Look, there’s no way around this: job hunting sucks.
It’s stressful, time-consuming, and success hinges on a million different variables, each muddied by competing for advice from anyone who feels emboldened to dish it out.
In the hours before a job interview, all of this comes barreling to a climax. Often, the more you rehearse your work history, the more you Google potential interview questions, the more you labor over how to charm your interviewer, the further from an offer letter you feel.
So here’s a tip … stop doing that.
Obviously, you want to be prepared for an interview. But instead of going over every esoteric question an interviewer might ask, why not home in on the few you know they will? Learning how to mold the points you want to make around different types of questions will better prepare you for the task at hand, says Mary Abbajay, president of Careerstone Group and author of Managing Up.
“There are only about 10 different questions, but 100 different ways of asking,” she says.
Here are the questions that will inevitably come up in your next interview, and how Abbajay and other career experts say you should answer them.
“Tell me about yourself”
This question, usually an interviewer’s first, isn’t as easy as it seems.
It’s not enough to just “give the employer a rundown of your resume,” says Dr. Ashley Hampton, a psychologist, and business coach. “And they definitely do not want to hear about your personal life.”
Instead, Hampton recommends using the time to emphasize the experience that landed you an interview, and why you’re applying for the job.
“You can assume the candidates that are interviewing are extremely similar in their accomplishments, what they can offer the company, and what they look like on paper,” she says. “Research the company, research the position, and determine what in your story makes you the best and most unique match.”
Try not to sound too rehearsed. Carmine Gallo, the author of the communication guidebook Five Stars, says job seekers who can “craft compelling stories” have the upper hand — no matter the industry.
“Storytellers stand out,” he says. “They are the ones who condense a lengthy career history and wrap it in an engaging narrative, all the while connecting their experience to the [desired] company’s ultimate goal.”
“Why did you leave your last job?”
Duh! You want to do more of the type of work that the open role specializes in.
Done. Easy. Move along.
“Do not throw your old company under the bus,” Mary Abbajay says. “You’re just ‘really ready to get into what this company is all about’.”
“What did you do at your last job?”
The best job interviews, like the best resumes, focus on specifics.
Abbajay recommends brainstorming a few “stories of success” from your last two or three jobs. These narrative hooks lay out a detailed scenario where you took some sort of action and got measurable results. Maybe you increased revenue, doubled productivity, or signed a bunch of new partnerships. Whatever it is, make sure you’re not memorizing a speech. Just know the general flow of the story you want to tell and be prepared to fold it into the framework of whatever questions the hiring manager asks.
“[The question] can be, ‘tell me about a time you worked on a team,’ or ‘have you ever led a project that was failing to success?’ You’ll have those stories in your head, no matter what they ask you,” Abbajay says.
“What’s your greatest weakness?”
Yes, hiring managers actually ask this. But it’s still in their arsenal so they can see how comfortable you are answering it, and not to pick apart your actual response.
“As an interviewer, I used this question as a personality screener to determine if the person was too boastful about strengths or not willing to admit fault in regards to weaknesses,” says Dr. Hampton. “Both could signal potential problems in working with the candidate in the future.”
So what’s the right answer?
“Say something that can be easily fixed,” Mary Abbajay recommends. “Like, ‘sometimes I get too wrapped up in the details,’ or ‘I don’t tend to network enough.’ Make sure you have a weakness, but also make sure it’s something little.”
“Do you have any questions for me?”
Yes! Yes. Dear God, yes.
Experts agree that it’s critically important for job seekers to ask good questionsthemselves.
The best ones get to the heart of what the employer is looking for in a candidate, beyond the nitty-gritty of the day-to-day tasks.
“We love when a prospective candidate asks about our culture and values, and how their role will drive our mission forward,”, says Jim Barnett, CEO of the HR software firm Glint. “When someone is as excited as we are about [that], we know we’ve found the right fit.”
Hiring managers always need to assess candidates’ ability to grow, especially new grads with little experience. These are some key signs of standout traits.
I’ve recruited countless graduates for roles in many organizations over the past decade, and I’m constantly asked what I look for. My answer is always the same: potential.
This is especially true for entry-level hires. Obviously, there’s no point in assessing recent grads the same way that you would more experienced candidates. Without much work experience or familiarity with the workplace, those candidates need to bring something else to the table–namely the ability to pick things up quickly and apply new ideas on their own. Here are a few concrete qualities that signal potential in entry-level (or any!) candidates–and what job seekers can do to show those traits off.
I currently work for a tech company called ThoughtWorks, which looks beyond traditional credentials like college majors and grades to make hiring decisions. To be a software developer you don’t necessarily have to have a computer science degree. Maybe you taught yourself to code in your free time, which tells me something much more powerful–that you’re committed to learning your craft and determined to succeed.
In fact, I’ve noticed recently that some of our most successful graduate hires in Australia have come to us through an intensive coding Bootcamp, and what they sometimes lack in technical ability, they make up for with drive. Skills from elsewhere in their academic careers and previous work experience tend to be transferable, as long as they’ve got grit and determination.
Passion and determination are close cousins but remain distinct. The former is about creativity and enthusiasm, and the latter is about strategy and ambition; both are strong predictors of potential.
To assess a candidate’s passion, I ask myself how excited they seem at the prospect of joining the team–and how excited I am at bringing them on board. Will they introduce new ideas or fresh energy? What will they bring to the table? Everyone on a team can learn from each other, whether they’ve got 10 months’ or 10 years’ experience, so I tend to look for candidates who demonstrate creative thinking and an eagerness to learn. I also ask myself whether I’d be happy coaching or mentoring them since their passion and enthusiasm will drive them forward and fuel their growth–but without it, their potential to learn diminishes.
Ideally, every new hire should be able to grow with the organization, adapting to larger changes. To do that, they need to be aware of themselves and how they fit into the overall company culture.
Feedback is the key here. New hires need to be open to constructive criticism, otherwise, they risk curbing their own potential to grow and evolve. But hiring managers and recruiters also need to be clear about the characteristics they don’t want to see as well as the ones they expect new hires to cultivate. So be sure to find someone who’s open to the ideas of others, respects their colleagues’ differences, and takes feedback well–in short, someone who’s sufficiently self-aware of their strengths and weaknesses to be able to learn and adapt.
Technical skills can be picked, and professional maturity comes with time and experience, but every new hire needs to be able to learn quickly in order to reach their full potential. And for that, there’s no substitute for good, old-fashioned aptitude.
Look for assessments and interview questions that let candidates demonstrate how inquisitive they are. You might even ask them to describe an experience when they had to learn something new on the fly. Some interviewers even devise exercises and practicums that give candidates a chance to collaborate on a shared outcome, and I’ve found this is often a great way to gauge potential: Don’t tell us what you can do, show us. There’s no better way to find out if someone has the ability to do something than by asking them to demonstrate it.
Keeping these attributes in mind can help you spot candidates with the most promise to grow into future leaders. And if you’re a job seeker, remember that recruiters and hiring managers are always assessing your potential, even if they haven’t devised a formal method for doing that. So when in doubt, take your own initiative and show off these four traits as best you can. They’ll never steer you wrong.
Yewande Ige is a global recruitment strategist at ThoughtWorks, which helps companies invent a new future and bring it to life with technology. In her 13 years at the company, Yewande has helped ThoughtWorks grow from several hundred progressive technologists to a diverse 4,000-person organization.
Will Philips is a graduate experience lead at ThoughtWorks. He has over 11 years of experience in campus recruiting across EMEA & APAC across a range of industries.
BY ROBERT COOMBS (click to view robert’s tedx video)
As this job seeker’s “faith in the front-facing application process eroded into near oblivion,” a lower-tech strategy took its place.
I have a great job, and there’s no rush to leave. As a director at a national nonprofit I’ve built some fantastic teams, but over the past year, they’ve gotten so good at what they do that I’ve begun to wonder whether I’m still needed. So I started slowly casting about for new challenges, initially by applying (perhaps naively) to openings at well-known tech companies like Google, Slack, Facebook, and Squarespace.
Two things quickly became clear to me:
I’m up against leaders in their field, so my resume doesn’t always jump to the top of the pile.
Robots read every application.
The robots are “applicant tracking systems” (ATS), commonly used tools for sorting job applications. They automatically filter out candidates based on keywords, skills, former employers, years of experience, schools attended, and the like.
As soon as I realized I was going up against robots, I decided to turn the tables–and built my own.
HOW I BUILT A JOB-APPLICATION MACHINE
I’m no engineer but I play with technology a lot. I’ve been known to find ways to automate things (social media, data processing, web content, etc.) out of boredom or creativity or both. So I cobbled together a Rube Goldbergian contraption of crawlers, spreadsheets, and scripts to automate my job-application process, modestly referring to it as my “robot.”
My robot aggregated hiring managers’ contact information, then submitted customized emails with my resume and a personalized cover letter. Soon, I was imagining myself telling the story of how I’d turned my job search into a super-precise job firehose.
I tracked how many times my cover letter, resume, or LinkedIn profile was viewed. I also tracked email responses (including from autoresponders). It wasn’t a particularly elegant mechanism, but it was ruthlessly efficient. The first time I fired it up I accidentally applied to about 1,300 jobs in the Midwest during the time it took me to get a cup of coffee across the street. I live in New York City and had no plans to relocate, so I quickly shut it down until I could release a new version.
After several iterations and a few embarrassing hiccups, I settled on version 5.0, which applied to 538 jobs over about a three-month period.
NOT EVEN ROBOTS READ RESUMES
To cut to the chase, it didn’t work. I’m still looking for the right gig–and it may not shock you to hear that my robotized approach hasn’t paid off.
But before you remind me that I did exactly what every career coach and recruiter tells jobseekers not to do, hear me out: I wasn’t just blasting the same content to every imaginable job listing–far from it. I tested different email subject lines, versions of my resume, and cover letters. I built my robot in order to adjust and optimize as many variables as possible when applying to each new job, just like an individual might, one application at a time.
But while I saw some variation in response, there wasn’t much. It seemed like nothing made a difference in actual human reads. One A/B test used a normal-looking cover letter and contrasted it with a letter that admits right in the second sentence that the email was being sent by a robot:
Now, one of those letters should have performed either a lot better or a lot worse than the other. For my purposes, I didn’t care which; I just wanted to stand out from all the other applicants. But it didn’t seem to matter because, as far as I could tell from this experiment and others like it, nobody reads cover letters–not even other robots like ATS algorithms.
By targeting internet companies in particular, I’d chosen an industry with a high likelihood of reliance on resume-processing algorithms. And without the tech pedigree (and corresponding keywords) to sneak by those filters, I had a steep hill to climb, robot or no robot.
Friends were quick to point out the obvious reason that this approach wasn’t working. Most told me I had to know someone who would pass my resume along to a hiring manager. By trying to game that system, I inadvertently learned how powerful it really is. One 2014 study found that 30%–50% of hires in the U.S. come from referrals, and referred candidates are over four times more likely to be hired than non-referrals. According to one hiring consultant’s estimate, referrals lead to a whopping 85% of critical jobs being filled.
IT’S NOT JUST A “NUMBERS GAME”–IT’S MANY NUMBERS GAMES
But even if companies give preference to employee referrals, they must be on the lookout for candidates with unique qualifications–or so I thought.
I asked Scott Uhrig at Agile. Careers, a coaching program for high-tech executives, how a nontraditional candidate would fare in a fiercely competitive job market. He explained that it’s easy to find candidates that fit cleanly within a mold. Beyond that, though, “recruiters are usually not very helpful; they are looking for candidates in the center of the bullseye.” From his vantage point, recruiters don’t have time to search for something outside the norm.
Amy Segelin, president of the executive communications recruiting firm Chaloner, put it a different way: “Out-of-the-box hires rarely happen through LinkedIn applications. They happen when someone influential meets a really interesting person and says, ‘Let’s create a position for you.’”
So that was two strikes against the time-honored tradition of submitting a resume and crossing your fingers. But I wasn’t just handing over a resume. I was handing over a lot of resumes. The law of large numbers suggests that something should get through the ATS and stand out, even next to candidates whose buddies bumped their resumes up to the top of the pile.
Uhrig explained that there was another numbers game at play, too. “Roughly 80% of jobs are never posted–probably closer to 90% for more senior jobs,” he told me. “The competition for posted jobs is insane. ATSes do a horrendous job of selecting the best candidates, and–perhaps most important–the best jobs are almost never posted.”
Other recruiters I’ve spoken to since running my robo-experiments suggested that most positions on job boards were either posted by an HR person who’s since changed jobs, or they have already been filled. (Or, in the case of a lot of tech companies, they’ve already decided to hire someone on an H1B visa but need to post the position to fulfill requirements.)
In short, it doesn’t matter if you submit two, three, or 10 times as many applications as the average candidate–they’re rarely going to work out in your favor, for factors beyond your (or your robot’s) control.
LESS APPLYING, MORE NETWORKING
So where has this left me, aside from somewhat disheartened? Well, for one thing, it leaves me a little bit wiser. As my faith in the front-facing application process eroded into near oblivion, I learned three lessons by robotically applying to thousands of jobs:
It’s not how you apply, it’s who you know. And if you don’t know someone, don’t bother.
Companies are trying to fill a position with minimal risk, not discover someone who breaks the mold.
The number of jobs you apply to has no correlation to whether you’ll be considered, and you won’t be considered for jobs you don’t get the chance to apply to.
Maybe I didn’t need an elaborate bot-driven scheme to find that out. And maybe, somewhere along the way, I became more interested in what the data says than in whether or not a robot could actually find me a job. But the project wasn’t entirely without success. Forty-three companies ultimately reached out for follow-up interviews, and I actually talked to about 20 of them. In virtually every case, though, the companies were on the smaller side (less than 50 staff) and not a single one had an ATS in place to filter resumes.
I’ve been transparent with almost all of the interviewers about my process, and while I worried it might be a real turnoff, they’ve all responded positively so far; I’ve even landed a few consulting gigs from it. But in the meantime, I’ve given up on applying for jobs the old-fashioned way–both manually and robotically. I’m now scaling back my nonprofit role to three days a week and taking some time to meet interesting people in person and see what I can learn from there. Eventually, I’m hoping, one of those interesting people is going to ask for my resume so they can put it on top of a pile somewhere.
There’s the obvious stuff: Have you done your research on the company? Are you polite to the interviewer and eager to join the staff?
But there’s also the less obvious stuff: How do you treat the receptionist? Are you smiling too much?
Below, we put together a list of seemingly trivial details that can affect your chances of landing the gig — and only some are within your control.
Jacquelyn Smith and Vivian Giang contributed to a previous version of this article.
1. The time of your interview
10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday is the best time for you to schedule an interview, reports Glassdoor. People are shown to be most productive on Tuesdays and won’t feel rushed by the time they meet you. It’s also late enough in the day that your interviewer has had time to check their email, have a cup of coffee, and get ready for your arrival.
You also don’t want to be someone’s last meeting of the workday, because there’s a good chance the interviewer’s attention might not solely be on you. They could be thinking about priorities that they have after work, for example, such as dinner plans, kids’ homework, etc.
Also, avoid interviewing pre or post-lunch because your time with them could either be cut short or you could be left waiting for a long time.
2. The weather on the day of your interview
University of Toronto researchers Donald Redelmeier and Simon D. Baxter found that medical school applicants fared worse if they interviewed on a rainy day compared to sunny day interviewees.
They say: “Overall, those interviewed on rainy days received about a 1% lower score than those interviewed on sunny days. This pattern was consistent for both senior interviewers and junior interviewers. We next used logistic regression to analyze subsequent admission decisions. The difference in scores was equivalent to about a 10% lower total mark on the Medical College Admission Test.”
The data included nearly 3,000 applicants over a six-year period.
3. How early you arrive
You may think it’ll look good if you arrive early — but if you’re excessively early, you could be hurting your chances.
“Of course arriving a few minutes early is a good idea, and is certainly better than arriving late — but don’t show up a half hour before your interview,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job. “It can make you appear too anxious or put pressure on the interviewer. If you have extra time, gather your thoughts in your car or take a brief walk to get your energy up.”
4. Whether your rival also interviews on the same day
Yes, it may be difficult to know when your rival is interviewing, but if you happen to know, schedule your interview on a different day. Research suggests that whether or not you’re considered qualified for a position depends on who else is applying for the job.
“People are averse to judging too many applicants high or low on a single day, which creates a bias against people who happen to show up on days with especially strong applicants,” according to a study in the journal Psychological Science.
However, this comparison only lasts for one day, which means that you are only compared to people who are interviewing on the same day as you — not the day before or after.
5. When you send your thank-you note
We all know how important it is to follow up after a job interview with a thank-you note — but not everyone realizes that when they send it can be just as important.
If you wait too long, the hiring manager may forget about you or assume you’re not interested in the job. It may also make you seem like a slacker.
“The best timeframe to send a thank you email is within 24 hours after your interview,” Whitney Purcell, formerly the associate director of Career Development at Susquehanna University, previously told Business Insider. “It should be sent during business hours – no 3 a.m. emails that make your schedule seem a little out of whack with the company’s traditional hours.”
For more on how to craft the perfect thank-you note, check out this handy guide.
6. What you do while waiting in the lobby
“Drinking coffee, eating, or talking on your cell is not the first impression you want to make with the hiring manager — or the receptionist,” says Taylor. “You don’t know exactly when the interviewer will show up, so be at the ready.”
She suggests keeping one hand free so that you can quickly shake hands without awkwardly placing all your personal items on a chair or on the floor. “You want to appear organized and attentive.”
“Also, as you wait, either make conversation with the receptionist (if he or she is available to talk), review notes from your notebook or review any company materials for guests. Maintain a pleasant smile and upbeat demeanor.”
7. How you treat the receptionist or the driver
Employers want to know how you interact with others regularly, so a common tactic is to ask the receptionist about you later.
Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that he will ask the shuttle driver who picks up candidates whether they were impolite or rude.
“A lot of our job candidates are from out of town, and we’ll pick them up from the airport in a Zappos shuttle, give them a tour, and then they’ll spend the rest of the day interviewing,” Hsieh says. “At the end of the day of interviews, the recruiter will circle back to the shuttle driver and ask how he or she was treated. It doesn’t matter how well the day of interviews went, if our shuttle driver wasn’t treated well, then we won’t hire that person.”
8. Your handshake
As in any business or networking situation, a weak, tentative handshake conveys a lack of confidence, Taylor says. “And this gesture is a key part of your first impression.”
Make sure you convey your self-assurance with a firm handshake and a smile on your face — and don’t be afraid to take the initiative in reaching out. “Some people go overboard, however. You don’t need to cause injury to make your point.”
9. If you accept the offered coffee
If the interviewer offers you something to drink besides water — especially coffee — don’t accept it.
This is especially true if they have a busy day ahead since they’re now spending even more time than they originally planned just to make you coffee.
10. Whether you’re a little narcissistic
Research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests that narcissists score much higher than others in job interviews, and it’s because they’re comfortable with self-promoting.
Since narcissists typically think they’re fantastic, the interviewer may think so, too.
11. The color of your clothing
According to 2,099 hiring managers and human resource professionals who participated in a CareerBuilder survey, blue and black are the best colors to wear to a job interview, and orange is the worst.
Conservative colors, such as black, blue, gray, and brown, seem to be the safest bet when meeting someone for the first time in a professional setting, whereas colors that signal more creativity, like orange, may be too loud for an interview.
Red is the most powerful color, but consider whether you want to outshine your interviewer. This, of course, depends on what role you’re interviewing for and the culture of the company.
12. Whether you glance at your watch or cell phone
As benign as this might seem, people notice when you’re peeking at your watch or phone, and you certainly don’t want to convey that you’re not engaged in the conversation, Taylor explains.
“Even having your cell phone in plain sight is disrespectful. You’re not going to text or take calls, so turn it off and put it away. Make sure your hiring manager has your undivided attention.”
13. Sitting before you’re asked to
Show respect for your interviewer’s space by waiting for them to offer you a seat, or wait for them to sit first.
After you sit, Molidor and Parus say to “sit tall with squared up shoulders and try to occupy as much space in the chair as possible. Don’t be like a shrinking violet with a bowed head, no eye contact, and slouching shoulders.”
14. Tailoring your answers based on the interviewer’s age
Different generations are most impressed by different values. By being aware of your interviewer’s age, you can tailor your answers to what you think they’re looking for, advise Molidor and Parus.
“With a little practice, you can home in on the values that each generation holds most dear. You can shape your answer using the language of their values,” they write.
15. The way you make eye contact in a panel interview
Keep everyone’s attention in a panel interview by making eye contact with different people at specific times during your response, say Molidor and Parus.
“In a panel interview, always begin your response by making eye contact with the person who asked you the question. Then make random and soft eye contact with each of the other interviewers. As you finish up your response, return your eye contact to the person who asked you the question. Do not mow down the interviewers by going down the line making eye contact after the other. Soft random eye contact does the trick.”
16. Your posture
“When you’re in the interview, your default should be sitting straight and keeping a pleasant smile on your face,” Taylor says.
Avoid slumping in your chair and remember to lean forward, showing interest in the interviewer. “Even if you feel the discussion is going south, maintain your poise, posture, and inflection. That can sometimes help you turn things around.”
17. What you do with your hands
Molidor and Parus write:
Showing your palms indicates sincerity.
Holding your palms downward is a sign of dominance. Do not shake hands with your palms down.
Pressing the fingertips of your hands together to form a church steeple is a display of confidence.
Concealing your hands, as in putting them in your pockets, is a sign that you have something to hide.
Finger tapping is a sign of impatience.
Folding your arms across your chest is a very defensive position, indicating disappointment or disagreement.
Overusing hand gestures to the point of distraction.
18. The questions you ask
Maybe you’re capable of answering every question sent your way with flying colors, but you also need to leave on a good note by asking smart, thoughtful questions at the end.
What are some of the problems your company faces right now? And what is your department doing to solve them?
What type of employee tends to succeed here? What qualities are the most important for doing well and advancing at the firm?
19. Where you grew up
If you spent your childhood in LA and your interviewer did, too, you may have a better chance of landing the job.
It’s clearly unfair (and out of your control), but your interviewer may not even be consciously aware that she’s biased toward Californians. It’s called the similarity-attraction hypothesis: People simply gravitate toward those who are similar to them in some capacity.
There are a few potential explanations for this phenomenon. One is that people with a decent level of self-esteem are satisfied with their personalities, so when they see their qualities reflected in someone else, they like that person, too.
Another idea is that humans have evolved to like people who look and act the way they do. At one point in human history, the safest bet was to only trust people in your small social group.
20. How competent you seem
Coming across as super-competent can in some cases hurt your success in an interview.
That’s because your interviewer might worry that you’ll threaten his status in the organization. And that’s especially true in organizations with highly competitive cultures.
Of course, you should still put your best foot forward in any job interview. If the company doesn’t hire you because they feel threatened, you might not want to work there anyway.
21. The sound of your voice
In the near future, some companies may begin analyzing candidates’ voices to determine if they’d be good fits, according to an NPR report.
Essentially, an algorithm would determine whether your voice is engaging, calming, or trustworthy — which could be especially important in industries like hospitality and retail.
Humans would have the final say on hiring.
22. Whether you’re smiling
It’s common sense that flashing a smile makes you look friendlier and more approachable.
But research suggests that, for certain professions, smiling too much can undermine your success in a job interview.
In one study, published in the Journal of Social Psychology, researchers asked college students to role-play job interviews. They found that students who played candidates for the position of newspaper reporter, manager, and research assistant were less likely to get the hypothetical job when they smiled — especially during the middle of the interviews.
This is another example of completely unfair discrimination, and the researchers behind the study say companies should add accent-bias awareness training to existing training programs for hiring managers.
24. Your weight
Recent experiments suggest that we’re less inclined to hire job candidates when they’re overweight.
In the study, published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, men and women rated digital resumes that included photographs of non-obese people and digitally altered photographs of those same people as obese. As it turns out, obese candidates were rated significantly less competent than non-obese candidates.
Right now, Michigan is the only state that has a law against weight discrimination — there’s no protection under federal law. But if you feel that weight discrimination has affected your chances of landing a job, you can get in touch with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the American Civil Liberties Union.
25. Whether you have tattoos or piercings
A Salary.com survey found that some 76% of people say tattoos and piercings hurt a job candidate’s chances of getting hired.
Your body art might stand out more in certain fields — for example, the survey found that just 8% of government workers have tattoos, compared to 20% of those in the hospitality, tourism, and recreation industries.
26. Your body language
Experts say that when people like each other they mirror each other’s body posture and movements. In a way, it looks like the two people are “dancing.”
If you don’t mirror your interviewer’s body language, it might seem like you’re not interested in what they’re saying or even that you’re lying.
Obviously, you don’t need to go to extremes here — like scratching your nose every time your interviewer does. But if they’re leaning forward in their chair or sitting with their legs crossed, you can subtly mimic these behaviors.
27. How sweaty you are
Offering a clammy palm to shake the hiring manager’s hand is the greatest fear of many a job candidate.
And for good reason — sweating suggests you’re nervous and can undermine the image of cool confidence you’re trying to project.
One public relations recruiter tells US News that she recommends asking for a cold cup of water while you’re waiting to be called in for your interview. That way, you’ll lower your body temperature and stop some of the sweating.
On the other hand, you can just accept that sweating and nervousness are normal in a stressful situation and hope your interviewer feels the same way.
Confession time: I hate applicant tracking systems (ATS) with a burning passion. Why? Because in the name of making things easier for companies by “pre-filtering out” unqualified candidates, the peddlers of ATS software have dehumanized the hiring process and sent a terrible message to jobseekers: Conform to the requirements of our machines, or risk being ignored. Does that sound like a great way to attract the best and brightest?
Now to be fair, ATS software has grown more sophisticated in recent years, moving away from simply tallying up keywords on a resume to studying the context behind them. This means a drive toward substance, and that’s a very good thing.
In this post, I’m going to show you how to communicate that substance in a way that works for these systems, and–here’s the tricky part–also works when a hiring manager is reviewing it.
USE THE LINKEDIN PROFILES OF COMPETITORS TO IDENTIFY KEYWORDS
A big misstep jobseekers make is trying to use job postings to identify keywords. This is wildly ineffective because most job postings are a mix of “must have” skills, “good to have” skills, and “pie in the sky” skills that someone decided to stick in at the last minute. Try to play to all of these areas and your resume will end up looking like Frankenstein’s monster.
Instead, I recommend that you create a short list of 10-15 direct competitors. For example, let’s say I’m going after a chief medical officer position. By using LinkedIn’s search function to pull up fellow CMOs, I can quickly gather together the URLs of highly qualified people who currently have this job.
Now, I’m going to scroll down to the “Featured Skills & Endorsements” section of their profiles. These are keywords, and the best part is that they’ve been pre-optimized by going through the LinkedIn system. You don’t need to wordsmith any of these keywords.
Start by opening up a document and writing down any and all keywords that you might remotely possess. Examples for CMOs would be keywords like Good Clinical Practice, Clinical Trials, Cross-Functional Leadership, Performance Improvement, Quality Management, Talent Acquisition, Community Outreach, Medical Affairs, and others.
Now that you have this general list, do the following:
Circle the five to seven keywords you are strongest in. This is your wheelhouse, the engine behind why you’ll succeed in this job. These will be highlighted prominently within the resume and expanded upon within your work experience section.
Circle the keywords you have some working experience with. These are electives, which you have the option of briefly highlighting within the resume.
Cross out those keywords which you have zero experience with. And no, taking a course in college doesn’t count!
THINK CONTEXT, NOT KEYWORD STUFFING
Early types of ATS software used what’s known as semantic search technology, a fancy of saying they counted up the keywords they’d been programmed to look for, and those resumes with more of them were passed along. As a result, all types of bad behavior proliferated on resumes, including “stuffing” the document with dozens upon dozens of repetitive keywords. These days, however, it’s all about contextualization, analyzing the document to see how these skills are expanded upon within the document, and weighing that instead.
Here’s how to lend weight to your keywords:
1. Create a large, boldfaced title at the start of your resume (after your name and contact information) that either lists the position you’re going after or offers a powerful branding statement.
Title example: Chief Medical Officer (CMO)
Branding statement example: “Clinical/Medical Affairs Executive with a focus on improved patient outcomes and growth in Managed Care environments.”
2. Ditch the “Objective” section at the start of the resume in favor of a couple of powerful bullet points that highlight your strongest keywords.
Here’s an example highlighting clinical trial design: “Expert in working with medical directors and contract research organizations (CROs) on developing robust clinical trials and managing areas such as site selection.”
3. Create a standalone keywords section where you simply group together the major keywords you wish to highlight.
List the strongest ones first, followed by the second-tier keywords. Remember: Be sure you can credibly defend any keywords listed during an interview.
4. Don’t be afraid to go longer to tell the story. Forget about adhering to a one-page limit–fleshing out keywords is well worth the extra space. Provide examples of project successes, or even small wins at work, where you applied a keyword skill to really stand out.
5. Write out all acronyms, and provide the abbreviation:
Worked with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) to rapidly establish a presence within Albuquerque, New Mexico territory.
6. Keep fancy graphics and elements to a minimum.
I recently worked with a client who had some excellent content in a 3D text box within the resume. Problem was, the ATS software perceived this as an image, not text, and none of the information passed through. Keep the layout simple, use visual elements sparingly, and remember: Content is king.
7. Don’t place your entire career strategy in the hands of ATS software. Connect with others. Demonstrate your value and passion. Ask for help. Success in the job search is still all about the human connection–not forgetting that is the real way you game these systems!
Creating a resume for your job search should be easy. Download a template, write up your work and education history, then fire it off to eager potential employers. But once you start, the questions start piling up. Are objective statements still a thing? Do I put the company name or my job title first? Which skills and duties do they care about? How small can I make my fonts and margins to fit everything on a single page? And what’s this I’m hearing about applicant tracking systems?
We’ve got answers– 52 resume tips to guide you through the process. Below you’ll find:
Resume Sections: What Goes Where (1-7)
Resume Formatting and Style Tips (8-16)
ATS optimization (17-25)
Highlighting Your Skills (26-29)
Honing Your Experience (30-38)
Additions and Subtractions (39-42)
Wordsmithing and Resume Writing (43-50)
Online Resume Tips (51-52)
Resume Sections: What Goes Where?
1. Every Time: Name, phone number, and email address
With so much else to consider, job seekers sometimes forget to make themselves reachable. Just ask an experienced recruiter.
Ensure that your name is prevalent at the top of your resume, followed closely by a personal phone number and email address. Don’t use your work contact information if you have other options.
2. List a professional-sounding email address
Your email address is typically at the top of your resume and one of the first things a recruiter will see, so firstname.lastname@example.org won’t cut it.
While it’s your personal email address, make sure it still strikes a professional tone and is with a modern provider. Forbes once found that 31% of resumes were thrown out due to unprofessional email addresses. Cute or funny usernames don’t belong on a professional resume.
Outdated email clients like AOL or even your old college .edu email address can also be a turnoff. If you don’t already have one, set up a free Gmail address based around your first and last name.
3. Include your LinkedIn URL with your contact info
These days, you should absolutely include your LinkedIn URL on your resume with the rest of your contact information. The recruiter is going to look it up anyway, so you might as well make it easy for them.
Customize your LinkedIn URL by navigating to your profile and clicking, “Edit public profile & URL.”
Ideally, your URL is simply first name-last name. Some people add a word for their industry or position. If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, get one right away.
4. Set the tone with a headline, summary or objective statement
Using a resume summary statement isn’t always necessary but can be a great way to set a recruiter’s expectations, add measurable results, and pack in additional resume search terms. Executive resume writer Adrienne Tom recommends using a LinkedIn-style headline. For example:
President and CEO: Manufacturing Start-Ups and Turnarounds P&L up to $160M | Global Teams of 300+ | 300% Revenue Growth in 3 Years
The traditional resume objective statement is generally considered outdated.
5. Ditch your references to save some space
Hiring managers assume that you have them, so you don’t need references on your resume. Do not include a list of references or the phrase, “references available upon request” unless the job listing says otherwise.
6. Know where your education section should go
For most job seekers, the education section should be kept simple — degree, graduation year, school name, location — and placed below work experience.
Recent grads should move the education section near the top of their resume, underneath their contact information. Listing relevant coursework, honors, clubs, extracurriculars, and other job-relevant details will help make up for a lack of professional experience.
Be aware that some industries or companies prefer to see education highlighted no matter how long you’ve been working. For example, Google asks their applicants to lead with education.
7. Mix and match resume sections to highlight your best experience
While most resumes should include your name and contact information, work experience, and education, there are a number of other resume sections that can showcase your most relevant experience. Some examples include:
It’s become trendy for resume templates to include a place for your photo, but this may come back to bite you. Some recruiters automatically reject any resume that includes the applicant’s photograph to keep themselves above claims of discrimination.
“[Using a headshot] drives me nuts and immediately opens the door to recruiter discrimination,” a corporate tech recruiter told Jobscan, “which is obviously something everyone is trying to avoid.”
9. Recruiters don’t trust the functional resume format
Job seekers with unconventional work history or gaps in their resume prefer the functional resume format because it shifts the focus away from work experience and onto skills and accomplishments. Unfortunately, recruiters are suspicious of it for the exact same reasons.
The functional resume tips recruiters off that there’s something wrong. Furthermore, it takes skills and accomplishments out of context and makes it harder for the recruiter to figure out what a candidate really has to offer.
“Recruiters hate the functional resume,” a recruiter in the healthcare industry told Jobscan. “It’s a waste of time.”
10. Try the hybrid/combination resume format instead
If functional resumes are out and the traditional chronological resume doesn’t allow you to effectively tell your story, try the hybrid resume format. It’s also known as a combination resume because it combines the best elements of the functional and chronological resume formats.
With the hybrid format, you can create a top-loaded resume using a summary statement or skills section without stripping useful context away from your work experience.
11. Add months to your employment dates
When listing your start and end dates in your work experience, failing to include months can make a hiring manager suspicious. After all, an employment period of “2016-2017” could mean anything from one month to two years.
Stating “November 2016-June 2017” shows the hiring manager you have nothing to hide, even if the employment period was only six months. Additionally, some applicant tracking systems need the months to accurately parse your resume data into a digital candidate profile.
12. Choose the right resume font
Recruiters spend mere seconds deciding whether your resume is worth investigating. Make your resume easy to read and skimmable with a straight-forward, common font. The best resume fonts include serif fonts like Cambria, Garamond, Palatino, Calibri, and Helvetica, or sans-serif fonts like Tahoma and Verdana.
Digital applicant tracking systems could also be tripped up by unconventional fonts, which could display in the software as gibberish (like this ⌷⌷⌷⌷) or cause errors.
13. Keep your formatting consistent
“I’m looking at the logical flow of it, how you categorize the information, how does it read,” a healthcare recruiter told Jobscan. “The quality of presentation did tell me something about you.”
Beyond readability, your formatting and design choices will impact how a recruiter judges your attention to detail and professionalism. Whatever design or template you choose, ensure that your fonts, heading styles, indentation, and the way you use italics or bold fonts are consistent throughout your resume.
14. Protect your white space
There’s a lot of advice saying you should keep your resume to one page at any cost, but you might be better off with a two-page resume rather than a single page stuffed to the margins with content.
Keep your margins at 0.75-1″ rather than the minimum 0.5″
Use bulleted lists rather than big block paragraphs
Add space between sections
White space between sections makes your resume more digestible for a recruiter. Ideally, you are able to edit out extraneous resume content to maintain white space while keeping your resume to a single page.
15. Don’t hyperlink important information
If you are listing a LinkedIn profile, portfolio link, or other important information on your resume, it’s better to write out the full URL rather than rely on an in-text hyperlink.
The first link will do you no good if the resume is ever printed out and might not work properly in whatever software the recruiter or hiring manager is using to view your resume. Save them the frustration by showing the whole URL when possible.
Before you add any URLs or links to your resume, be sure they actually work.
16. Creative resumes are for creative industries
After a few rejections, you might be tempted to try a bold, colorful, creative resume format.
It can be beneficial to show off your creativity, style, and design chops with your resume… if the job requires creativity, style, and design ability. If you use an off-the-wall resume design for, say, a corporate sales position, the effort you put into the design could lead a recruiter to the conclusion that you’re not serious about the job, or make the information difficult to comprehend.
Additionally, custom resume formats are unlikely to interact well with applicant tracking systems.
There are dozens of ATS, each with their own unique features and bugs. Even if you’re highly qualified for a position, failing to optimize your resume for ATS could cause you to slip through the cracks.
Many popular ATS either automatically rank applicants based on how their resume compares to the job description, or allow the recruiter to search applicant resumes for key terms.
These search terms are typically job titles or hard skills. For example, a recruiter looking for an administrative assistant might start by searching for administrative assistant to find candidates who have done the job before. After that, they might search for desired skills and experience like Microsoft Office, Scheduling, or Compliance.
Matching the job description or coming up for recruiter searches is all about having tailored resume keywords.
Identify important keywords in the job description and add them exactly as they appear to your resume where applicable. The keywords most critical to the job should appear multiple times in your resume.
Resume keyword matching is easy with Jobscan. You just paste in or upload your resume and paste in the job description to receive an instant analysis that includes a match rate, job title matching, missing hard skills, and many other resume tips and best practices that go beyond ATS.
You can try it out right here on the blog:
20. Don’t be a keyword cheater
Some try to trick the ATS by using white text to either
List the top keywords over and over
Paste the entire job description into their resume
In theory, this creates a great resume for the ATS ranking algorithms while appearing completely normal to a human recruiter. In reality, this is called resume keyword stuffing and is easily detectable.
ATS that analyze your resume keywords tend to parse your resume into a digital applicant profile. That means that recruiters can plainly see your raw resume content. Furthermore, some systems, like the Taleo example below, highlight search terms in the raw text. In either case, it will be obvious that you’ve cheated the system. Getting caught using white text would be pretty embarrassing.
Recruiters don’t like cheaters.
21. Use ATS-friendly section headings
Make your resume easily parsable by ATS by using common section headings. For example, “Work Experience” and “Education” will be identifiable by ATS, whereas combining them into “Work Experience and Education” or getting cute with something like “Where I’ve Been” might not. If your resume is not parsed correctly, it could cause a mess that the recruiter won’t want to bother cleaning up or could keep you from coming up as a search result for key terms.
22. Order matters in your experience headings
Another tip for a parsable, ATS-friendly resume is to use this format for your work experience section headings:
Company, Location Job Title, Tenure
Jobscan, Seattle, WA Content Producer, (June 2017-Present)
This is the most common order ATS expect information.
23. Have to re-enter your resume info? Take it seriously
Some online applications require you to upload a resume then re-enter all that information into text fields online. Do not leave these blank or type “see resume.” In these cases, the resume you uploaded is for the recruiter to glance over or print out, whereas the text fields will be used to create search results or filters within the ATS.
At bare minimum, copy the information from your resume into these fields. To create an even more ATS-optimized application, use the extra space to expand upon your work history, skills, and accomplishments.
24. Don’t upload your resume as an image file
Because ATS are known to mess up your resume’s formatting, some try to preserve their design by uploading their resume as a static image, like a .jpg file. However, this will only puzzle recruiters, cause errors in systems, and make your resume unsearchable. Always use a .docx or .pdf file.
25. File names matter in ATS
Your resume’s file name will be listed front and center for the recruiter in some ATS interfaces. Keep your resume file name professional. Use your name and the position for which you’re applying in the file name. For example: Jon_Shields_Project_Manager.pdf
It’s a small thing, but it keeps your name at top of mind and shows that you’re organized.
Highlighting Your Skills
26. Create a skills section
Having a dedicated skills section near the top of your resume is a great way to show off your most important abilities. This approach helps optimize your resume for ATS by ensuring you have important skills in your resume, but can also catch a recruiter’s eye and quickly confirm that you have what they’re looking for.
That said, a bullet list of keywords is not enough. It might help you come up in an ATS search or catch a recruiter’s interest, but they won’t believe you’re actually skilled just because you put it in a list. All skills must be backed up with context.
One way to do this would be by expanding within the bullet list. For example:
CRM, Salesforce: 4+ years experience operating daily within Salesforce CRM. Earned Salesforce Certification in January 2018. Also, have experience with Pipedrive (1 year), and Highrise (6 months).
If you don’t want to use so much room at the top of your resume, instead work this context into your work experience section. Once a recruiter sees Salesforce in your skills list they’ll skim through your work experience trying to figure out where, when, and how you utilized it in your career.
28. Demonstrate your soft skills
All hiring organizations want to hire employees with excellent soft skills — leadership, communication, creativity, etc.
Unfortunately for job seekers, it’s very difficult to include these on your resume. Just like with a hard skills list, you can’t just list problem solving and critical thinking on your resume and expect a recruiter to believe it. Once again, working these soft skills into your resume is all about providing context.
Use accomplishments, measurable results, and examples throughout your resume to prove your soft skills.
29. Changing careers? Lean on your transferable skills
Being able to clearly demonstrate your soft skills is especially important when transitioning to a new career. Soft skills are inherently more transferrable than hard skills.
Before you write your career change resume, take time to identify all your best soft skills and how they will benefit you in your new environment. For example, if you’re a teacher pursuing a career in sales, your ability to communicate and present to others is a huge plus.
Honing Your Experience
30. Maintain a master resume
Yes, you’re supposed to tailor your resume to the job you’re applying for, every single time. That doesn’t mean you should write your resume from scratch every time.
Consider maintaining a master resume or career management document. Think of this as a giant, overstuffed curriculum vitae. It should contain all your job duties, all your accomplishments, all the tools you used– everything you can think of for every job you’ve ever had. Maintaining a document like this can provide a great starting point for new resumes, ensuring that you don’t forget anything important while allowing you to simply delete content rather than rewriting.
31. Don’t get precious with your experience
That said, cutting things out of your resume isn’t always easy. These duties were part of your daily life. You worked hard to develop these skills. It can be hard to come to terms with the idea that some of those skills won’t always be applicable.
Let’s say you had a job at ABC Company in which you spent 70 percent of your time providing customer service and 30 percent of your time fulfilling online orders from the e-commerce site. Now you want to apply for a new job as a Fulfillment Coordinator. The section on your resume describing your time at ABC shouldn’t reflect the reality of 70 percent customer service and 30 percent fulfillment. You would have more success flipping it around and focusing more on your fulfillment experience.
This isn’t dishonest. If you think you can do the job, you want your prospective employer to know that you have the experience required. Getting bogged down in the less relevant customer service duties — that you performed well — will only distract them from your most important skills.
32. Know your value
You have to know what value you bring to the table. In relation to the job, which of your skills make you the most valuable? To help brainstorm, write down 4-5 reasons why you’d be the right fit for the job then start adding details. Not only will it help build your resume, but it’ll help you excel in interviews. Confidence is everything.
33. Make it skimmable
Recruiters are reading resumes all day. Don’t make them work for it by cramming 800 words into a single page of big block paragraphs.
Top-load your resume.
Use short sentences and bullet points.
As resume writer, Adrienne Tom wrote, “eliminate wordiness and excess details and just deliver straight facts.”
34. Duties tell, accomplishments sell
Duty: Respond to customer service inquiries via email and live chat platform. Accomplishment: Respond to an average of 176 customer service live chats and 203 emails per week, improving response time by 74% and customer satisfaction by 31% between 2016 to 2017.
Duty: Write articles for blog according to SEO best practices. Accomplishment: Write articles for blog according to SEO best practices, resulting in 53% increase in organic search traffic YoY.
Most people only list duties on their resume, but what good is that if the recruiter or hiring manager has no idea whether you’re good at it? Replacing duties with accomplishments can set your resume apart.
35. Contextualize measurable results
Measurable results are worthless without context.
“Signed $2 million in new business in Q3” could mean wildly different things depending on the business. If each deal is worth around $10,000 and no one had ever sold more than $1.5 million, this accomplishment shows that you’re a sales genius. But if each deal is worth $2 million, well… at least you got one.
Detail your accomplishment as well as why it was a big deal for you and your employer. Using percentages (“…increased sales 34% YoY”) is one way to provide context.
36. CAR and STAR aren’t just for interviews
CAR: Context/Challenge, Action, Result
STAR: Situation, Task, Action, Result
These methods are more commonly used to prep for interviews, both for interviewees and interviewers. They are also a great template for presenting your top skills and measurable results on your resume.
You won’t have room to address each of these items for every duty and accomplishment, but they can make your top selling points more impactful. What happened? What were you trying to accomplish? How did you deal with it? What was the end result?
37. Align your resume with company values and culture
Interviews exist for a reason. Hiring managers want to get a better idea of who you are and how you would fit in with the rest of the company. While details about your personality don’t have a place in your resume, you can demonstrate your cultural fit in other ways.
For example, read up on the company’s values and see if any volunteer work or side projects you’ve done align with their mission. Consider removing experience from your resume that conflicts with the company’s mission (differing politics or religion come to mind). You can also check out your prospective manager and team members on LinkedIn and find out if there are any skills or passions that tie them together.
38. Fight back against age discrimination
The United States government has protections on the books to protect professionals over 40 but age discrimination in hiring is still very real. Some ways to keep yourself in the running against younger applicants:
Stay current (and show it) – Keep up with technology, training, and modern business practices.
Highlight recent experience – Depending on your field, you probably don’t need to list experience from 10-15+ years ago.
Don’t be a jack of all trades – Silicon Valley recruiter Linda Tuerk: “Get over the generalists point of view. This is a time where specifics matter.”
Embrace LinkedIn – This is where recruiters live. Make sure your photo exudes energy. Use content sharing and status updates to show that you’re invested in moving your industry forward.
Additions and Subtractions (and Addition by Subtraction)
39. Don’t be afraid to leave jobs off your resume
Just as you should exclude extraneous and irrelevant job duties, you should also leave jobs off your resume if they hurt your chances of moving forward in your career. A few examples of what to consider trimming:
Experience over 10 or 15 years old – Fight ageism and focus on your most recent, relevant experience… especially if you’re in tech
Odd jobs – The summer jobs you worked before your career took off or your current weekend gig that supplements your income will only distract from your core qualifications.
Short-term busts – If you started a job and quit after 2 months, it will do more harm than good on your resume.
Bad experiences – If it’s on your resume it could come up in an interview. If you really don’t want to talk about what went down, consider leaving it off completely.
40. But don’t lie
There is a line between excluding distracting information and outright lying on your resume. Resume lies like saying you have a degree when you don’t, fudging employment dates, or overstating your abilities with key technical skills could be uncovered in the interview and vetting processes. Once that happens, there’s no coming back.
Instead of lying, try patching up shortcomings in a resume summary statement or cover letter.
41. Fill employment gaps with side hustles
You don’t need a job to get to work. Add a side hustle to your resume to add new skills, fill resume gaps, and showcase an entrepreneurial spirit.
“I could have left a year’s gap on my resume,” wrote marketing exec Dina Louie about her layoff and resume gap. “Instead, I started some freelance work and my own project the month after my layoff to show I had other things I was focused on. This made a world of difference when I interviewed!”
42. Show that you’re always learning
Continuing your education shows that you’re serious about your career and adds value to your resume. This doesn’t have to mean heading back to school to get your master’s degree. There are a number of free certifications that can be added to your resume, such as Hubspot Academy’s Inbound Marketing Certification.
Wordsmithing and Resume Writing Tips
43. Use active voice and action words
Using passive voice on your resume will make you seem insecure and unwilling to take responsibility for your successes. It also tends to be needlessly wordy, using up precious real estate and making it harder for a recruiter or hiring manager to read.
Passive Voice: Over 10,000 widgets were shipped each month by the department I oversaw. Active Voice: Oversaw shipment of over 10,000 widgets per month.
Use strong resume action words (designed, eliminated, led) at the beginning of your sentences to focus your duties and accomplishments while showing off your confidence.
44. Remove “was”
To make your resume sound strong and deliberate, try removing every “was” and “were” you can. For example, “Was responsible for maintaining client relationships” can become “Maintained client relationships.” See the difference?
45. Get rid of lazy words
Lazy words and phrases such as “etc.,” “so on,” and “and more” just take up space. If there’s more relevant information to be added, add it. If there isn’t, then you can lose the filler words.
46. Go easy on the buzzwords and cliches
On a resume or in a job interview, everyone is a team player. Everyone is a go-getter who thinks outside the box. Everyone is detail-oriented and results-driven. Of course, these are desirable traits — that’s why they’ve become cliches.
Avoid empty jargon frequently used on business resumes, like synergy, best of breed, thought leadership, or dynamic. And please know that the rockstar, guru, and ninja trend started dying a few years ago.
Recruiters sometimes look at thousands of resumes per week. Whenever they see these words, they cringe.
Remove the fluff. Show, don’t tell. Find ways to show what you accomplished and how you did it.
47. List numbers numerically
This is one goes against typical writing rules. In your resume, even numbers 10 and under should be listed numerically rather than spelled out. They will stand out for a hiring manager skimming your resume, drawing attention to your resume achievements. Plus it saves space.
48. Work in your resume keywords and skills naturally
When it comes to applicant tracking systems (see resume tips 17-25), it’s important to identify keywords and then use them in your resume exactly as they appear in the job description. This leads to one of our most common questions at Jobscan:
“Changing the tense of a verb just to satisfy an ATS often creates a resume that appears sloppy to a human reader because adjacent bullet points are in different word tenses,” said Jobscan user Darren W. “I need to make the change to get past the ATS, but end up with a poor resume when presented to a reader.”
It’s possible to create an ATS-optimized resume that also reads well. Simply move the tense to a different word in the sentence. For example:
Current Phrase (Past tense)
Alternative Phrase (Past Tense)
Managed team of 15 engineers…
Brought in to manage team of 15 engineers…
Served as manager for team of 15 engineers…
Tasked with managing team of 15 engineers…
Excelled in management role over team of 15 engineers…
If you’re applying for a Social Media Coordinator position and you know social media is the most important skill for the applicant tracking system ranking algorithm, you might fall into this keyword over-optimization trap:
“Led social media marketing efforts which included writing social media content and using social media management platform Hootsuite to schedule social media posts on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks.”
This will do more harm than good. Seed in keywords as much as you can while still sounding relatively natural. Read it out loud.
Also, try to mix up your action verbs. This can be easier said than done. If you were in a writing position, for example, the most natural action word is going to write/wrote. “Wrote blog posts. Wrote press releases. Wrote social media content. Wrote marketing copy. Wrote white papers…” Finding ways to mix up your sentences or bullet points will make your resume more compelling for the reader.
50. Proofread and triple-check
Spell check is not enough! Spell check won’t always catch the times you repeat words, or when your typos spell other words.
Quickly reading back through your resume won’t cut it either. Your brain knows what you meant to say and will swear to you that you got it right. When applying for an important job:
Reread your resume after stepping away for a couple hours
Don’t just peruse the job boards and apply for the jobs that catch your eye. Create an account on those sites and upload your resume so that you can be found by recruiters. This may open up job opportunities you didn’t even know were available.
Some sites where you can upload your resume for recruiter search include Indeed, Glassdoor, Monster, The Ladders, AngelList, and many more. Keep an eye out for sites specific to your field.
52. LinkedIn isn’t your online resume
Many job seekers believe that LinkedIn is just their online resume. They paste their resume info into their profile and only come back to update it when they have a new job.
There are a number of ways that LinkedIn goes beyond the digital resume:
Room to work with – On a resume, less is more. On LinkedIn, more is more. Still, strive to make your profile sections easy to read, but feel free to push the word counts to their limits. Your LinkedIn profile can paint a clearer picture of what you’ve done and what you can do than your one-page resume.
Show of some personality – Since LinkedIn is a social media network, there is more leeway to inject personality into your work profile. Write a quippy LinkedIn headline. Tell your career story in your summary section. Inject some industry commentary into your profile or through status updates.
Network – LinkedIn allows you to interact with thousands of professionals relevant to your career path and interests. Build a targeted LinkedIn network of past colleagues, industry peers, recruiters, and target-company decision makers.
Gosh, they seem obvious after a while but no one actually gives you these tips in school.
1. Know when to use “Reply all” and “Bcc”
Seriously, no one sits anyone down and tells them:
LOOK. If you are going to send out an email to a large number of people, put all of their emails in Bcc so that 1) No one takes those emails and uses it as their own personal mailing list and 2) So that when people hit reply, the replies only go to you and whichever hosts you also put in TO: line.
BUT if you are on a big email where everyone’s addresses show up, don’t hit “Reply all” when your response is only intended for the sender. Everyone will hate you.
And I did all these things wrong, and YES, people did hate me.
2. Take notes
Bring notebook and pen with you everywhere.
At my first corporate job, my boss asked me, “Do you even want to be here?” I was confused and mortified – I thought I was doing a good job! She said that I looked bored in all the meetings, and recommended I bring a notebook and take notes. Such a simple solution! I wasn’t doing or saying anything in the meeting because I was so new, but I also was not actively listening and gathering information by taking notes.
This led me to understand what was going on in the meeting better (I was able to review the notes with my manager after) and people perceived me as more engaged.
This does not end when you are experienced, take notes always! I never go anywhere without my notebook.
3. Don’t send apologetic/wordy emails to executives who you are intimidated by
It makes you look not confident and inexperienced.
I have some example emails here in this video of what to do, and what NOT to do!
Skip the preamble. Delete everywhere you write the word “just,” “very,” and any other language where you apologize.
I use the “Just not Sorry” Gmail plugin that underlines weak language in my emails, check it out!
4. Ask tons of questions — This is the most crucial advice EVER!
When you get assignments, your manager will think that they have explained everything clearly, but they always leave out key details that they assume are obvious. But since you are new, it is not obvious at all so you have to ask questions to make sure you have all the information you need.
I have so many epic fail stories on this, here is one:
I was asked to edit and email out contracts to people in the company. It seemed super simple, so didn’t ask for more details. My boss came back to me later and was frustrated – I had sent word documents to hundreds of people when it was supposed to be PDFs so that they can’t edit the content of the contract.
Whose fault is that? Mine. I should have asked more questions.
Speak up if you are confused — you are going to screw things up, come off as lazy, etc … The problem won’t be the manager, it will be you
Don’t know what questions to ask? Make sure you understand exactly WHY the task is important. More context means you’ll make more accurate decisions.
You can watch a video here I made that gives you more questions to ask.
This seems silly for small tasks but is actually hugely important. Always understand the full picture of what your work contributes to or else you WILL screw it up.
5. Write handwritten cards
When I left my last job I wrote over 100 individualized handwritten notes to my coworkers. Yes, it took lots of hours, but these people were a huge part of my life, and it meant so much to them to be thought of.
Next time someone does a good job — leads a project, plans an epic event … leave a note on their desk instead of giving them a high five or a congrats email. I bet you they hold onto it for a long time!
There are so many ways to avoid cringe-worthy situations at your first corporate job, and one is to watch my YouTube Channel Self Made Millennial. I post every week check it out!
According to a recent study of 1,000 respondents, one in three employers admit that they would be ‘less likely’ to hire a transgender candidate.
A further 47 percent admitted they would be unsure about hiring a potential trans employee, whereas an enormous 88 percent claimed they have no trans-inclusive workplace policy.
The study, conducted by employment law firm Crossland Employment Solicitors, was conceived to find out whether or not employers understand the current laws protecting trans people. Incidentally, the Equalities Act 2010 only safeguards the rights of trans employees if they propose to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone medical gender-reassignment treatment – which, of course, not all trans people choose to (or can afford to) do.
77 percent of employers gave incorrect answers when asked about existing legislation, with one in three thinking all trans people were legally protected against discrimination. Only 9 percent stated that the scope of this current law should be expanded.
“Unfortunately, these findings are not shocking,” says Louis Stafford, Trans Programme Coordinator at LGBT Foundation.
[These statistics] reflect the experiences and testimonies of our service users and the communities we work with, and we welcome this important research.
Everyday transphobia is still a real issue in workplaces across the UK, and we have a lot of work to do before trans people can achieve equality in the workplace.
The findings also show that the bulk of employers don’t have any protections in place to accommodate for trans workers, with only 12 percent taking a zero-tolerance approach to transphobic bullying and harassment.
Incidentally, Stonewall’s recent Work Report showed that 12 percent of trans respondents had been physically attacked by either customers or colleagues because of their gender identity. 33 percent reported verbal abuse.
Susie Green, CEO of leading LGBT+ charity Mermaids, states that these findings highlight the need for strong policies around equality and diversity, as well as ‘sensitivity and awareness-raising training.’
Transgender people suffer daily from discrimination and prejudice for simply being.
This is the last bastion of acceptable prejudice, with sound bites ridiculing trans people still, unfortunately, commonplace.
Targeting the vulnerable from a position of privilege is shameful, and has to stop.
Like Stafford, she claims that the statistics cited correlate with the anecdotal stories she hears when working with trans and gender non-conforming victims of bullying and abuse.
Many opt to live in stealth, not disclosing their transgender status for fear that it will impact on their ability to find work.
Strong policies around equality and diversity are needed, alongside sensitivity and awareness raising training within companies and organizations. Transgender people suffer daily from discrimination and prejudice for simply being. This is the last bastion of acceptable prejudice with sound bites ridiculing trans people still, unfortunately, commonplace. Targeting the vulnerable from a position of privilege is shameful, and has to stop.
As an author, advocate and former teacher, Juno Roche – who this year released her debut book, ‘Queer Sex‘ – knows that visibility can come with abuse. Now, she uses her own experience to mentor others forced to struggle through daily harassment in hostile work environments.
I have been mentoring a couple of trans people recently, all of whom have been really struggling with huge issues in their respective workplaces.
These issues could be partially solved by simple, meaningful and inclusive best practice aims and policy.
Roche is quick to highlight that, despite the rising visibility of some trans authors, activists and television personalities, there’s still a way to go:
Until the trans and non-binary community, in its broadest sense, can feel safe and secure in work, we will not have equality – no matter how many of us have our books published, or host our own television shows.
Safe, secure and discrimination-free employment is the ultimate marker of a community’s unfettered access to the rights that others can often take for granted.
When a hiring manager asks you to work for free as part of the interview process, these are 4 ways to respond.
The interview process has changed dramatically in the last decade. Companies are spending millions of dollars trying to improve how they hire. Why? The cost of turnover is huge. Some estimate when a person quits or needs to be fired, it costs the employer 120-170 percent of the employee’s salary. The higher the position, the bigger the salary, and, the bigger the financial loss if the employee doesn’t work out. This has led some employers to want to “try before they buy.”
SOME HIRING MANAGERS ARE SEEKING NEW IDEAS FREE OF CHARGE
More and more job seekers have told me stories of employers asking them to do assignments, projects, and presentations as part of the interview process. These aren’t simple 30-minute exercises. One job seeker told me she spent over 40 hours working on a project. She then had to present it to a panel of 12 employees over the course of two hours. The result? Not only did they not give her the job, she heard through a mutual colleague they didn’t hire anyone but were using her ideas. And, while this (I hope) is not the norm, it does seem to be a growing trend.
If a company asks you to do some work as a way to evaluate you, I wouldn’t say “no.” The reality is, there are plenty of other candidates willing to do the work to land the job. You’re a business-of-one trying to sell your services to the employer. Doing some work is a way to show them your competence. That said, here are my tips for making sure you don’t get taken advantage of.
1. ASK THEM HOW MUCH TIME THEY FEEL THIS PROJECT SHOULD TAKE YOU TO COMPLETE.
Some companies don’t realize what they’re asking when they assign you a project. By inquiring how much time they think you should spend on this, you can clarify and say if necessary, “You think this should take 4 hours, but if I do a thorough job this will more likely take 20.” You may learn what they’re asking for is not nearly as detailed as you are thinking it should be. Or, they’ll learn they’re asking for more work than is reasonable. Either way, the goal is to get on the same page regarding expectations.
2. ASK THEM HOW THEY WILL USE THIS INFORMATION IN THE EVENT YOU AREN’T CHOSEN FOR THE JOB.
If you say politely, “I’m happy and excited to do this project because I think it’s a great way to show you my capabilities and passion for the company. That said, I’m curious how my work will be used in the event I’m not selected for the role? I would be disappointed if the company incorporated my ideas but didn’t hire me.” By asking this you are making it clear, in a nice way, that they are asking a lot of you and that you hope they will be respectful of your intellectual property if they don’t hire you.
3. DO ONLY A PARTIAL “DEEP DIVE” TO PROVE COMPETENCY.
Find a part of the project where you can get really detailed and prove you know your stuff. Then, for the rest of the project, give them a more 30,000-foot view and say, “If hired, I would go deeper on all these other aspects like I did for the first one.” This allows you to properly showcase your abilities without given all your knowledge and expertise away.
4. CREATE PDF FILES AND PUT YOUR NAME ON EVERY PAGE.
Don’t give them any documents they could easily change and make their own. Label everything with your name and the date too. This sends a message that it’s your intellectual property and creates at least a little bit of a barrier to stealing it.
P.S. – CONSIDER PLAYING THE LONG GAME HERE…
Any time you get asked to do work as part of the interview process, take a good moment to evaluate how much you’re willing to do to get the job. If the company isn’t on your bucket list, is it worth it? At the same time, doing the exercise allows you to flex your intellectual muscles which is always helpful for our careers. Only you can decide whether you want the job badly enough that you will put in a lot of hours and still possibly not get hired. That said, getting to know the company and investing time and energy into a relationship with them now could help you get hired there in the future. While they may not choose you for this job, they could choose you for the next one. Coming in second this time could help you come in first the next!
Applying to jobs can be a full-time job itself. It’s especially taxing if you’re already working. When do you have time to fill out job application after job application? After work, maybe. Before lunch, if you’re especially committed. But, here’s the thing: they’re the absolute worst times to apply for a job.
We’re always looking for ways to make the job search easier. While looking through our latest data, we discovered this nugget: Applying to a job before 10 am can increase your odds of getting an interview by 5x.
We analyzed a subsample of 1,610 job applications (that were sent at random application times) to see how much time of day affects your likelihood of scoring an interview. Here’s what we found:
The best time to apply for a job is between 6 am and 10 am. During this time, you have a 13% chance of getting an interview.
After that morning window, your interview odds start falling by 10% every 30 minutes. If you’re late, you’re going to pay dearly.
There’s a brief reprieve during lunchtime, where your odds climb back up to 11% at around 12:30 pm but then start falling precipitously again.
The single-worst time to apply for a job is after work — if you apply at 7:30 pm, you have less than a 3% chance of getting an interview. You’re fighting another clock here (the number of days a job has been posted) but, at this point, it’s better to save your email until the next morning.
One really important (but subtle) aspect above: You have to send the application during the morning of the employer’s timezone. If you don’t manage against the employer’s timezone, the effect disappears.
What’s the big deal about morning and lunch? Well, there’s one really intriguing insight into what might be happening here…
A few years ago, a group of scientists from Princeton published a stunning discovery about bias in the judicial system. This wasn’t about money, sexism, racism — no, nothing like that. Instead, it was about coffee breaks. Seriously. (Here’s the original paper.)
In short, if your parole hearing was scheduled after a judge got her coffee break, you had a 65% chance of getting parole. (That is, if you were lucky enough or if your lawyer was smart enough or if you were rich enough.) If you were scheduled right before the break, you had a near-zero chance of getting parole.
How do parole hearings relate to the job search? Well, just that there are two nameless, faceless committees of people who can change your life with the stroke of a pen…
I’ll let you connect the dots.
So much of life feels random and out of our control — applying for a job, for one. But really, when something feels random, it usually means that there’s something we don’t understand. When you discover what that is and start to understand it, you can begin the process of taking back control.
What does all of this mean? When you combine this with the last post in our series, there are already two big things that you can do to take back control in your job search:
Apply to jobs in the first 3-4 days of a job posting; and,
Apply to jobs before 10 am (in the employer’s timezone).
There’s both an art and a science to the job search — in combination, just these two optimizations can (scientifically) increase your odds of getting a job by nearly 40x.
Are you looking for a job? If so, try ApplicationAssistant. In addition to your job applications being submitted before 10 am, we also make sure your job is applied to in the first few days and that every other optimization is also followed — you’ll automatically get the benefits of everything we know about the job search.
EDIT 1: Holy smokes, Batman — this went viral. Reddit reports 25,000+ people in ~4 hours and it’s accelerating fast. As I’m not able to reply to all the requests personally or get ahead of the comment wave, I wanted to clarify a few things about methodology:
This is a randomized controlled trial and so accounts for correlation vs. causation. Specifically, these are semi-automated job applications that TalentWorks submitted on behalf of our ApplicationAssistant users.
Job applications were randomly sequenced (and submitted) by our systems without regard to users’ qualifications, personality, experience, resume, etc. There is no correlation between application time and user traits.
We’re incorporating this study’s insights into ApplicationAssistant to make sure our users have the best, most optimized application possible.
This will inhibit our ability to do an analysis like this in the future, but our #1 mission is to help people get the job they deserve and that’s more important.
This subsample of 1,610 job applications covers users across a wide cross-section of experiences, roles, and industries.
There are 30 distinct industries and roles represented in this subsample including sales, writing, software engineering and project management.
Work experience ranged from 0 years to 26 years, with an average of 6.7 years of experience per user.