Career Guide

7 Tips to Get your Resume the Attention It Deserves

In spite of all the gloom and doom about unemployment today, there still are good jobs out there. Only problem is, now you’re up against record numbers of competing applicants for that spot. HR teams are overwhelmed by this massive influx of candidates, and often have to wade through hundreds of resumes per job post.

Fortunately for them, this process can be automated and streamlined with an applicant tracking system. Applicant tracking systems are designed to weed out unqualified candidates and make recruiters’ lives easier, so it’s important you don’t become part of the discarded pile.

Here are a few tips to make sure your resume is one of the select few that make it to the recruiter’s pile of possible candidates.

  • Key words, key words, key words. We can’t say this enough. You have to tailor your resume to each job description. Using the same key words and phrases used in a job description, and repeating them as frequently as possible in your resume (while remaining logical), will make the applicant tracking system rank you as a higher and better match for this job. Also, many ATS weigh more heavily when those key words appear at the top of your resume, because it indicates you’re currently or very recently enacting those key terms. So, key words — often and at the top.
  • Keep it simple, in terms of a lot of things. Don’t include graphics, logos or pictures. Also, don’t try to get fancy with text boxes, headers or footers. While resume-parsing tools are a great resource and save hours upon hours of manual data entry, they can’t always parse text boxes, headers or footers with 100 percent accuracy. It’s best to avoid the risk and leave out these features altogether. Furthermore, almost all ATS will strip down resumes into their most basic format, text only. So don’t stress over font or color — it ultimately doesn’t matter.
  • Word. If you’re attaching a resume or cover letter, the most commonly accepted format is a Word document.
  • Who does that anyway? Don’t type out your name vertically on your resume. Did that thought cross your mind to begin with? Well, if it did, bad idea. 
  • Put an e-mail address! If for some reason you’re living in the 21st century without an e-mail address, it’s time to sign yourself up for a free e-mail account. ATS often send mass communication via e-mail alerting you of your status, and if you don’t have an e-mail address you’ll miss out.
  • Be careful and read directions! Be sure that your resume is typo-free. Not only will it reflect poorly on you to have grammar and punctuation errors, but those mistakes, no matter how minor, may make it difficult for the ATS to correctly parse the information in your resume. Also, read directions, i.e., if they ask for a numeric salary figure, don’t type $ or /hr, just type numbers.
  • The ambiguity of cover letters. For some organizations, though not all, you can only upload ONE cover letter regardless of how many jobs within that company you ultimately want to apply to. If this is the case, you should include a generic cover letter that would cover your bases for any role at that company, not for a specific position. There’s no golden rule on this one, though, and it depends if you’re applying for one job or several at the same organization, so it’s just something to be aware of. And if you’re not sure, ask!

By Caitrin O’Sullivan, public relations coordinator, iCIMS. iCIMS, the third-largest provider of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) talent acquisition solutions, is an Inc. 500 honoree focused on solving corporate business issues through the implementation of easy-to-use Web-based software solutions. iCIMS’ Talent Platform, the industry’s premier Talent Platform, enables organizations to manage their entire talent lifecycle from applicant tracking through onboarding and beyond through a single Web-based application. With more than 700 clients worldwide, iCIMS is one of the largest and fastest-growing talent management system providers in the space. Click to learn more about how iCIMS can help your organization, or view a free online demo of the iCIMS Applicant Tracking System.

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About the author

Caitrin Sullivan


  • You have good comments but I would like to add one thought. In the opening paragraph (bullet point) you reference, ATS. No where it is defined and I only figured it out by scrolling through to your bio paragraph. It is a pet peeve of mine for speakers, etc., to use acronyms and assume that everyone knows what they are talking about. Acronyms should always be spelled out after the first references and thereafter, the acronym is fine.

    Best wishes, Lynne

  • Thanks so much for the feedback! Great point, I agree that acronyms should be explained first. I did give a brief explanation in the second paragraph of what an applicant tracking system is and its purpose, but I definitely should’ve put (ATS) alongside for clarification. Sometimes when you work with the same jargon day in and day out, you forget and assume everyone else knows what you’re talking about. It’s something I’ll always keep in mind now when writing in the future. Thanks again for the constructive tip!