How to Write a Resume Computers Will Notice


Growing up, your parents may have told you getting a job was simple. You may have heard that asking to speak to the manager of a local business and giving them a firm handshake was what would be required. That may have been true at one time. But these days? You have to face background checks and drug tests. Applications and other materials have to be polished and primed. And if you don’t know how to write a resume that will get past automation software, don’t expect many calls for interviews.

In today’s job market, your resume needs to be tailored. But not just tailored to match the job description. Your resume needs to be tailored specifically to beat filters. That begs the question: How to write a resume that shows you’re the perfect fit and also beats the computers? It’s tricky, but it can be done. First, you’ll need to take a lesson from Sun Tzu, the philosopher, general, and strategist behind The Art of War. That lesson? Know your enemy. Or, in this case, research and get an idea of what you’re up against. To beat the computer, you need to know what it’s looking for.

Beat the Computers

The objective of screening software (or applicant tracking systems, ATS) is to weed people out. Essentially, it acts as the first barrier to separate the wheat from the chaff — or, the qualified from the unqualified. It’s designed to save on costs and act as an artificial intelligence. Instead of paying a human to sort resumes by hand, companies use an ATS at the initial stage to quickly and efficiently winnow the candidate pool.

Given that the average human recruiter only looks at a resume for six seconds, it’s hard to say whether your odds improve with an actual person calling the shots.

So, your goal is to hurdle that initial barrier. To do so, you need to know what the computer is looking for.

If you’ve spent any amount of time writing or working with computers before, you know that a few things are key. First, brevity and simplicity. If you were going to search Google, for example, you’d do so with as few words as possible. You’re looking for hits on keywords or phrases to get the best results. The same is true with an ATS.

You’ll also want to keep things relatively simple. It’s a computer you’re trying to impress. That computer breaks everything down to 1s and 0s, which is about as simple as it gets. Also, aim for density. You want the text to be brief, simple, and packed with relevant information.

Using that as a starting point, you can piece things together.

How to Write a Resume: A Primer


Formatting means the basic layout of your resume. Again, because you’re trying to exploit a machine’s weaknesses, you need to make it easy for the machine to read. When it comes to formatting, that means keeping things conservative and simple. Do away with objective statements or professional summaries — they’re only muddying the waters.

Aim for a straightforward resume, in the traditional style. That should include your personal information at the top, your relevant work experience and history, education, and your relevant skills.


Keywords are incredibly important. The ATS is looking for certain words and phrases in your text, so make sure they’re there. Use basic SEO principles, and make sure that you’re using the job description as a guide. If the job description mentions teamwork and communication skills, then you need to mention your teamwork and communication skills. Tailor your writing to match what the employer has laid out. Don’t lie, of course, but do your best.

Don’t go overboard with keywords, however. If your resume is unreadable because it’s stuffed with keywords and phrases, the system will know it’s being cheated.

Watch for Mistakes

Finally, make sure your finished document is mistake-free. Use spellcheckers and tools like to point out any glaring problems. This is when you actually get to use the computers for your own benefit. If your resume is filled with grammar and spelling mistakes, the ATS is probably going to get jammed up. It’s not going to recognize misspelled words, and think you’re spouting nonsense. And just like a human screener, it’ll probably send your resume to the recycle bin.

This article originally appeared on The Cheat Sheet.

[Editor’s note: Many employers look at a version of your credit report as part of the application process, so it’s a good idea to know what’s in them and to dispute any errors that may be weighing you down. You can see your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on]

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Didn’t Get the Job? 3 Things You Can Do to Change the Interviewer’s Mind

There are some steps you can take that could either change the interviewer’s mind or lead to another opportunity. Here are three things you can do.

After months of searching for jobs, your dream company called you in for an interview. Your resume was flawless, you wore your best interview attire, and you confidently headed to Dreamy Company to meet the hiring team. Things went well. The interviewers laughed. You successfully answered every tough question, and you even got to meet your future co-workers. Things couldn’t have gone better.

After one week, you finally hear back from the hiring manager. This is it; it’s the email you’ve been waiting for. As you click open the message, your heart sinks. Much to your dismay, the first sentence starts with, “We regret to inform you …” and that’s when you know you didn’t get the job.

But all is not lost. There are some steps you can take that could either change the interviewer’s mind or lead to another opportunity. Here are three things you can do.

1. Ask for Feedback

How you respond to rejection is everything. You may be tempted to ignore the rejection email and move on with your job search. Or you may surrender to the temptation to give the hiring manager a piece of your mind. However, if you still want to work for the employer, respond kindly with a request for feedback. Rather than expressing your disappointment or getting angry, put your pride aside, try to sincerely gain an understanding of what went wrong and learn how you may be able to improve. Start by thanking the interviewer for their time and reaffirming your desire to work for the company. Then ask if there is any way you can improve your candidacy for similar positions in the future.

Career expert and former recruiter Jaime Petkanics said responding to a rejection email and asking for feedback can be a smart way to leave the door open. You never know when a position you’d be a great fit for will become available. Your positive attitude will leave a good impression and keep you top of mind.

“I’ve turned down plenty of people in my career as a recruiter because the job fit wasn’t quite right – even when the company fit is very much there,” according to Petkanics. “I have gone back to many of them at future dates to talk about new roles that were a better fit and in lots of cases have hired them. In case that is an option, you want to keep that relationship intact. It’s also a great idea to express that you’d still like to be considered for future roles if something comes up.”

2. Ask for a Chance to Join a Training Program or Apply for an Internship

Another way you can get your foot in the door at your dream company is to show that you’re willing to learn. A positive attitude is another trait hiring managers seek. A whopping 73% of managers in a CareerBuilder survey said this soft skill was also very important when it came to identifying a good company match. Some companies host training programs for entry-level employees and career changers looking to break into a particular field. Show how positive and motivated you are by asking if the company has a training program. If they do, ask how you can be part of it. If a training program does not exist at the company, inquire about an internship (if you can afford to take a pay cut). If you’re determined to become their employee, now is the time to be flexible and a little creative. You never know, your determination may just change the hiring manager’s mind.

3. Follow Up on a Question You Didn’t Answer Well

If you haven’t heard back from that dream company yet, you want to prepare for future options, or you know they haven’t filled the position yet (despite sending a rejection letter your way), there’s something else you can try. If you know you completely flubbed an answer to an important interview question, there are no rules against sending a follow-up email with a better answer. This is your chance to give yourself a do-over before the hiring manager makes a decision.

Following up and taking another stab at the question shows not only that you are serious about the job but also that you are the type of person who doesn’t give up easily. Motivation is a personality trait many employers are looking for when it comes time to hire new employees. Roughly 66% of employers in the CareerBuilder survey said motivation is an essential soft skill. So just by following up to revise your question, you’ve shown a positive trait that might turn things around in your favor.

[Editor’s Note: It’s important to remember that many organizations review a version of your credit report as part of the application process. To help you be informed of where your credit currently stands, you can take a look at a snapshot of your credit report for free, updated every 14 days, on]

This article originally appeared on The Cheat Sheet.

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Going on a Job Interview? These 5 Signs Could Mean You’re Getting Hired


The job interview went well — or at least you think it did. You were cool and confident, answering questions with ease and projecting a friendly, professional demeanor. At this point, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get hired, right?

Not so fast. You might think the job interview went well, or you might think it was a bust, but unless you’re paying attention to how your interviewer behaved, you could be making all the wrong assumptions about your chances. Employers often give subtle clues as to how they feel about you during an interview. Sometimes, those indicators — such as an ultra-short interview or lack of follow-up questions — are a sign you’re not making the grade. Others, like positive body language and relaxed chitchat, suggest you’re making a positive impression.

Being able to read an interviewer can give you a lot of insight into your ultimate chances of getting a job, but it’s not foolproof. As with most other things in life, there are no guarantees when it comes to job searching. You could have wowed the interviewer, but budget cuts or other issues might cause a company to put a hold on hiring, or a more impressive candidate could have walked in the door right after you.

For those reasons, job searchers should temper their expectations, even when they receive positive feedback from interviewers, according to HR expert Alison Green.

“Even if the interviewer says, ‘You’re just what we’re looking for,’ or, ‘We’re so excited to have found you,’ or, ‘I can’t wait to have you start,'” you may not get the offer, she wrote on the blog Ask a Manager. “[T]hings change — better candidates appear, budgets get frozen, an internal candidate emerges, the position is restructured and you’re not longer the right fit for it, a different decision-maker likes someone else better, one of your references is wonky and makes them gun-shy, or all kinds of other possibilities.”

Nonetheless, some things employers say during job interviews can generally be taken as positive signs. If these five things happen, there’s a reasonable chance you’re going to get hired, or at least move on to the next step in the screening process.

1. You’re Asked for References

At most companies, checking references is the final step in the hiring process. They’ve already decided they want to hire you, but they want to do their due diligence before making it official. If your interviewer ends your conversation with a request for references, it’s a good sign. But know that some employers might ask for references as a matter of course, so being invited to hand over email addresses for your former bosses isn’t a guarantee an offer is forthcoming.

“Generally a request for references is a good sign,” Lars Schmidt, founder of Amplify Talent, told HR Bartender. “Most organizations only ask if you’ve passed the initial interview vetting, and they view your candidacy positively. It’s not a guarantee of offer, but it’s an indication they’re feeling favorable enough about your potential to get more insight.”

2. You’re Asked to Stay Longer

When a 30-minute interview stretches to an hour, things are looking up for your job prospects. A longer interview can signal the employer is interested in getting to know you and learning more about your experience. On the other hand, a very short interview is often a red flag.

“Nine times out of ten, if the interview time was a lot less than the actual time allocated — you haven’t got the job,” according to a post recruiter Rebekah Shields wrote on LinkedIn. “They have made their mind up quickly and do not want to go into any more depth into the job or with you.”

3. You’re Introduced to the Team

When a one-on-one interview turns into a meet-and-greet with the rest of the office, you may already have a foot in the door. At this point, you’ve probably proved you have what it takes to do the job. Now, your interviewer wants to introduce you to potential co-workers so you can both make sure the position is a good culture and personality fit. But pay attention to the nature of the tour you’re given. A general spin around the office is more likely to be standard interviewing procedure, while introductions to key players may be a sign you’re seen as something special.

“When hiring managers are keenly interested in you, they oftentimes want to get the opinions of others,” Lynn Taylor, a workplace expert and author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant,” told Business Insider. “That may include their peers, their bosses, and your peers.”

4. You’re Asked About Other Possibilities

If a company is really interested in hiring you, they want to make sure they’re not going to lose you to another employer. When your interviewer asks about whether you’re interviewing other places, what your timeline is for making a decision about your next career move or if you have an offer on the table, they’re trying to figure out how quickly they need to act before you get away.

“They’re getting an idea of how active you are in the interview process,” Devony Coley, senior consultant for recruiting firm WinterWyman, told Fast Company. “Are you starting your search? Testing the waters? Or do you have other solid opportunities? This question helps them know if they need to step up their hiring pace so they don’t lose you.”

5. The Timeline Is Specific

When an interviewer says “we still have a few more candidates to interview” or “we’ll be in touch soon,” it’s hard to know for certain where you stand. The employer is being vague or noncommittal, either for reasons of politeness or because they’d prefer to keep their options open. When someone gives you a firm date for when they hope to make a hiring decision, like “we’ll get back to you on Thursday,” that can be seen as a good sign.

“If an interviewer is interested in a candidate, they may even ask when you’d like to or need to have their decision by,” Bryan Brulotte, president of MaxSys Consulting & Staffing, wrote on LinkedIn. “They won’t let you leave without knowing what your timeline looks like.”

[Editor’s Note: It’s important to remember that some employers review a version of your credit reports as part of the application process. Because of this, it’s a good idea to find out where your credit stands ahead of time so you have an idea of what they might see. You can see a free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on]

This article originally appeared on The Cheat Sheet.

Image: SIphotography

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The One Skill You Need to Master to Get Ahead At Work


It’s time to stop the witch hunt against small talk. Many people believe the chitchat around the water cooler is pointless babble, but in fact it can be vital to achieving your career goals. Research is showing that the first impressions you make in a job interview — often with those exchanges about the weather or the office space — can be extremely important for the interview’s success.

You might not think it’s that important to be able to talk to a co-worker or potential client about their hobbies, sports interests or how they got to where they are in their career. And while the topics themselves might not be earth-shattering, the conversation itself is incredibly important, many career experts say.

“The communication of ideas or information is secondary, almost incidental; the speech is mainly meant to serve the purpose of social bonding,” David Roberts, Vox columnist and self-proclaimed failure at small talk, wrote in July.

In a nutshell, the reason so many people likely claim that they don’t like small talk is because they believe they’re not good at it. I shy away from small talk at all costs. I’d much rather be in a coffee shop having an in-depth conversation with one good friend than face a conference room of professionals for “networking.” Blech. However, think about how those close relationships you have with confidants and colleagues formed in the first place. In all likelihood, it was with a conversation about the weather. Or your mutual love for sweet potato tots at the bar, or your undying devotion for the Chicago Cubs (and will they actually have a shot at the pennant this year?)

The truth is, almost every good relationship you have formed in the nascent stage of small talk. And if you want to succeed in your job, you’re most likely going to need to rely on it for years to come. Still think it’s the worst thing since spam emails? Here are a few ideas that might change your perspective, and may even make you a small talk master in no time.

1. Think of Small Talk as a Skill

Chances are, you’ve trained for several years to be good at your job. And if you’re hoping to advance, you’re still looking for ways to improve your skill set. It’s becoming more apparent that employers value soft skills almost as much — if not more — than your ability to make a spreadsheet or close a sale. Guess what? Small talk is a soft skill — which means it is possible to make it less cringe-worthy than when you aren’t prepared and your mind is racing with thoughts of, “What do I say? How do I connect with this person? Where’s the nearest exit?”

The reality is, people like to work with others they already have something in common with. The easiest way to find common ground with potential clients or colleagues is through small talk.

“Small talk is the appetizer for any relationship,” Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk, told Fast Company. “A good networker is looking to foster relationships and build a community never knowing how that contact can help now or in the future.”

2. Start Simple

Like most skills, you start with the basics. On his blog, personal finance adviser Ramit Sethi gives some incredibly easy ways to begin, including, “Hi. How is your morning going?” and “Hi. I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Ramit.” He also suggests noticing how easy and ordinary the openings are.

“The truth is, we’re not searching for magic words. We’re simply looking for a way to connect and build rapport,” he wrote.

By now you probably realize that small talk is the social currency of success at work. But that doesn’t mean you should put a ton of pressure on yourself — or those conversations — in order to see results. In fact, having lowered expectations about those types of conversations will make you more relaxed. As a result, you’re more likely to be enjoyable to be around. Ironically, those lowered expectations might in turn lead to a better conversation.

“If you come to cocktail hour hoping for nothing more than a good restaurant or book recommendation, you can relax and enjoy yourself, and be pleasantly surprised by anything else that happens,” according to a Fast Company article.

3. Practice in Low-Stress Situations

Confidence is key in many work situations, and pulling off engaging small talk is no different. This might be the downfall of introverts like myself: I don’t believe people would want to talk to me in the first place, let alone discuss anything I might ask. However, it’s time to move past that line of thought. “The hardest part isn’t having something to say. It’s having the confidence to actually do it,” Sethi advised.

To build that confidence, Sethi suggests practicing your small talk skills in low-key environments, such as with your coffee barista or the clerk at the grocery store. Ask a light question or two (like about their job role, their preferred drink order, etc.) and make sure you’re listening to their responses. Ask follow-up questions while they ring up your order. Violà! You’ve succeeded at small talk.

If you’re going into a networking event or other situation where small talk is guaranteed, Fine suggests practicing your answer to “How are you?” with interesting anecdotes or at least something more engaging than, “Fine, how are you?”

4. Have a Purpose

When you are ready to give successful small talk a try, go into it with a general purpose — or at least a positive outlook, Forbes contributor Christina Park suggests. “Thoughts tend to be self-fulfilling. If you approach small talk with the belief that it will be dull and pointless, it probably will,” she wrote. Focus on the benefits, and have a few general questions in mind.

Introverts are classically known to avoid and/or hate small talk like the plague. But those same people are often fantastic listeners, and also tend to be curious. Use those traits to your advantage, Park writes, by listening carefully to someone’s answers and following up with thoughtful questions. If you’re genuinely curious about something, this will be much easier. The added benefit of asking those extra questions is that the spotlight will stay on the other person, but you’ll also give the impression that you genuinely care about what they have to say. Going forward, this will only help to improve a potential working relationship — whether it’s a co-worker, boss or client.

In addition, think of topics you’re already comfortable with and know something about, Sue Thompson, a personality and business etiquette training expert, suggests.

“Use a three-month rule: Start with topics on which you can generate conversation having to do with something you’ve done in the past three months or are planning to do in the next three months,” Thompson told CNN. You’ll be comfortable talking about a hobby or upcoming project, which will naturally draw others into the conversation.

Of course, it’s difficult to imagine these small talk conversations when you’re not standing in a room full of people you don’t know, or you’re not walking past the break room for lunch. Luckily, there are plenty of resources available to help you practice ahead of time, and have a few questions in your pocket.

After a while, starting a conversation from thin air won’t feel like such a chore — and you won’t need canned questions to help you out. At that point, you’ll know you’re mastering the skill on your own.

[Editor’s Note: It’s important to remember that some employers look at a version of your credit report as part of the application process. Because of this, it might be a good idea for you to see where your credit currently stands so you’re prepared to talk about it if it comes up. You can pull your credit reports for free each year at and see a free snapshot of your credit report, updated every 14 days, on]

This article originally appeared on The Cheat Sheet.

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You’re More Likely to Land Your Dream Job If You Do This One Simple Thing


A new survey has shed light on a major inefficiency in the way most people look for a job: Getting referrals.

It turns out that 71% of hiring managers say employee referrals are their best source for finding job candidates, but only 7% of job seekers say asking for referrals is part of their strategy for getting a new job.

The survey, conducted by, a career content and job site, and Future Workplace, a research firm, also found that “passive” job seekers, or those who are employed but open to new opportunities, have a better chance of being hired over “active” job seekers, or those who are unemployed and searching for work.

Hiring managers really like passive job seekers according to the survey, with 80% of HR professionals saying they become the most effective employees. (The survey is based on a national sample of 4,347 job seekers, as well as 129 human resource professionals.)

So what does all of this mean for you if you’re interested in finding a new position?

“A strong application coupled with quality referrals will provide job seekers with an advantage in the hiring process,” Rich Milgram, CEO of said in a statement. “You should constantly be exploring new ways to nurture and expand your referral network, and it may be easier than you think. For example, attend industry conferences and events, grab lunch with a former colleague or make new connections on social platforms — a few simple actions may help you land your dream job.”

Some of those actions, based on highlights from the survey, include.

1. If You’re Still in School, Review Your Major

Fourteen percent of seekers surveyed were liberal arts majors, yet only 2% of companies are actively recruiting those majors. And while 30% of companies are actively recruiting engineering and computer information systems majors, just 15% of job seekers are studying in those fields. About a third of job seekers would, or have, changed their college major for better job prospects.

2. Focus on Cultural Fit Over GPA

While job seekers (23%) and employers (24%) agreed that internship experience carries the most weight for students when seeking jobs, employers don’t view GPA as carrying a lot of weight (6%) as much as job seekers (12%). Companies put more emphasis on cultural fit (24%) than job seekers do (15%) when recruiting.

3. Be Flexible 

Effective communication skills are at the top of the skills list for both employers and employees. After communication skills, employers look for employees with the ability to adapt to change and make sense of ambiguity, followed by being results driven and goal-oriented. After communication skills, employees report leadership ability, in-person collaboration and teamwork skills as their subsequent strengths.

4. Don’t Worry About These Weaknesses

The top three weaknesses reported by employees were virtual collaboration and teamwork skills (48%), technical skills (46%), and being culturally aware and inclusive (43%). HR professionals reported virtual collaboration and teamwork skills (43%), and being culturally aware and inclusive (also 43%) as the second and third least-important skills when hiring.

5. Look Outside. It’s Easier 

Job seekers are optimistic about the job market and may perceive it as easier to seek a new job outside their company than to make a lateral move. More than 40% of job seekers reported that it was difficult or very difficult to make a lateral move at their most recent organization, while less than one quarter of respondents reported being not optimistic about the broader job market.

Remember, a lot of prospective employers will want to check your credit before completing the hiring process. As such, it’s important to monitor what’s on your credit report. You can pull your credit reports for free each year at and view your free credit report summary, updated each month, on

More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:

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