Q: I haven’t been called for an interview for the past few jobs I’ve applied to. What am I doing wrong?
A: A decade ago, job seekers used resumes to get their foot in the door for an interview. However, in today’s job market, resumes are used to screen candidates out. Even if you’re qualified for an interview, your resume could prevent you from getting to that step, so it’s important that you have a bulletproof resume to avoid getting screened out. Here’s how it works: a ‘screener,’ who could be a human or could be automated software, quickly scans your resume and gauges whether it’s worthy to go to the next round where it will be given more careful consideration and where you’ll perhaps be invited in for an interview.
Screeners spend less than one minute looking over your resume so it’s important to show them your best attributes right away and not waste their time. Don’t bury your most essential or biggest accomplishment – put it right at the top of your resume. For example, if you’re a recent college graduate, your degree will likely be your biggest qualification. If you’ve worked in a certain industry or in a certain role for a few years, summarize that as your biggest qualification. Don’t waste important ‘real estate’ on your resume by putting a summary or your objectives at the top of the page. While those statements may be important to you, they’re not what the screener is looking for.
Here are other things that screeners look for:
A resume that’s easy to read – Think about it: the screener has a huge stack of resumes and not much time – are they going to want to dig in to a multi-page resume with cramped type? No. They want to see a sleek, easy-to-scan, one page document that highlights the candidate’s most important attributes.
Location – From the screener’s perspective, seeing that a candidate lives out of state or far from the job site is a red flag. They might assume that the candidate will need to relocate or want to negotiate commuting. While a resume may otherwise be very strong, if the screener has an abundance of candidates and needs to knock some out of contention, resumes that point out a long-distance address could go to the bottom of the pile. If you’re in this situation, try listing generic contact information (such as a gmail account) or putting your contact information at the bottom of the page.
Education–It’s not always the case that just because you have information to share, it should be included on your resume and the Education category is a good example. First, consider which is stronger – your education or your work experience – and put the stronger attribute at the top of your resume. If you’ve been working for a few years, it doesn’t make sense to highlight non-essential education information like the high school you went to or a GPA that isn’t very strong (3.8 or higher). If you are a new graduate and want to put the spotlight on your degree, it’s fine to highlight leadership experience from school or classes that are relative to your industry or area of work, but don’t highlight unimportant parts of your education.
Requirements – Some companies, especially large organizations, use tracking systems that pre-screen resumes. In this situation, it’s important that your resume contain the keywords that the software will be looking for. These keywords are taken from the job description, often they will be listed as “requirements” in the job description. It’s important to incorporate these keywords as often as possible in your resume – as long as they’re applicable, of course.
Hobbies & interests – While talking about a unique hobby could help a candidate appear to be well-rounded or break the ice in an interview, listing that hobby on a resume comes across as a waste of space. Screeners would rather see resumes that list skills, certifications and/or awards instead.
Spacing & formatting – One of the first pieces of advice resume writers receive is to triple check that there are no grammar mistakes and typos. Here is a second piece of advice: make sure your resume is formatted correctly throughout, that the font and size are uniform, and that everything is bolded and italicized that should be.
Jim Pickering has worked at Professional Staffing Group for 8 years. He started in PSG’s entry-level training program and is now a senior recruiting manager. Jim oversees a team that sources and pre-screens candidates for PSG’s clients.