Learn the ins and outs of the ATS for a bot-proof resume.
Thank you to everyone who participated in our latest edition of #OfficeHours, presented by TopResume! This time, it was all about the bots: why employers use them, what they do, and how you can avoid the most common mistakes that get your resume rejected before a human ever sees it.
Congrats to Hannah E., the first winner of our monthly resume makeover contest! Each month, TopResume will give one lucky winner a free resume makeover. Click on the following link to enter to win a free resume makeover. And stay tuned to see Hannah's resume transformation!
Below is a link to the video of our Live Chat and my responses to your resume-writing questions. For more career advice and information about upcoming events, please like us on Facebook and sign up for our free weekly newsletter.
#OfficeHours Live Chat: Can Your Resume Beat the Bots?
For more information on what an applicant tracking system (ATS) is and how you can write a resume that will pass the ATS test, check out our latest infographic, “WTF is an ATS?”
Don't let the bots stop you from landing your dream job. Get an ATS-proof resume today.
Q1: How can I keep my resume to only one page?
“If you spell out everything, how can you keep your resume to one page? I have 30 years of experience.” — Jeffery R.
If you have seven or more years of experience, your resume can be more than one page. As a matter of fact, most professionals with an extensive career history keep a two-page resume. It will have no effect on how the ATS reads your resume and recruiters are used to it, so have no fear in using that second page so long as your level of experience calls for it.
As you list your work experience, cut yourself off at the 15-year mark. Hiring managers care most about the work you've done in the last five years, so if you're in your 20th year in the workforce, leave behind that internship from right after college. If you want, you can add a small “Career Note” or “Career Summary” section where you list the job titles and companies for those roles you held early in your career. For more information on resume length, take a look at this article on how long your resume should be.
Q2: Can I use commas to separate skills on my resume?
“I'm pursuing a role as a business analyst, and on my resume, I list both technical skills and management skills. I've been separating my skills with commas instead of bullet points. Is that okay?” — Binoy T.
Commas are a perfectly fine way to separate skills on a resume — the ATS will still find them. Remember that your main goal is to highlight your best selling points, so whether you use commas or bullet points, just make sure that they are clear and easily seen.
Q3: Do cover letters go through the ATS?
“Is it just the resume that goes through the ATS, or does the cover letter go through as well?” — Steph N.
Whether or not cover letters go through the ATS depends on the system and what company is using it. With that said, it's not a bad idea to incorporate keywords into your cover letter. It can't hurt, right? You don't have to go crazy trying to optimize it though.
Q4: How big should margins be on a resume?
What about margins? — Steph N.
For a resume, your margins can be as small as 0.5 inches and as large as 1 inch all the way around. This flexibility is great for when you are trying to fit your resume onto just one or two pages — whichever one is appropriate for where you are in your career. Click on the following link for more information about resume length.
Q5: Is there a certain version of Word I should use when writing my resume?
“Does it matter what version of Word I use? 2010? 2016?” — Nikolaos B.
Most versions of Word should be just fine for writing your resume. Beware of using one that is too old, as some sites may no longer be compatible with software from the 1990s. In general, saving your files in the .docx format is the safest way to go — it's the most transferable file type and will be compatible in almost every situation.
On the topic of files, something many job seekers forget to consider is the file name of their resume. Employers see this, so take the opportunity to make a positive impression. Include your name, the job title, and the company for which you are applying. This will not only help you appear professional, it will also help a recruiter or employer keep track of your resume.
Q6: How do I navigate a large employment gap on my resume?
“What if I have a 10-year gap in work experience? I'm looking to get back into my field from many years ago, and I have held jobs in other fields along the way.” — Jeannine J.
A popular piece of advice for dealing with a large employment gap is to use a functional resume — but I disagree. Instead, split your resume into two sections: relevant work experience on the top and other work experience below that. This way, the first thing employers see is your work experience that is important to the role you are applying for.
If you are looking for other experience opportunities that can help you re-enter your field, there are some other actions you can take. Look into “returnships,” which are like internships but for professionals who are returning to the workforce after a hiatus. They are a great way to gain some recent experience that is relevant to your desired role. Skill-based volunteer (SBV) work, especially in a field that is related to yours, can also count as experience and fill an employment gap in your resume. Catchafire is an excellent site to help you find these opportunities.
Q7: How can I tackle ageism in my job search?
“I have a lot of experience, but feel like I am being turned down because of my age. How can I knock down this wall of ageism?” — Jeffery R.
This is a struggle many job seekers deal with, so you are not alone. Age discrimination is illegal under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, so if you are facing obvious discrimination, you can take legal action.
Because of your years in the workforce, you probably have a large network. This is your greatest advantage in the job search, so use it! Make it known that you are in job-search mode and reach out to your network for tips, recommendations, and most importantly, potential referrals. Having someone within a company to advocate on your behalf will help you get through the job-search red tape and significantly increase your chances of landing a job.
I recently answered a similar question as part of our Ask Amanda series. Click here to see my full response on how to overcome age discrimination in the job search.
Q8: How will the ATS respond to an employment gap due to graduate school?
“I have a two-year gap in employment because I was pursuing a master's degree. How will the ATS read this?” — Binoy T.
The ATS will not immediately throw out your resume because it sees a gap in employment. Plus, it will also recognize the dates of your education. To make it clear what you were up to, you can add a line that says something like “Full-time student from (date) to (date) pursuing master's degree.”
But most importantly, show off that degree! It's an accomplishment and you want it to be front and center on your resume. Include an advanced degree (like a master's) or certification to your name at the top of your resume to make sure recruiters see it.
Q9: On my resume, how do I include the kind of role I am seeking if I haven't yet held the role?
“If I am making a career change, can I include that I am 'Seeking ___ role' so that I can include the job title on my resume? — Steph N.
The best way to go about this situation is this: The title on your resume should be the role you are pursuing. During your job search, you want to market yourself in a way that shows employers that you belong in this kind of role. If you don't feel comfortable marketing yourself with a job you haven't yet had, you can add a line before your professional summary like this: “Objective: (Desired Job Title).” From there, jump right into your professional summary to talk about the skills you have that make you the perfect candidate for that job title. By doing this, you can still state the kind of role you are after and not detract from your qualifications.
For a sample of a career-change resume and additional advice, you can check out this article on the seven most important details to include on a resume when changing careers.
Related: #OfficeHours: How to Successfully Change Careers
Q10: When dating work experience on my resume, should I include months or write only year to year?
“If I have just over a year of experience, should I include months and years or just years when dating my work history?” — Jay A.
You can include months with years or just years on your resume — either one is acceptable. Simply choose whichever will showcase you in the best light. For example, if you held a job from January 2017–December 2017, you may want to add the months to show that you were working for about the whole year. Alternatively, if you only held a certain job for six months, it would be wise to include only the year so that you don't draw attention to the short time you were in that role. Whatever you choose, the most important thing is that you be consistent throughout your resume.
Avoid making the top resume mistakes. Click on the following link to enter to win a free resume makeover.
How to Avoid the Top 10 Resume Mistakes That Make Recruiters Cringe