Resume Do’s and Don’ts for 2019

Applying for a new job becomes more automated every year. Your resume makes its first impression to a software program known as an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Over the past three years I have written and updated more than 600 resumes. Each year effective resumes change. In 2019, applicant tracking systems continue to become more advanced and more customized for each employer. These programs identify the best candidates for open positions before human eyes scan anyone’s qualifications or employment history.

This article covers the most important sections to include in your resume. Tips and details about how to maximize the score from an applicant tracking system (ATS) are included.

Every resume should begin with demographic information at the top of the page. This header includes your legal name, your current address (may be limited to the city and state) and contact information (must include a phone number and a personal email address). Make this area stronger by including a LinkedIn URL and/or a professional, personal website.

The next four sections are a professional Summary, specific Skills, Employment History, and Education.

The professional Summary is one or two paragraphs with no fewer than four but rarely more than twelve sentences. Phrases in the summary should be pulled directly from the hoped-for job description. The easiest way to convince both an automated scanner and the hiring manager that you are qualified for a position is to match top phrases. You can start by tailoring your professional title to the job description. For example, you might be a “manager”. However, if the hoped-for job description mentions an “Innovative Manager” or a “Visionary Leader”, those are the exact words that you should use, assuming you are confident that you have those qualities.

Many companies no longer accept cover letters and with most online applications a cover letter is optional. Without a cover letter, a greater emphasis has been placed on the Summary to illustrate how you directly match the position. Customize phrases to make them specific to your experience. Consider a general phrase from a job description such as “Visionary leader with experience managing project teams”. Make this phrase paint a clear picture of who you are by adding appropriate adjectives. If you are a sales management professional, that phrase might become “Visionary sales leader with five years of experience managing regional sales teams and enterprise-wide projects.” Give a specific impression of who you are while incorporating as much as possible from the written job description.

The Skills section is next. This is your opportunity to rack up the key words. Typically, the Skills section is placed up front after the Summary for non-technical positions. Like the Summary, Skills should be edited for each new application. Using a dozen words or fewer, include all of the top tasks mentioned in the job description.

Some executives at the director level or above, often hate to mention assumed skills like “Microsoft Office: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access”. However, your goal is to match the job description as much as possible. When choosing not to include skills that you have, keep in mind that your resume will be run through the ATS which will assign a score. These ATS scores are used at many companies to justify new hires against EEOC requirements. If you are missing too many skills that are specifically mentioned in the job description, your score will be lower. If you have a mentioned skill, include it. If the skill feels like it should be assumed without being mentioned up front, put it at the end of your resume after your education. You can even create an “Additional Skills” section for this purpose.

Next is Employment History, the meat of the resume. The most important concept to keep in mind for your Employment History (or Experience) section is to create a snapshot of your professional life. Your employment history can usually remain the same for similar positions. This decreases the need to tailor your entire resume each time you apply online.

Strive to accurately represent your professional accomplishments and to satisfy the key words for similar positions. Key words are compared, counted, and given greater or lesser “weighted” values. For example, a standard phrase appearing in many entry-level manager job descriptions is “Managed cross-functional teams in a high-matrixed organization.” At some point in the development of simple ATS programs both “cross-functional” and “highly-matrixed” became part of the template. If you notice these words, include them in your resume.

Large corporations and companies with unique cultures, identify and value additional key words. A few companies prefer verbs with specific tones over more common ones. For example, instead of stating “Manage a team of executive stakeholders who deliver significant ROI (Return on Investment)”, aspirational ATS scans would place a greater value on this rewording of the same experience, “Direct a senior leadership team that crafts innovative strategic plans to increase revenues year over year.” Another tone, common to sales organizations, is more driven in nature. Rewording the same experience for a driven sales organization, might look like, “Drove #% increase in incremental revenues across global markets with defined sales goals and by personally mentoring regional managers.” The goal is to satisfy the ATS with key words while also giving a recruiter or hiring manager a clear image of your past experiences.

The Education section is the last section. Education should include degrees and certifications. Education does not include your student clubs, sports accomplishments, fraternity/sorority, etc. Don’t include any other detail unless it is both recent (you just graduated) and directly related to the job you seek. Once you have more than five years of professional experience, education should be limited to degrees awarded, certifications and/or licenses subsequently received.

A few more dos and don’ts for your 2019 resume update.

Mention hard numbers. Do include the number of direct reports, the size of teams you led, the actual dollar amounts for increases in revenues you achieved, and the impressive number of products you sold. Don’t include percentages that have no context. Too often job seekers will state a percentage like “Increased social media engagement 100%” with no additional details or context. This leaves the hiring manager to assume worst about your accomplishment. Don’t leave it open to interpretation. A statement with actual numbers is stronger than percentages. Improve the example above with specific details such as, “Doubled social media engagement from 250,000 to over a half-million unique hits.”

Lead with your strengths, not your weaknesses. Perhaps you have been involved in a key role on a project but were not specifically the project manager. Instead of stating “On Customer Service Leadership team that reduced average call times from three minutes to two.” Reorder this statement to lead with your strength, “Reduced call times from three minute to two, as a key member of the Customer Service Leadership team.”

In close, I recommend hiring a resume writer to help you capture your strongest attributes in a way that gets you past the ATS and into the room for a face-to-face interview. It’s very difficult to be objective about our own experiences and to also rethink them in terms of matching key words. Low-cost resume writers will put your name and address at the top of a template. This might get your resume past the ATS. However, if your resume is nearly identical to dozens of others that also scored high, human reviewers will put it aside. The professional resume that scores high on the ATS and details your unique contributions, will also pass the human review test and impress the hiring manager.