resume tips


75% of resumes don’t make it through an ATS, is yours one of them?

Both recruiters and job seekers are frustrated by Applicant Tracking systems (ATS). Some great candidates have not made it through the system and you may well be one of them!

The reality is that there are close to 200 different applicant tracking systems that companies are using to find candidates  and to make it even more challenging all these systems are customized to the specific companies needs. ATS systems are here to stay and as a job seeker you need to understand how they work so you can get through and have your resume get into the hands of a recruiter. In some cases, companies will only take resumes submitted through the system. Using an ATS system it automates tasks and manages talent, job postings and can do the work of 4 people.  Each year they are becomong more and more sophisticated.

The goal of this blog is to help you understand the ATS system and what you need to do understand in order to successful in submitting an online resume to an Applicant tracking system. I am sharing the knowledge I gained from taking a course through the Resume Writing Academy called “ATS & SEO Navigating Alphabet Soup to Get Clients Found”  by Marie Zimenoff and Dr. Cheryl Minninck.

But first…..

How does the ATS system work?

Applicant tracking systems or ATS scan and store information in files in order to manage talent and prioritize those who have applied who best fit the criteria. The recruiter will compile a list of hard skills and soft skills that are needed for the position and enter these (key words) into the ATS which will trigger the searches of resumes for the words and the one with the most key words that match range higher you rank and will move to the next level of being viewed by a human. The ATS system can generate lists with those that most closely match the skills required. However, if not enough of the key words are in the resume you don’t make it to the next level.

How do you know which key words the system is looking for?

To identify the keys words first look at the job posting. It will provide some of the key criteria for the job. Also standard industry lingo and certification will be added. The number of key words is up to the company and they can add as many as they choose for the criteria. It is important to note that very few resume would have 100% of the key words but the resumes are ranked based on the key words so the higher the ranking the more likely to be seen by a human once th scan is done. The key words should be interspersed throughout the resume but it is important to put them in the top first half page of the resume.

Some key words that could be used are:

Hard skills
Postal code or city –looking for some one who lives close
Legally entitled to work in country
Years of experience required for the job
Education level
Job title
Technical skills
Specific certification
Specific courses

Names of competitive companies (this can demonstrate similar experience)

* The words on the resume must match the key words chosen exactly. For example, if they are asking for a Programmer and you were called Software Developer you may not come up.

 Soft Skills
Project managed

What type of file should your resume be saved in? PDF, Word? Or Plain Text?         

ATS systems are constantly changing and evolving just like cell phones and so what was required five years ago is no longer required. When cell phones first came out you could not take pictures with your phone and today you can with most of the new models. This is exactly like what is happening with applicant tracking systems they are evolving and this is causing confusion in how to apply and get through the system.

In 98% of cases submitting, a resume in word.doc will be successful in making it through the ATS system. You do not need to save it in plaintext.

  • Five years ago you needed to submit resumes in plain text to be read by the ATS system you no longer need to do this.
  • In 2017 it is recommended that you save your resume in doc. to be 100% sure it can be read by all ats systems as opposed to pdf or plain text. Even if the systems states that you can submit in a pdf or a word choose word and choose word.doc although word has progressed to higher levels some of the ATS systems are still at word.doc. In some cases, even if it says PDF is acceptable some of the ATS systems do not read pdf which is in a picture format and not text format. (Within a very short time you will be able to save to word.docx )
  • If you are lucky enough to submit directly to and individual without going through an ats system and I strongly recommend submitting as a PDF so it cant be altered.

 About Dorothy Keenan of FutureWorks

Dorothy is a professional resume writer in Vancouver, British Columbia and career advisor with over 25 years’ experience in helping people find fulfilling work at all levels of the labour market. If you think your resume or LinkedIn profile needs a tune up or you are unsure how to even start contact Dorothy at  or go to Dorothy is constantly seeking the latest and most current information on trends in resumes, cover letters, linked in and also keeps abreast of the changing labour market.


The Truth on How Résumés Get Eliminated

Have you sent out hundreds of résumés and received NO response? Are you getting frustrated? Why are you getting eliminated? In this blog I am going to explain the harsh reality of what happens when you apply, and provide some tips on how to help your résumés to be viewed and land you an interview.

When a job-seeker is being considered for an open opportunity, the first person who will read their résumé is generally either a recruiter or an HR person. If it’s a recruiter, it could be either a 3rd-party, agency-based head-hunter type, or an internal, company-based corporate recruiter. If it’s someone in HR, it could be anyone from an entry-level screener to a Director of HR.

This screening and elimination process happens when you respond to online job postings, and  during proactive searches for candidates done on résumé banks like CareerBuilder, Monster, etc., or on Social Networks like LinkedIn. Basically, anyone who is looking for, and screening potential candidates, for an open job opportunity goes through this process.

While some people do make it through the online submissions, it is few and far between. That’s why you must not just rely on submitting the resume on line but also seek individuals within the firm who can alert the hiring person about a potential good candidate. The number of résumés that a recruiter reviews makes it challenging to stand out. Most résumés and online applications go into the proverbial “Black Hole of HR.”

Now I’m sure that you slaved over your résumé for hours and hours, writing and re-writing it, revising, refining and retooling its language until it’s as “perfect” as it can be. If you are like most serious job-seekers, you are hoping that the person who first screens your masterpiece will take their time and read it over very carefully – absorbing every detail of your background, analyzing your qualifications and experience, and making a carefully considered, informed decision about your fit for the position they are trying to fill. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. The reality is the average time a résumé-reader will give your résumé is 7 seconds on the first pass. They’ll scan the first page of your résumé, rarely progressing on to the second or third pages. If they don’t quickly see exactly what they think they want or need right up front –you are eliminated.

In my many years of hiring I have read my share of résumés. There were times when I went through over a hundred a day. I certainly know how this elimination game works! So, what follows is a peek behind the curtain of how it works. Employers want someone who can solve their pain and fill a spot, they really don’t care what they can do for you – it is what can you do for them. They have a business to run and need to make sure they get the best candidate to fill the opening.

Deal killers that will get you eliminated before you even get through the door.

Typos, Spelling or Grammatical Errors, Poor Writing – If you are so careless that you can’t even proofread your own résumé, then the assumption is that you would be equally careless with your job performance.

An unfocused résumé – Simply put, make sure the first top half of the first page clearly states: what you are looking for; what you have to offer; and why the company should hire you. Get to the point. The rest of the résumé should back up your profile. I have seen a résumé where an individual was wanting to be hired as a project manager and his last job was as a developer. He was very frustrated as no one looked at him for a project manager job. When he changed his resume and identified that he wanted a project management position on the first half of the resume,  in addition to stating that he had ten years of experience as a developer and an MBA in technology, he began to get interviews as a Project Manager and was hired. Employers are not mind readers, and need you to shape your resume so they understand what you want.

A poorly designed and incomplete profile on LinkedIn – More and more recruiters, and employers, are finding candidates by searching on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is not Facebook and that means you need to put your best professional foot forward. This starts with your picture – it must be professional. I had a young lawyer who was applying for an articling position and had a picture of herself sitting on a couch with a glass of wine in her hand. Would you want this person representing your firm? You want to show the employer that you can represent the company and be taken seriously. Make sure your profile is filled out and is not an exact replica of your resume-it is supposed to be a teaser to get the employer to contact you for more information. A number of my clients have been found on LinkedIn based on their profile.

No keywords in your résumé –. To speed up the process in searches – keyword searches are usually the first method used to find résumés with specific skills that match job descriptions. If the right words or phrases are not present in your résumé or profile, you simply won’t come up in a search done by a recruiter or an HR person. Recruiters do not have the time to “read between the lines” on your résumé and realize that you have the skills they need. No one will understand the subtle details of your experience without you clearly stating them. You should modify and tailor your résumé to each individual job you are applying to, using the language contained in the job description. If your résumé does not contain the exact buzzwords or phrases that match the language of the requirements listed in the job description, it is harder to get past the screening tools – be it a person or an online applicant tracking system (ATS).

Location – With very few exceptions, employers prefer candidates that live in the same geographic area as the job. You may say you are willing to relocate…but if an employer has a person with similar skills to you who lives locally, you may not make the cut into the interview pile.

Industry – In most cases, employers prefer to hire individuals who already know the industry. For example, if the job is in the Financial Services industry and you come from manufacturing, it will be a challenge to be considered. However with the right résumé and presenting some of the ransferrable skills you offer it is possible to be considered.

Function – Moving from one job function to another, that you’ve had little or no experience with, is an uphill battle. For example, if they are looking for someone with a sales background, but you have never actually been in a sales role  you will need to write a compelling profile that explains why you fit.

Level – If they are looking for an individual contributor, and you’ve been at a much higher level – say managing other people or a department… it’s not a match. Conversely, if they are looking for a Manager or a VP or a C-Level Executive, and you’ve never held those titles, it is a challenge.

Number of Years of Experience – and How Recent If the job description calls for someone with 3-5 years of experience, and you’ve had 10-15 years… it’s not a match. Similarly, if the  required experience is actually listed on your résumé–but it occurred many years and several jobs ago, and you’ve done other unrelated things since–it will be a barrier.

Education – Some companies require a college degree, or a specific type of certification. If they say you must have a B.A. and all you’ve got is an Associate’s Degree–or no degree at all–it may get you eliminated unless your experience is so strong that it overshadows the lack of degree. In this case, it might make sense to put your experience first and the education last. I worked with a Regional Sales Manager that had no formal sales education and had not completed a university degree in Geography. He had multiple offers despite this as he placed his experience first

Job Turnover – If your job history shows too many short stints over a limited time period, it can read as a negative: you might be a job-hopping flight risk.  You seemingly can’t hold down a job…perhaps you don’t get along with others well… there may have been performance issues that got you fired–the imagination creates all kinds of possible scenarios! Likewise, significant unexplained gaps between jobs can be red flags that will get you eliminated. There may be perfectly valid reasons for having a lot of jobs within a short period (mass layoffs, position was eliminated, company went out of business, etc.). I would advise briefly listing the reasons for short job stints right next to the dates on your résumé to avoid this obvious red flag.

Layout of résumé – As anyone in marketing can tell you–the way information is presented can make one product be chosen over another despite the products being very similar. Wether we like it or not a résumé is one piece in the jobseekers marketing campaign to get noticed by an employer and if your resumeis easy to read, and visually pleasing this will help yo to get into the “yes pile” for an interview.

It is important to take these into consideration when applying and not be discouraged. It is often for these reasons why individuals will seek the help of a professional résumé writer as they have the experience in helping clients overcome and position themselves in the best possible light.

About Dorothy Keenan of FutureWorks

Dorothy is a certified résumé writer with 25 years of experience in providing career advice and support to 5,000 professionals in diverse industries including technology, science, gaming, trades, finance, manufacturing, warehouse, and administration to find fulfilling careers. Through her work she has gained a solid understanding of the needs of British Columbia’s dynamic labour force. Her expertise in developing résumés, LinkedIn profiles, and cover letters has helped her clients move forward in their careers. For more information visit or contact


How to get your resume past the robots – Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)


The world of looking for jobs has changed and how you apply for jobs has changed drastically. One important factor, especially in this digital, paper-free society, is to know how to craft a proper resume. Yes, we have moved on from newspaper ads and letters in the mail, with recruiters now using LinkedIn, Twitter and online job boards to find their ideal candidate, but the majority of recruiters will still ask you for a resume.

This move to e-recruiting has created somewhat of an obstacle for the traditional job hunter, however. Have you ever submitted numerous resumes to online job postings only to hear nothing back except the automated ‘Thank You for your Application’ email? Do you feel like your application is going into a resume black hole, never to be looked at by human eyes? You’re probably right.

Wise words

HR robots, or “Applicant Tracking Systems,” are indeed now used by both small and large organizations to filter out applicants whose resumes do not match a specified percentage of the key words identified by the employer. This is especially true for graduate, entry-level positions with reports suggesting that up to 75% of applications are automatically rejected. So, step one to keeping the HR robot happy is to make sure your resume includes key words from the specific job description.

But that’s not all.

Can you read this sentence? What about this one? I can, you can, but the HR robot can’t. If you underline a word on your resume, the system can’t read it; it may as well not be there. The same goes for anything in italics, in a table, diagram or a header or footer.

Six rules for formatting

Here are my top tips to create an ATS friendly resume:

  1. Do not use headers (even for contact information), footers, templates, graphs, charts, accents, shading, underlining or italics.
  2. You can still use bold, capitals, bullet points and some colour (although keep it minimal and professional).
  3. Place dates for education and employment at the right hand side of the document.
  4. Use standard name headings in the resume even if your company had a unique name ie Use “Software Developer” instead of “Software Nija” the ATS will not recognize Software Nijja as a job tittle.
  5. Customise each resume (time consuming, but worth it) for the specific position, using language from the job description.
  6. Edit carefully. The ATS will not recognize misspelled words.
Don’t forget the people

After all that, you also need to remember that your resume also has to be suitable for human evaluation! Don’t be tempted to include key words from the job description that you don’t actually possess, or create a completely stripped down text format document. If you survive the HR Robot, it will next be reviewed by a HR professional so must be visually appealing and error free.

I did say it wasn’t going to be easy. However it is possible and people do get work you just need to learn the new techniques.

Dorothy is a professional resume writer and career advisor with over 25 years’ experience in helping people find fulfilling work at all levels of the labour market. If you think your LinkedIn profile needs a tune up or you are unsure how to even start contact Dorothy at or go to your profile can lead to some great opportunities for growth or career change.