The adage “What you don’t know won’t hurt you” is very misleading, especially for people in transition or otherwise contemplating a career change. Not only is the contention untrue, but also it in fact hinders the ability to get what you want. Furthermore, it conveys a false sense of positive feeling. For example, those in transition are advised to customize their résumés to the job openings they’re applying to. Sounds logical, but it’s a laborious process that can take hours of close work, even though, at the end of the process, clicking on Submit or Apply gives a sense of satisfaction. But it’s a false satisfaction because nowadays, most if not all such submissions are going through electronic software called an applicant-tracking system, or ATS, which has its own rules. If the applicant does not obey the rules, the résumé or application goes into the proverbial black hole and never reaches its intended destination. That’s where the hurt comes in, because the applicant will never learn why it happened or how to correct the process for next time.
So, what to do?
Here are several suggestions. They apply only to electronic job applications, which means you should have two versions of the résumé: one for ATS software so that it will reach a recruiter and another one for a human.
- Submit your résumé in Microsoft Word format.
- Do not include tables in formatting the text.
- Be aware that there are many ATS providers, including archaic and new versions. As a candidate, you have no way of knowing which one your résumé will have to deal with, and pdf files or files formatted in other ways might not be able to get read into every type of ATS software.
- Don’t format your résumé by way of the use of a résumé template.
- Use the standard, customary section headers for sections, and put them on separate lines.
- Type those section headers in all capital letters, such as PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE, but do not type anything else in all caps. Of course use a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, for the words in course titles, and for all proper nouns.
- Be consistent when listing your previous companies and titles—whichever you want to list first for emphasis.
- List a company name with its appropriate suffix such as Inc. or LLC. Otherwise, the company name could be mistaken for a different company.
- Separate each résumé section by a blank line, but never add a blank line within a paragraph.
- Do not number the pages because computers see all information as continuous. Your page number would wind up appearing at random somewhere in the middle of the document.
As you can see, the foregoing steps may appear as details, but as another adage goes, “The devil is in the details”; and that notion could be both crucial and decisive for your future career.