5 Resume Tips to Get Past the Resume Robots

resume tips to get past robotsResume writing isn’t the way your parents did it 

Resume writing is a skill that has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. In years past, job seekers would see a job ad in their local newspaper. They would write a cover letter and resume that described their qualifications for the job. They would send it by email (or even by “snail” mail) and wait for a response.

Needless to say, things have changed. These days, most job applications require you to submit your resume online. This means that resume screening software reads your resume before a human being does. Many resumes get rejected before even reaching a human’s desk. Another major change brought about by the Internet is our easy access to job postings. Today’s aggregated job search sites like Indeed and CareerBuilder are able to advertise job openings nationwide. This is great, because there are so many jobs for which you can apply. But unfortunately, it also means that the pool of competing candidates is much larger.

So, how do you get your resume to get past the “robots” and into the hands of a real, live hiring manager? One way to start is to create a resume that maximizes your chances of getting noticed by the scanning software. Here are some tips for writing a strategic resume in today’s electronic job search market.

1. Use keywords
Applicant tracking systems use keywords to identify resumes that might be a good fit for the job. For each job you apply for, look at the required skills, and try to use the same terminology as the job ad uses. Try these tips for using keywords in your resume.

  • To see which keywords the employer is using the most, some people paste the job description into TagCrowd or Wordle. These programs will show the most heavily used words. Incorporate these keywords into your resume and cover letter.
  • Try to work the most important keywords into your resume at least 2-3 times, in natural-sounding sentences. This will increase the likelihood of the computer system selecting your resume.
  • Don’t “overstuff” the keywords, which means adding too many keywords and squeezing them into awkwardly-worded sentences. The robots can spot overstuffing!
  • Make sure the title of the job appears somewhere in your resume. Employers are usually looking for someone who has held this position already, so the job title itself will probably be a keyword.

2. Complete the optional cover letter
Some online application processes have an option of attaching a cover letter. By all means, do it! The cover letter is an opportunity to insert more keywords. It also shows the employer that you are serious enough about the job to take the time to write a cover letter. Use these cover letter tips if you need help getting started.

3. Emphasize your skills and experience that pertain to this job
Resumes aren’t only a listing of your past jobs and your education. Employers want to see how your skills and experience make you the best candidate for the position.

  • Many people use a “summary statement” at the beginning of their resumes. This statement describes your most marketable skills and what you can bring to an employer. Make sure your summary includes keywords that are marketable in your field.
  • You can include a bulleted list of your skills, which helps you to add more keywords, and also makes it easier to read if an actual human being should read it.
  • If your resume jumps around from job to job in unrelated fields, try to find some common elements to tie it together. Employers like to see a more focused career path.
  • You can leave out employment experience that is older than 15 years.

4. Read the employer’s website and search LinkedIn
You can learn a lot about an employer by reading its website. Try to learn about the company’s goals, mission, history, and community involvement. Search on LinkedIn to find employees at the company. Read their profiles to learn what they do for the company. All of this research can give you an understanding of the company’s culture. With this information, you may be able to tailor your resume to be more in line with the employer’s priorities.

5. Don’t get fancy with the formatting
As impressive as the robots are, they can get tripped up if you use too many graphics. Keep your resume and cover letter nice and simple.

  • Avoid using any graphics, tables, art, or logos
  • Remove headers and footers
  • Stick with a simple font like Verdana or Tahoma
  • It’s safest to submit the resume as a text file, because PDF files and Word files can be difficult for the scanning systems to read

Bonus tip:

6. Create a strong LinkedIn profile
If your resume makes it into the hands of the hiring manager, there’s a good chance they will do a Google search on you. Having a LinkedIn profile helps to show the employer that you are taking your career seriously. Be sure your LinkedIn profile contains the keywords that are important to your industry. To create a meaningful LinkedIn profile, see 8 Tips for Creating a Strong LinkedIn Profile.

We hope these tips will help you in today’s job search process. For more job-seeking tips, sample resumes, and interview tips, see Tips to Help You Find a Job. With newer and more complex technologies, the job-seeking process will continue to evolve. Try to stay up to date, and don’t let the robots get you down!


This article is part of the Harris School of Business weekly blog. The Harris School offers career training in numerous professions including Professional Medical Assistant, Dental Assistant, Medical Billing and Coding (Health Claims Specialist), and Massage Therapy. Contact us online for more information.