Resumé Writing

How resumé screening software works and how to get past it.

Learn how to conquer the robots! In this blog, I will overview what resumé scanning is, how it works and most important of all - how to ensure your resumé gets past it.
Written by
Ali Williams
October 22, 2020
Read time

Technology never stops, does it? So, it really shouldn't come as a surprise that nowadays, when you apply for a job, the first "person" to see it is a robot, or software as it were. And this software is very particular about the information it is looking for and how it receives it. Resumé scanning software, resumé screening software, applicant tracking systems – there are various ways to describe it, is used by over 60% of companies. The most important thing you should know about it as you apply for jobs is how to speak its language.

What is Resumé Scanning Software, and how does it work?

Resumé scanning software is an online application that makes the lives of recruiters and human resource managers a zillion times easier by automating the recruitment and job application process. It filters all resumés by specific criteria hiring managers have input based on the requirements of the role. They enter keywords, specific skill requirements, education level, job titles, time in position, and the software shortlists candidates for them, saving alot of time and money. In addition, it organizes and stores all of the applicants in a database in case future opportunities come up they may be a fit for. Well, no wonder it's so popular!  

While this is just fantastic for companies, there's a bit of a learning curve for applicants on the other side trying to get in the door. You see, while the software is highly intelligent, it's not a human and most of us are highly skilled at talking to humans. Resumé screening software doesn't always understand various writing styles. Certain word choices may not 'read' the same way to an applicant tracking system - many words have multiple meanings. Thankfully, we can take steps to "beat the machine" by optimizing our resumés.

How to Get Your Resumé Through Screening Software

According to The Balance, “Resumé screening software rejects an estimated 70 percent or more of the resumés submitted either because the documents don't reflect the desired qualifications or are formatted in a way that the system can't digest the information.”  

Failing Resumé Screening Software.jpg

Optimizing your resumé to ensure it makes it past screening software and into the hands of a human will take some time and strategic planning and writing. Creating a strategic, targeted, scan-winning resumé has been likened to search engine optimization. It takes time, it's not easy, but it will be well worth the effort if it helps you to the interview.  

While many ATS products are available for companies to choose from, what they look for as they scan your resumé is relatively consistent. Below is a checklist covering off standard criteria they check and steps you can take to help you get through to the other side and land an interview.

Resumé Screening Checklist

  1. KEYWORDS ARE KING: As with online marketing, keywords are a top priority when applying for a job. Look closely at the job posting and include keywords from the job description relevant to your skills and work experience. Don't just add them in randomly. They should be in context and make sense within your resume. Doing this will keep you in the game.
  1. GO WITH A STRAIGHT-FORWARD LAYOUT: It doesn't have to be Yawnsville, USA, but you should try to follow the usual "name at the top, contact info, work experience, skills, education first-page format" to ensure the ATS gets what it needs to read your resumé.
  1. USE RECOGNIZABLE SECTION NAMES: When describing the sections on your resumé, use standard section names such as "Work Experience" and "Education." While it's fun to get creative and use titles like "What I've Done" and "What I've Learned," the resumé screening software will not get it and that little bit of creativity could cost you.
  1. JUST SAY NO TO ACRONYMS: As mentioned in my post on Resumé Critiques, you should avoid acronyms on your resumé - especially those related to specific previous organizations you've worked for. If there are abbreviations in the job description, you could consider using them, but a safer bet is always to write it out in long-form.
  1. WORK EXPERIENCE BEST PRACTICES: Arguably, the most crucial part of your resumé is some essential best practices for the Work Experience Section. Make sure you use a consistent format using the traditional "Job Title, Company Title, Employment Dates" format to ensure the scanning software can read and process it properly.
  1. NO PICTURES, PLEASE: Whether it's your favourite headshot or a graph showing your sales achievements, avoid using images. Resumé scanners can't read this type of complicated file. You're better off using this space to speak to your accomplishments in a way it CAN understand.
  1. FILE TYPE COUNTS TOO : When in doubt, the best formats to submit your resumé to ensure an ATS can access it are .doc, .docx, .pdf, with '.docx' ranking the highest for the ability of scanning software to read it.

Good News: There Are FREE Resumé Screening Software Options Out There!

Now that we have covered the list of requirements and considerations for ensuring you beat the resumé scanning software, let's talk about some free resources out there to help you through it. Yes, that's right, there are free resumé screening software programs out there, thank goodness.  

Just hit the old Google with a "Free Resumé Screening Software" search and get ready for the onslaught of websites offering them. The quality varies. I would do some review-checking before taking their feedback as THE word on your resumé's potential success through scanning software. Additionally, some will only provide high-level feedback as they lead you to their bigger, better paid product, but it's well worth doing some investigating.

The Best Free Resumé Screening Software IMO

For those of you short on time, I will share the best free resumé scanning software I've found. Resume Worded was created by recruiting professionals and offers a very generous free resumé scan to not only make sure your resumé passes the ATS but also helps improve its overall impact.  Providing feedback on four key areas: Impact, Brevity, Style and Skills, Resume Worded provides information beyond just getting through scanning software. It gives you some great suggestions in this free scan, but of course, it has a more robust paid offering, which includes more in-depth feedback, targeted resumé reviews and LinkedIn Profile optimization. Still, you can easily use the free option and be well on your way to passing resumé scans all over the place with it.

Resume Worded

Resumé Scanners Can’t Replace a (Human) Resumé Professional

Of course, as a professional resumé strategist and writer, I have to add that once your resumé passes through any scans, free or paid, it will inevitably end up in the hands of a human. While you may have the keywords in place and your sections correctly named, it needs to sell you and your unique value proposition to the organization(s) you apply to.  

A human can interview you to glean more of what makes you tick and uncover things about you and your experience; you may not have even recognized. Resumé professionals are objective and able to look at your resumé through a recruiter's lens and ensure what needs to be in your resumé is there.  

All this to say, whether you use a free or paid scanner or a professional, it's critical you take extra steps to make sure your resumé gets into the hands of a person, takes you beyond the machine and closer to the job of your dreams!

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