Once he overcame the shock of a 538-year time jump, there’s no question that Leonardo da Vinci, who is credited with writing the world's first resume in 1482, would be amazed, if not impressed, to see that the art of selling oneself with a single piece of paper is still alive and well. Yet, while the resume remains the key to unlocking your professional future, technological breakthroughs — especially in the past 5–10 years — have proven that simply listing your skills and accomplishments is no longer enough to get your foot in the door.
The Age of “Resume Robots”
The job search has evolved in recent years. Today, more than 80 percent of U.S. companies use some form of artificial intelligence in their human resources efforts. While this technology is intended to increase efficiency and is often used to eliminate unconscious bias during the recruitment process, these “resume robots” (commonly known as applicant tracking systems or ATS) can leave qualified candidates out in the cold, simply because their resumes are not optimized correctly.
Even da Vinci, with all of his achievements, would need to enlist some help getting his resume past today’s Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), the “resume robots” that serve as the virtual gatekeepers between you and a real-life recruiter. A few systems include Oracle Taleo, iCIMS Recruit, Greenhouse, and BambooHR.
By scanning your resume for keywords and phrases that are relevant to the job posting, these programs can determine your fate in a microsecond. The work that you’ve put into describing your best attributes and personality traits, reminding a potential employer of your vast experience, and even choosing a font that catches the eye — all of it is wasted when the ATS scans your resume and rejects it on the grounds that it wasn’t keyword-friendly.
How to Optimize Your Resume for Keywords
An Applicant Tracking System is designed to break down your resume, converting data into strings of characters that are parsed into categories (education, experience, skills, etc.). Recruiters will then search a database using keywords and terms. So, to give yourself the best chance, here are four resume optimization tips to remember:
1. Identify and match exact keywords You can identify the right keywords by using services such as Tagcrowd to help you identify valuable keywords that the ATS will likely be searching for on your resume. Take the specific skills required in the job description and match them with your skills. Use exact keywords to match job titles and required skills from the job description.
2. Swap words Replace keywords with synonyms throughout your resume and LinkedIn profile. You should also use both the acronym and complete form of any title, certification, or organization on your resume. For example: Professional in Human Resources (PHR).
3. Distribute keywords You don’t have to put all of your keywords in one place; instead distribute them throughout your resume, cover letter, or LinkedIn profile.
4. Choose the right font Using sans-serif fonts (such as Arial or Calibri) and choosing font size 11 will minimize the possibility of errors when scanned by Applicant Tracking Systems. An outdated trick applicants used to attempt was to add keywords repeatedly and choose a white font color, in the hopes of “fooling” the ATS. These days, that’s considered cheating, so don’t do it.
How to Optimize Your Resume for the Recruiter
Keywords are essential, but when putting everything together, you must also keep in mind that a traditional resume (yesterday’s resume) was all about YOU, but today’s ATS and employer-optimized resumes are all about THEM. To get past the resume robots and into the hands of a human, your resume should serve as an “experience roadmap” of required skills and qualifications, one that highlights specific accomplishments relevant to the position.
Here are four approaches that work.
1. Bullet points
Using bullet points instead of long paragraphs will make your matching qualifications easier for reviewers to identify.
2. Skills context
Explaining how and why you used your skills in your work adds credibility and gives insight into your strengths.
3. Measurable accomplishments
Highlight accomplishments with dollar amounts, percentages, or other quantifiable metrics to prove your effectiveness.
4. The PAR and STAR methods
Because your resume must be more than just a roundup of your experience, you should apply the PAR (Problem, Action, Result) and STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) storytelling methods to your background. Consider the following:
Original Statement: Studied financial performance of companies and made investment recommendations.
PAR-Revised Statement: Improved portfolio performance by 12% ($1.2M) over one year by refining cost of capital calculations for information-poor markets and re-weighting portfolios based on resulting valuations.
The STAR method takes a similar approach, eschewing generic, detail-poor sentences for those that explain what you did to address and overcome a specific challenge. Both PAR and STAR can transform a traditional descriptor into a powerful statement of your abilities and achievements.
Optimize Your Resume with Jobscan – A Resume Optimization Tool
How it Works
When Jobscan users upload a resume or LinkedIn profile along with a desirable job posting, the system scans the content to find matches for that job. It analyzes everything from the job title to your dates of employment, and the tool will send you a report with recommendations to improve your chances of getting through an applicant tracking system. Categories on the report include skills and keywords, job title match, and education match, among others. The tool also will examine the keywords that describe your hard and soft skills. Jobscan can make recommendations so you can tailor your resume to meet ATS requirements, but it also can help you target regional job openings that fit your skills and qualifications.
How the University of Arizona Global Campus Students Can Use Jobscan
Through a partnership between Global Campus and Jobscan, every current student and alum can access the tool for free by simply contacting the Career Services office. Using the tool, you can upload your resume or LinkedIn profile along with a job listing to which they would like to apply, and Jobscan will provide optimization recommendations. For additional reports, students can contact Career Services.
Given that the majority of Global Campus students and alumni are working adults with competing priorities for their time, JobScan is a fast and effective way to prepare a resume for a job search.
The Most Important Question
So, you’ve optimized your resume with the right keywords, applied PAR and STAR throughout your employment history, and you’re ready to do one last spellcheck before sending it off to an employer with your fingers crossed. Is that everything?
No, not until you’ve answered the most important question: Does your resume clearly state that you are qualified to perform the job duties and responsibilities in the job description? If the answer is yes, good luck. If not, there are more revisions in your future.
Fortunately, you don’t have to answer this question, or others, alone. The UAGC Career Services team can you help you develop a professional resume, cover letter, or LinkedIn profile at the University of Arizona Global Campus Career Resources Center. You’ll also find more helpful do’s and don’ts at the University’s Instagram and LinkedIn pages. With new opportunities posted daily, now is the time to lay the foundation for your next decade of success. To get started on your resume or cover letter, review job interview techniques, or schedule time for career coaching, contact the UAGC Career Services team or connect with an advisor through the “Handshake" section of the student portal.