Use the checklist below to keep track of your review and refinement process.
1. Recognize Keyword Matching
Comprehend that ATS systems match keywords in your resume to the job description.
Realize that some advanced ATS might recognize synonyms, but many may not.
Consider including both the singular and plural forms, acronyms, and full forms (e.g., "Bachelor of Science (B.S.)").
2. Formatting for ATS Success
Know that ".doc" or ".docx" are the most commonly accepted formats, but some ATS may also accept ".pdf".
Understand that tables, graphics, headers, and footers can interfere with ATS parsing.
Use common section headers like "Experience", "Education", and "Skills" for better ATS recognition.
3. Beware of Common Pitfalls
Understand that excessively repeating keywords can be flagged as over-optimization.
Know that dishonesty in qualifications can backfire, especially if the resume passes the ATS but then is reviewed by a human.
Ensure consistency in presenting dates and job roles, as inconsistencies might cause the ATS to overlook key information.
Use online tools or platforms that simulate ATS systems to test how your resume would fare.
4. Document Format and File Type
Most ATS systems prefer ".doc" or ".docx" formats, but some can also process ".pdf" files. Be cautious with other formats like ".rtf" or ".txt" as they may not retain formatting or be parsed correctly.
Even if they make your resume look appealing to humans, ATS systems may not read them, causing potential loss of vital information.
Use bold and italics sparingly. Avoid using fancy or multiple fonts as these can confuse ATS systems.
Although columns can make content look organized, ATS systems can sometimes misread them.
Stick to simple bullet points rather than arrows or other symbols which might not be recognized.
When saving your document, always select the desired format instead of just renaming the file extension. This ensures the file structure is correct and readable by ATS systems.
A simple "FirstName_LastName_Resume.docx" is often best. Avoid any special characters or long-winded names.
5. Layout and Design Principles
Ensure you use a consistent font size, color, and style throughout the resume. Avoid mixing multiple fonts without a specific purpose.
Use standard margins (typically 1 inch on all sides) to ensure your content is centered and easy to read.
Space out your content appropriately. Too much text can look cluttered, while too little can appear sparse. The right balance can guide the reader's eye naturally through the document.
Use bold headings for sections such as "Experience", "Education", "Skills" to clearly delineate different parts of the resume.
While they might look appealing, many ATS systems can't process images or graphics, potentially causing important information to be missed.
Clearly separate different sections of the resume, making it easier for both ATS and human readers to scan and locate information.
When listing skills, responsibilities, or achievements, bullet points can make the content more digestible and highlight key points.
Whether you use month-year (e.g., "Jan 2020") or another format, ensure it's consistent throughout the resume.
Use a combination of bold, italics, or underlining (sparingly) to emphasize significant accomplishments or skills.
For early and mid-career professionals, a one-page resume is often recommended. Senior professionals can consider two pages, but it's essential to ensure every line adds value.
6. Header Section
Clearly display your first and last name. If you go by a preferred name or middle name, include it as you'd like it to be used.
If relevant, include a concise professional title or descriptor. For example, "Software Engineer" or "Digital Marketing Specialist."
Ensure you have your current phone number and a professional email address. Avoid using nicknames or informal email addresses.
List your city and state. There's usually no need to include your full address, especially for security and privacy reasons.
If you have a LinkedIn profile, include the URL. Make sure the content of your LinkedIn aligns with your resume.
For roles where showcasing your work is beneficial (like design, writing, or development), include the link to your professional portfolio or personal website.
Refrain from including details like age, marital status, or Social Security number. These are not only unnecessary but can be a privacy concern.
7. Objective or Summary
Write a concise, clear statement that outlines your career aspirations and what you aim to achieve in the desired position.
Ensure your objective or summary aligns with the specific job role you're applying for. Tailor it for each application when necessary.
Avoid generic or overly broad statements. Be specific about your skills, experiences, and how they relate to the role.
Aim for 2-3 sentences. It should be brief yet impactful, serving as a snapshot of your professional persona.
While some modern resumes have started using first person, it's generally recommended to avoid pronouns like "I" or "me" for a more professional tone.
Phrases like "hard-working" or "team player" are often overused. Instead, focus on unique attributes or experiences that set you apart.
8. Experience Section
List your most recent job first and then proceed backwards in time. This format highlights your current knowledge and expertise.
Ensure job titles are clearly stated and align with industry norms.
Clearly list the start and end month and year for each role. If you're currently in a role, mention it as 'Present'.
Begin bullet points with dynamic verbs like "managed", "designed", or "implemented" to convey your contributions more effectively.
Whenever possible, use numbers to highlight the impact you made, such as "increased sales by 15%" or "led a team of 10 developers".
Tailor your experience points to align with the job you're applying for. This might mean emphasizing certain roles or tasks over others.
Ensure that each bullet point adds new information and avoids repeating the same tasks or achievements across multiple jobs.
Especially important for tech-related roles. Specify tools or technologies you used, e.g., "Developed applications using Java and Spring Boot".
If you've worked at lesser-known companies, add a one-line description to give context, such as "A fintech startup focused on mobile payments".
9. Education Section
Clearly mention your degree type (e.g., "Bachelor of Science"), major (e.g., "Computer Science"), and any minors or specializations if relevant.
Include the full name of the institution, and if it's not widely known, consider adding the city and state/country for clarity.
Clearly state the month and year of graduation. If you're currently a student, you can indicate your expected graduation date.
If your GPA is strong, especially if you're a recent graduate, consider adding it. However, if it's not particularly high, or if you've been in the workforce for some time, you can omit it.
If applicable to the job you're applying for, list key courses that might showcase specific knowledge or skills.
Mention academic achievements, scholarships, or any school-related awards that showcase your dedication and aptitude.
List clubs, organizations, or activities you were a part of, especially if they are relevant to the job or showcase leadership and teamwork skills.
If you have certifications that didn't fit in the "Skills & Certifications" section, they can be listed here, especially if they're academically inclined.
10. Skills & Certifications
List skills that are pertinent to the job you're applying for. Avoid generic or overly common skills unless they're specifically requested.
For technical or language skills, it can be beneficial to indicate your level of proficiency (e.g., "Python (Advanced)" or "Spanish (Fluent)").
Focus on quality over quantity. It's more impactful to list fewer skills with context than a long list without specifics.
Clearly state the official title of the certification (e.g., "Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)").
Mention the organization or institution that issued the certification (e.g., "Issued by: International Information System Security Certification Consortium").
Clearly list the month and year when the certification was awarded. If there's an expiration date, consider including it as well.
If the certification has an online verification or digital badge, consider providing a link so potential employers can validate it easily.
11. Keyword Optimization
Thoroughly review the job description to identify and understand key terms, skills, and requirements specified by the employer.
Ensure that the identified keywords from the job description are incorporated into your resume in a manner that feels organic and not forced.
While it's essential to use relevant keywords, avoid "keyword stuffing". Overloading your resume with keywords can make it unreadable and may be flagged by ATS systems.
Incorporate different forms or synonyms of a keyword. For instance, if "project management" is a keyword, also consider using "project lead" or "project coordination".
Be aware of any industry jargon or specific terms that are commonly used in your field and ensure they are present if they align with your experience.
For every keyword that pertains to a skill, ensure that you have a corresponding section in your resume that details your experience or proficiency with that skill.
While it's okay to use abbreviations, also include the full form at least once. For example, "Search Engine Optimization (SEO)" ensures both the abbreviation and the full term are captured.
12. Use of Action Verbs
Begin your responsibility or achievement bullet points with dynamic action verbs to convey your contributions effectively.
Don't repeat the same verb. For instance, instead of using "managed" multiple times, alternate with synonyms like "led", "coordinated", or "oversaw".
For your current job, use the present tense (e.g., "manage"). For past roles, use the past tense (e.g., "managed").
Craft your sentences in the active voice for clarity and directness. Instead of "A solution was implemented by me," opt for "I implemented a solution."
Opt for verbs that convey significant impact or responsibility, such as "transformed", "orchestrated", or "spearheaded".
If you're unsure of which verb to use, consult lists of action verbs tailored for resumes. These can provide inspiration and improve the power of your statements.
13. Quantifying Achievements
Whenever possible, use numerical values to highlight the impact you've made, such as "increased sales by 15%" or "reduced project delivery times by 3 weeks".
Rather than saying "improved website traffic", specify with "boosted website traffic by 40% over six months".
Use numbers to give context to the scale of your responsibilities, such as "managed a team of 15" or "oversaw a budget of $500,000".
When describing an improvement or change, provide a comparison. For instance, "reduced customer complaints from 200/month to 50/month".
Depending on the role you're applying for, emphasize metrics that are most pertinent. For a sales role, this might be revenue generated, while for a developer, it could be the efficiency of code produced.
While numbers can be powerful, ensure your points remain readable and not just a series of numbers. Balance quantitative achievements with qualitative descriptions.
14. Projects & Portfolios
Showcase projects that align with the job you're applying for or demonstrate a particular skill set the employer values.
Name each project in a manner that gives insight into its content or objective.
Briefly describe the purpose, challenges, solutions, and results of the project. This provides context to the reader.
Detail the tools, languages, and technologies utilized in the project, such as "Built with: Java, Angular, and AWS".
If the project is accessible online (like a web app or a GitHub repository), include a direct link. This offers tangible evidence of your work.
Indicate if you completed the project individually or as part of a team. If it was a team effort, specify your role and contributions.
If you're sending a digital portfolio or using a platform that supports visuals, consider adding screenshots, diagrams, or other relevant visuals to enhance the project's presentation.
If you've received positive feedback on a project, especially from stakeholders or users, consider adding a testimonial or quoting the feedback.
15. Avoiding Common Pitfalls
Double-check for grammatical errors, typos, and inconsistencies. A polished resume reflects attention to detail.
Customize your resume for each job application. A tailored approach shows genuine interest and increases your chances of passing through an ATS.
Always be truthful about your experience, skills, and qualifications. Inaccuracies can be easily discovered and can harm your professional reputation.
Lengthy paragraphs can deter readers. Use bullet points and white space to make your content more digestible.
Use a consistent font, size, and style throughout. This not only looks professional but also aids in readability.
Don't overload your resume with details that aren't relevant to the job. It can distract from the essential points.
Ensure your contact details are accurate and easily visible. Missing or buried contact information can mean missed opportunities.
Regularly update your resume to remove outdated skills or experiences that no longer add value, especially if they're more than 10-15 years old.
Unless specifically requested or relevant to the job (e.g., modeling or acting roles), refrain from adding a photo. It can introduce bias and is often not required in the U.S.
Avoid including details like age, marital status, or religious beliefs, which are not relevant to job performance and can introduce bias.
16. Tailoring for the Job
Thoroughly study the job description to grasp the primary requirements, skills, and attributes the employer values.
Emphasize experiences and achievements that align closely with the requirements of the job you're applying for.
Incorporate keywords from the job posting into your resume, ensuring it remains natural and organic.
Adjust the skills section of your resume to mirror the skills listed in the job posting, without being dishonest about your actual competencies.
If the job posting mentions particular requirements or qualifications, ensure they are clearly addressed in your resume if you meet them.
Arrange your content so the most relevant and impressive details are prominent, capturing the hiring manager's attention early on.
If you have projects or portfolios, lead with those that best demonstrate your fit for the specific role.
Modify your resume's summary or objective to speak directly to the specific role, emphasizing your suitability and interest.
Understand the company's mission, values, and culture. Tailoring your resume with this knowledge can resonate more with the hiring team.
17. References Section
Before listing anyone as a reference, always seek their permission. Ensure they're comfortable vouching for you and are aware they might be contacted.
Whenever possible, list professional references (e.g., former supervisors or colleagues) over personal ones, as they can speak to your work-related abilities and achievements.
Opt for references who can speak about skills or experiences directly relevant to the job you're applying for.
For each reference, list their full name, their professional relationship to you (e.g., "Former Supervisor"), their current job title, company, phone number, and professional email address.
Typically, 3 to 4 references are adequate. Providing too many can be overwhelming for hiring managers.
Regularly check in with your references to ensure their contact information is current and they're still willing to vouch for you.
Provide a heads-up to your references if you believe they will be contacted soon. Share details about the job you're applying for so they can tailor their recommendations accordingly.
Always thank your references for their time and support, regardless of whether you secure the job.
In many cases, it's acceptable to state "References available upon request" at the end of your resume, saving space and offering them only when asked.
18. Proofreading and Review
Utilize tools like Grammarly or Microsoft Word's grammar check, but also manually proofread for context-specific errors that automated tools might miss.
For current roles, use present tense (e.g., "manage"), and for past roles, use past tense (e.g., "managed").
Ensure consistent use of bullet points, fonts, headings, and date formats throughout the document.
Avoid long-winded explanations. Be succinct while still conveying all necessary information.
Reading the content aloud can help catch awkward phrasings or overlooked errors.
Having a friend or colleague review your resume can provide a fresh perspective and catch errors you might have missed.
Sometimes, reviewing a printed copy can help you spot errors or formatting inconsistencies that you missed on screen.
If you've provided any, ensure that all URLs (like LinkedIn, portfolios, or GitHub repositories) are active and lead to the correct destinations.
Compare your resume against the job description one more time to ensure you've addressed key requirements and used relevant keywords.
Ensure you haven't repeated the same points or used the same action verbs too frequently.