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The Age of Resume Customization: Why a one-size-fits-most resume no longer works

Not long ago, making a first impression that stood out for employers came down to making sure your professional story was written on 32-pound, 75%-100% cotton paper. That was the pre-digital era of job searching when a one-size-fits-most resume was sufficient and the customization of resumes came down to choosing whether white or cream paper best represented who you were professionally. If you were extra bold and risky, you may have gone with a lighter shade of blue to truly stand out. While choosing how you present your professional story on paper is still important, in the early stages of job exploration it’s become obsolete. That’s because your strengths, abilities and relevancy is being determined—at this first stage— not by a person, but by an automated process. Why is a robot determining where you are fit to work? Digitalization trickled into the job search process in a substantial way. Like most activities in the digital age, this is a convenience, but also requires new ways to think and act. On the job seeker’s end, it’s easier than ever to apply for a job (all that’s required is a resume and a click of a button). For the hiring community, on the other hand, this has presented an overwhelming volume of resumes and applications to sift through. Their answer: Applicant Tracking Software, or ATS, for short. ATS (see: resume bots) are essentially software used by more than 95% of Fortune 500 companies to screen resumes in the early exploration process. Once a resume is submitted through an ATS, it plays word search with your resume, scanning for specific keywords and phrases that have been determined important to that employer, based on the skills and qualifications needed to fill a role. A high number of those keywords and phrases present on your resume is going to let the resume bot know you are a viable candidate and push your through the system more quickly and successfully. That said, 70% of resumes still contain at least some ATS scanning error. For example, resumes that contain images, logos, icons, text boxes, charts, tables or symbols—and other aesthetically engaging elements – do not scan well through an ATS, which have limited capability to parse these formats. Save those presentation resumes for select opportunities when you are confident your document is not going through a scanner (ex. emailing networking contact).

It comes down to this: before you make a memorable first impression on your future employer, you have to amaze an ATS scanner. Here are three simple things you can do to help you get past the resume bots:

1) Recognize that the one-size-fits-most resume no longer works and get comfortable with the idea of customizing parts of your resume for ATS optimization.

2) Take the time to look through job descriptions that interest you, highlight and note key words and phrases in areas labeled Duties, Key Responsibilities, Key Qualifications, Job Summary and so on.

3) Add a Core Competencies or Key Skills section to your resume and customize these areas based on needs of that specific role.

Once you’ve made it past ATS and HR and are invited to an interview, it’s time to get that 32-pound resume paper to keep the momentum going in person!


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