Optimize Your Resume for Your Job Search

Are you happy in your job? The likelihood is that you’re not. In fact, a recent study showed that close to 60% of people do not feel they’re in a good job. And those are the people who are out there seeking something different.

If you’re currently looking for a new position, one of the most important tools in your arsenal is a great resume. But when was the last time you wrote or updated your resume? Is it ready for the digital job search? If not, here are some of the top tips to optimize your resume so you can see results.

Make It ATS Ready

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are widely used by employers today. If you apply online through a job-search site, your resume is probably being uploaded into an ATS. Even if you email a resume directly to a person, there’s a good chance they’re entering it into an ATS as well. Employers use ATS to help them weed through the mass of resumes they receive. The idea is to make their job of completing that initial resume review more efficient. But there’s a problem:

Applicant tracking systems can create a resume black hole for job seekers.

This is how it typically works:

  • You apply for a job using an online platform.
  • That resume-along with everyone else’s-gets downloaded into the employer’s ATS.
  • An HR rep, or the hiring manager, pulls up the ATS and types in the keywords they want on a resume.
  • They might pull the first 10–15 resumes that pop up with those keywords, at which time they complete a visual review.

The deck is stacked against you when it comes to applying online. And since that is the preferred method by seemingly 99% of employers as we enter 2020, you must ensure that you optimize your resume for ATS.

These are the steps to take:

1. Remove Formatting and Colors

While some of the newer ATS can scan images, text boxes, tables, and graphs, many of them cannot. This is definitely a case where you want to be in line with the lowest common denominator.

If you have any colors or specific formatting (other than bolding or underlining), to optimize your resume for ATS, remove that.

The only exception is the header on the second page. Typically, ATS cannot read headers, but you want your name and contact information to be on the second page. To remedy this, put your contact information in the body of the document on the first page and add it in the header on the second. That way, it’s still there for a visual check and when printed, but it won’t muddy the waters when it’s scanned (which often messes up the format anyway).

2. Choose Simple Fonts

When it comes to creating an ATS-ready resume, fonts do matter. The most accepted font these days is Calibri, which is the default on MS Word. Start with a 12-point font, and never go smaller than 11.

Keep your margins at 1" when possible. Need more space? Move down to .75" or, if really needed, .5". The rule of thumb is to fill at least half of the second page, if you have enough to warrant two pages. Otherwise, adjust margins and font size to get everything to fit on one page.

3. Use a Clean, Chronological Layout

Functional resumes are awesome-and appropriate-for many job seekers. Unfortunately, though, they are not a good choice to optimize your resume for online job searches. For that, you will need a chronological approach.

Even if functional is the best choice for your visual resume, create a simple chronological format to use when applying online. Then you can follow up with the functional format to better market you. After all, the job search is all about marketing.

Put Your Contact Information Up Front and Center

In addition to making your resume ATS compliant, you need to include a few other “must haves” on the document. Your first step to optimize your resume is to add your name and contact information up front and center.

You may think this is a no-brainer, but you might also be surprised by how many people have their name at the top and contact information at the bottom or hidden in a side paragraph. Make it easy for people. If they have to guess who you are and how to contact you, they’re going to move on to the next candidate pretty quickly.

Tips to optimize your resume’s contact information:

  • Make your name a bit larger than the rest of the document. Try 16- or 20-point font. Also, bold your name so it stands out.
  • Include just one phone number. While you may have a landline still, your mobile phone is likely the best way to reach you. Only label your number if it is not local, and you want the reader to know it’s a mobile number.
  • Omit your street address. If you live in a sprawling metropolis that takes 45–60 minutes to drive across, you may just want to put the name of the metropolis, as opposed to your town. Employers may make snap judgments on if you’ll drive, so avoid that possibility.
  • Include your professional email address. Google is the preferred domain these days, although you would be fine with me.com, outlook.com, yahoo.com, or your local internet provider. If you have an aol.com address, it’s time to update it. Employers read AOL and assume that you are old. Do not use a work email or some cutesy name; stick to something like first_last@gmail.com.
  • Use your LinkedIn URL. LinkedIn is not only the #1 way employers are looking for new hires, it’s also a great way to showcase your work portfolio and recommendations. Your resume is limited to a page or two, but LinkedIn has flexibility. Only include this if you have a vanity URL and your profile is complete and adds value to your search.

Add a Concise, Clear Title

Just as someone walking through the aisles of the library or Barnes & Noble judges books by their covers, employers judge your resume by the title. If you don’t say who you are, how can a reader know if you’re a fit for their needs?

For those of you who have been in the workforce for a decade or more, you probably remember objectives. They read something like: “To obtain a position in which….” Unfortunately, objectives don’t add much value to the employer, and they really don’t say much anyway.

Sum Up Why You’re the Perfect Candidate

Back in the day, a resume started with a section called “Highlights of Qualifications.” Today, if you want to optimize your resume, it needs to have a summary. This is where you answer the question, “Why should I hire you?” It’s not fluff; it’s concrete evidence of your ability to add value.

Be Abundant with Keywords

For your resume to even be seen by ATS, it must have keywords. There’s just no way around it. Some job seekers may choose to add keywords throughout the resume, which is one option. Most professional resume writers will add a keywords section as part of the summary. It may be referred to as core competencies.

The benefits of adding a section just for keywords is twofold:

  1. When you optimize your resume for each new position, you only have to address the top sections: summary and keywords.
  2. Visually, an employer can get a great snapshot of what you bring to the conversation by skimming over your summary and keywords.

Lay Out Your Job Experience

While much of your resume is about marketing, your job experience is the foundation of your value proposition. There’s not a whole lot of marketing here; it’s more nuts and bolts. Can you do the job? For an ATS-optimized resume, positions should be listed in reverse chronological order. Typically, the overall job scope will be shared in a brief paragraph, no more than 3–5 sentences.

Shy away from bulleting your experience as bullets should be reserved for accomplishments. Think of a bullet as a punch: You only want to punch someone when you have something important to say.

Sprinkle in Results-focused Accomplishments

Not only will this step optimize your resume, but it will also differentiate you from the competition. Too many job seekers are using old-school resumes that focus more on their skills and what they have done and less on what they can do. When you paint a picture of the way you’ve added value through making money, saving money, improving processes, or making people happy, you really differentiate yourself as a top-level candidate.

Definitely bullet your accomplishments, and be sure you lead with the result. “Increased revenue 25% through a focused outreach program” is much more impactful than “Developed a focused outreach program that resulted in a 25% revenue increase.”

Do You Need to Optimize Your Resume?

After hearing of all the ways you can optimize your resume, is yours ready? Could you apply with what you have now and see results? Maybe. Maybe not. But you won’t know until you ask.

Ink & Quill Communications has been working with job seekers to write interview-getting resumes since 1996. We love empowering job seekers by showcasing their true value proposition and talents on paper. Ready to see if your resume has what it takes to get noticed? Email it to hello@iq-communications.com for a free review.




Candidate Experience Manager with Blue Signal Search, on a mission to empower and educate job seekers to find their dream jobs.

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Amanda Miller

Amanda Miller

Candidate Experience Manager with Blue Signal Search, on a mission to empower and educate job seekers to find their dream jobs.

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