Top 2 Résumé Mistakes that Prevent Results (and How to Fix Them): Part 1

Top 2 Résumé Mistakes that Prevent Results

For two years, "Tina" applied for jobs online with no results despite excellent skills and experience. She made two big résumé mistakes that prevented her wonderful experience from being seen. Each one could be prevented.

A few years ago, I made the same mistakes as Tina did. It's easy to do.

Those of us who have written and applied for jobs many times over many years, know the drill.

Or so we think.

The problem is, computers have changed everything.

How computers guard the gates of hiring organizations

Today, computer programs, called Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), scan your résumé to determine whether a human will see it.

They're designed to eliminate you.

First, the software searches for data on your resume and inserts it where it thinks it should go in its built-in form.

Second, it scores your résumé according to pre-arranged criteria.

If your resume scores the top 20, a recruiter or HR person scans the form on screen.

Note that it no longer looks like what you sent.

Finally, if the recruiter or HR officer likes what she sees, she'll send your résumé with the other winners to the hiring manager for review.

It really doesn't matter whether or not you're qualified and can do the job.

If you don't know how the ATS works and its criteria, you'll score low and be eliminated before anyone sees your résumé. 

How you unwittingly eliminate yourself from consideration

ATS have limitations. They can't read certain formats, and they expect information to be presented in a certain order.

If you don't know how they work and don't present yourself in a way they can read, then you'll score low, regardless of your qualifications.

This is the first mistake many people make.

Ways to format your content

  • Use the expected headings, especially Experience and Education or headings with these words included.
  • Don't put content to be read in a header, graphic, or text box. They're ignored!
  • Be careful if you use tables. Headings in left-side cells will not show up with the content they go with! To be sure that your headings appear where they belong, put them in the same cell with the content.
  • Be sure to put your contact information on the first page outside the header, so the ATS will pick it up. On the second page, though, you may use a header, since that is only for a human reader.
  • Avoid columns or multiple column tables. Your content may scramble. It won't appear in the ATS as intended.
  • List your dates at the same company from the first job to the last in one place. Otherwise, the ATS will not know where to put the jobs in its form.

For example, Jan started as an Educational Consultant I in 2005. A year later, she was promoted to Educational Consultant II. Instead of showing the dates for each, they are not differentiated. The dates for that company are 2005-2010.

To show the promotion, use a bullet with the other accomplishments. In this case, the accomplishment is, "Promoted in first year from Educational Consultant I to Educational Consultant II."

How to turn your résumé into text for online applications

A. How to convert your document into a text file

  1. Save your cover letter and résumé into another document with a new name.
  2. Remove all columns and tables and format your text, so it's readable without them.
  3. Copy and paste the document into a text editor like Microsoft Notepad.
  4. Uncheck "Word Wrap".
  5. Save the file with and close it.
  6. Open the file. You now have a document without formatting.

B. How to add visual cues

  1. Remove all odd symbols.
  2. Replace bullets with other keyboard symbols, such as Asterisks (*) or dashes (-).
  3. Change headings to caps.
  4. Add dashes or other symbols on your keyboard to separate important sections visually.
  5. Add returns to add space between sections, so they stand out.

How to use your text résumé

For online applications

If the application allows you to upload a pdf, Word, or other document, too, first paste in your text version.

Then, attach your formatted résumé before clicking the Submit button. That way, if your résumé passes the ATS, then a human can read the formatted one.

Some applications have a form to fill out. If this is the case, copy and paste the appropriate information from your text résumé into the form sections.

For email applications


Most companies download even emailed résumés into their ATS.

So, if you apply through email:

  1. Paste the text file into the body of the email below your introductory material.
  2. Attach both the text and Word versions of your résumé.
  3. Consider sending the formatted version through snail mail.

Remember to take several well-formatted print résumés to interviews to distribute and leave behind.

What happened to Tina and her résumé mistakes?

Tina made the formatting mistakes listed above as well as other mistakes. After interviewing her and writing to flesh out her goals and accomplishments, I formatted her résumé to pass through an ATS.

I address her second mistake, some critical omissions, in Top 2 Résumé Mistakes that Prevent Results: Part 2.

What experiences and questions do you have about applying for jobs with résumés?

Let me know in the comments below.

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