I’m not a researcher or an academic, so my little pea brain screams and my body shakes when I’m handed a resume with densely packed content. “You want me…to read this? The whole thing? Moi? I’ll pass.”
I think my sentiment here represents the majority of recruiters who are inundated with resumes from people who are so busy packing keywords into their documents that they forget one important fact:
A human needs to read this.
And humans like white space. Readability. A point.
Now, more than ever, “KISS” (“keep it simple, stupid!”) applies to resumes. Tech companies are calling for simplicity.
Therefore, so is everyone else.
When I write resumes, I constantly challenge myself to deliver a knock-out punch with the fewest fingers (or words, rather).
You might be thinking, “I get it. I’m trying! But how do I pass the ATS scanners if I don’t include mountainous content? The ATS emulator told me to repeat ‘cross-functional’ at least 8 times.”
Yes, it did. And that was bad advice.
Would you like to read a two-page document that lists “cross-functional” 8 times? Probably not.
Let’s get one thing clear: the idea that you need to “pass the ATS” is a misnomer. The ATS (applicant tracking system) is not a test; it’s a tool recruiters use to help identify top candidates for a role.
Think of it as a pile, and you’re trying to land on top…sunny-side up.
(Listing “cross-functional” 8 times would be the dark side.)
Getting to the top is easy.
Highlight the keywords in the job description, and write about how they apply to your work, using the words in the job description and synonyms.
Delighting recruiters is easy, too.
Facilitate a recruiter’s decision to contact you by:
1) Putting things where they belong: Name and contact info > job title you’re applying for > summary > skills > work experience > education.
2) Leaving enough white space: Use +.5 margins all the way around. Sentences should be short and to the point. Omit articles and pronouns. Put 2–3 points between bullets and paragraphs.
3) Showing examples of your skill: “I’m a cross-functional team leader” says nothing. “I united a disengaged team of 7 around a shared goal to boost customer satisfaction, yielding 25% increased employee engagement and 30% client retention,” tells me everything I need to know. Show, don’t tell.
4) Delivering a well-edited document: Yes, spell check. And show attention to detail by generating consistent formatting with sections aligned similarly, numbers written consistently, and equal spacing.
Most recruiters will tell you they look over every resume in their inbox, regardless of ATS results.
You don’t need a fancy online ATS emulator to tell you your resume’s score. Just follow these steps; you’ll land in the top-third of the pile and avoid injuring the recruiter’s brain.
Bob wants to be a Project Manager. His original resume says:
So many words; so little impact. And, ouch. This hurts to read.
Sure, he peppered the resume with keywords.
Meaningless keywords. They say nothing about what Bob actually did.
Try this instead:
Look! No need for “cross-functional.”
Or extraneous information.
Just keywords hidden in examples. (I bet you couldn’t even feel the pinch!)
I nearly halved the word count while catapulting each word’s impact and facilitating readability. Which resume do you think will get read?
Are you worried about less detail? It’s okay to save something for the interview!
Concision and clarity aren’t just for resume-writing experts.
You can do this.
When you write your resume’s “Experience” section, think in terms of cause and effect (“produced X by doing Y”).
Using “STAR” (Situation, Task, Action, Result) might help. Write out the whole example, articulating each of these points, and then whittle it down to its bones.
It always helps me to ask myself, “What one word can express this phrase?” Usually, I find one.
And if I don’t, my buddy ChatGPT will. 😉