Some Search Engine Optimization (SEO)-perfect Resumes Never Make It past the Human Screeners
Job searching is an increasingly complex process. (You already know that if you’ve been at this for a while.) To get an interview, you need to juggle competing priorities, each of which demand multiple, simultaneous activities.
Just to enter the job market, you’re expected to have a fully developed professional and social media presence. And networking? Today that word means so much more than joining a few industry groups. Then, of course, there are the complicated dance steps associated with a simple job application. Above all else, you’ve been told, you must craft the ideal, ATS (Applicant Tracking System)-friendly resume, perfectly peppered with SEO-friendly words and phrases.
But there’s a problem with that ATS-friendly resume of yours.
Even if it successfully clears the digital hurdles and cold eye of the tracking software, it will likely run into a second screening process before the hiring manager or even the HR recruiter sees it. What – or, more accurately, who – is that second screener?
In most cases, it’s an entry-level administrative assistant who has been handed a very strict set of red flags to find in all those resumes that made it past the ATS. It’s a very literal process in which the person reviewing your resume is in charge of reducing the number of applicants that the hiring manager will need to review.
Think about that for a minute. The screener’s job isn’t to advocate for you (or anyone else). It’s to reject you – and/or several other candidates – simply to create a smaller, more manageable set of finalist candidates.
If your resume has any of the following red flags on it, you’re probably getting tossed in the NO pile.
1. Red Flag: Multiple Employment Gaps
It may not be fair but hiring managers are skittish about applicants with holes in their employment history. These gaps raise suspicions about your general fitness as an employee. Hiring managers don’t want to risk investing in your onboarding if you’ll be gone within a year or two. The general thinking is that, if you left a job without having another one lined up, you either got fired or you walked out in a huff. Be sure your gaps are explained in the resume and cover letter. One way to do that is to simply create a title for whatever it was you were doing during the period of unemployment. Were you volunteering for a particular organization? Did you go back to school? Did you get training to help you make a career shift? Did you take an extended time away in order to be a full-time or part-time caretaker for a family member? Note these things, ensuring that all periods of time are accounted for.
2. Red Flag: Multiple job hops.
Job hopping isn’t the catastrophe it used to be. But leaving jobs after less than two years does demand an explanation. A functional resume format might be the best way to do that. Instead of devoting the body of your resume to a chronological list of job titles, the functional resume highlights your skills and successes, moving the details of your Work History section to the very bottom of the page.
3. Red Flag: A Non-linear career path
Switching industries is rarely considered problematic. But bouncing around in other ways can create real concerns about your readiness to settle into the job for which you’re applying. Maybe you’ve jumped between too many unrelated, unpaid internships. Or maybe you’ve had wild swings in the types of roles you’ve held. Whatever it is, the screener will be watching for these kinds of zigzags. And you need them explained right there, on the resume. Once again, the functional resume format is a way for you to call out the consistencies in your skills, talents, experience and work values.
4. Red Flag: You’re applying for a job for which you appear to overqualified.
Screeners are looking for upward mobility in your career. If your job titles give the appearance of a downward slide, you have some explaining to do. You don’t want to make it look like you’re trying to scale back. Your challenge is making it clear that the job you’re interested in the specific responsibilities and tasks of the job for which you’re applying. This is one case where using a “Career Objective” at the top of your resume can still make sense. There, you can describe the skills, perspectives and experience you’ve gained – and how you want to apply them within a different scope of responsibilities.
5. Red Flag: Bad grammar, bad punctuation, poor spelling
So, all of your SEO-friendly words were spelled correctly. Big deal. If the grammatical accuracy of your resume isn’t pristine, there’s no way you’re moving forward. Honestly, in this day and age, there’s just no excuse. Apps like Grammarly are free! Find one, install it and pay attention to everything it catches. Then ask a trusted human (with impeccable English) to review your final draft.