on keywords too, so if you want to bump up your chances of being found you can include common abbreviations as well as the full terms; if you're a Database Administrator, stick in a (DBA) for good measure.
Format for readability, not aesthetics
Unless your dream job is working in Disney's animation department, you don't need a dazzlingly creative resume when trying to catch the eye of a recruiter. Lay out your information in easily searchable sections, use bullet-points to detail your skills and achievements, and don't go crazy with fonts and colors.
Use clear headings to lay out your resume: layout is important. A resume should be well formatted with clear sections, such as Key Skills, Technologies, Work History/Project Experience, Education/Qualifications, Personal Interests.
It sounds like a small point, but for searchability, Microsoft Word resumes are always better than PDFs.
Who are you?
You might think we wouldn't have to say this, but having used job boards ourselves, it bears repeating. Don't forget to include your name and your contact details. In this day and age, no one needs your full address at the job-seeking stage, but be sure to include your zip code, an accurate phone number, and a current email address.
Keep in mind Tip #2 when including your contact details too. A recruiter will be able to find your details just fine without sticking them in a massive header, so don't waste valuable space.
Spellcheck. Spellcheck again. Aaand spellcheck one more time.
You would be horrified amazed at the number of IT professionals who misspell the name of the technology they work with on their resume. So if you're a SharePoint administrator who's low-key on the hunt for a new position, make sure you're not advertising yourself as a "SharePont administrator".
Recruiters will immediately be less inclined to contact a candidate if their work history is unclear, or if there are obvious spelling mistakes, especially for technologies and languages the candidate purports to know well.
Like we said above, having the right keywords in your resume is crucial, so don't write off their worth with poor spelling. Recruiters will be armed and ready with the old CTRL+F trick, so make it as easy as possible for them to pinpoint what they're looking for.
In short, the key to creating an optimized, searchable resume is to offer pertinent, specific information that shows off your value.
Ready to turn your resume into a Bat Signal for recruiters?
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