If I were to give my wife a Butterfinger candy bar and a bunch of weeds for flowers, she probably wouldn’t be very happy with my gift. She loves white truffles and blue hydrangeas; if I gave her these instead she would undoubtedly be overjoyed. Everyone wants someone that knows them personally and takes the extra time to do something special just for them. The job search is no different. Companies want people that want to work for them specifically. They are looking for people with particular skills to fill open positions. Using a “general resume” for every job won’t be effective. It can be slightly inconvenient, but you must take the extra 5 to 10 minutes in order to format your resume for each job. Most companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to store resumes for future use, as well as to accept resumes for open positions. These systems scan resumes for specific keywords and terms and rank documents higher or lower based on the keywords found within compared to the job description. Only those applicants who receive high scores will get a call for an interview. Because there are so many boundaries associated with online applications (ATS, Internal Employees, Employee Referrals) I recommend that people focus on networking and direct interactions with Hiring Managers. Nonetheless, I realize that most people will look for jobs online so here’s some tips and tools for formatting your resume for each position you apply for.


  1. Study The Job Description

When looking at job descriptions be sure to focus on the required qualifications listed in the posting. If the employer took the time to list specific qualifications as required, chances are they will want someone with these skills. If you possess the skills that they are looking for, strategically add them throughout your document. This will increase your chances of your resume being seen by an actual human. Also, include verb phrases and skills included in the job description. Most industries have universal skills that are relevant to the field. These are the skills you want to make sure you include in your document. For example, in Accounting most companies use QuickBooks Pro. For video editing most people are using Final Cut Pro. These are the terms that a Recruiter will more than likely program the system to look for—so include it in your document. Don’t think that you have to be proficient in a skill in order to list it. If you have general working knowledge, it is acceptable to include it on your resume. However, if this is the case, do not cite your level of proficiency next to the skill.

2. Resume Scanning Tools

Trying to format a resume for ATS can be very difficult, especially if you don’t know how the system works. Luckily there are a few tools you can use to help with this endeavor. I use Jobscan and the O*NET-SOC AutoCoder. These tools are pretty easy to use and both are free (to an extent). The O*NET-SOC AutoCoder is totally free while Jobscan allows you to have up to five scans a month for free. Additional scans require a monthly fee. If you are working off a targeted list of companies you are interested in, then you shouldn’t have more than 5 jobs you apply for each month. Here’s how the systems work:


O*NET-SOC AutoCoder – As I mentioned above, this is a very simple tool to use. First, make sure you are on the home page. It should look like this:

Onet Home Page


You have two options. The first option is to scan a job description into the place where is says job description and add the job title. Once you’ve done this, click search. Your results will look like this:


Onet Results



Your search will provide you with the industry that is most closely related based on the keywords within the description. Click on the industry with the highest ranking. Once you click on the highest ranked industry it then provides you with matching words and phrases on the left. On the right it provides a description of what the activities included. It also provides lay titles that are within the industry. You can use these titles to search for similar positions that you haven’t considered. Go back to the matching words and phrases area. You will see a list of the keywords listed in the job description and their frequency. If you are missing these words in your resume you can stick to the top 3 or 4 words listed since they have a higher frequency of use and add them to your document. The second option is to paste your resume in the area that is listed ‘job description’ and hit search to see what industry it recommends. The goal is to have a score of 70 or above. If the highest industry listed is above 70 and it matches the industry listed when you paste the job description, you are in good shape. If it doesn’t score a 70 or higher, you have some tweaking to do. Even if you do get a score of 70 or higher you still want to look over the job description to ensure the required skills and terms that seem to be present more often are present in your document.


Jobscan – This tool asks you to copy and paste both the job description and your resume so it can compare each for a match. This tool focuses on comparing the hard skills listed in the job description with those in your resume. The system is really easy to understand as it actually says “missing”, letting you know you should consider adding the skill to your document. The only downside to this tool is that it will eventually prompt you to create a profile, and only allows 5 free scans a month.


 3. Understand  How ATS Works


Understanding how ATS works overall is a really good first step when formatting your resume. Here are a few items to note:

Include A Target Job Title – One way to include the specific job title that the ATS may be looking for (in your resume) is to include a target job title at the top of your document. Use the exact title they use in the listing.

Capitalize Headings & Don’t Get Too Fancy With Titles – Capitalization can affect how information is sorted and assigned within the ATS database. Also include the usual sections of a resume: Qualifications, professional experience, education, skills, and the like. Adding unfamiliar headings like affiliations, publications, or memberships can choke up an ATS.

Spelling Mistakes – The ATS will not recognize misspelled words. If your resume manages to survive the ATS screen, it will next be reviewed by an actual person, and more than likely will be trashed.

No Pictures or Graphics – These systems can’t read pictures, graphics, or special characters so your document is likely to be thrown out.

Spell Out Terms Along With Acronyms – Uses the full, spelled-out version terms in addition to abbreviations and acronyms [i.e., Master of Business Administration (MBA)]

Include Months When Listing Dates  – (e.g., 08/2011 – 08/2013), dates are typically listed on the right.


As I mentioned above I don’t recommend using job boards and online applications as your main source of inquiring about open positions. My approach is to focus most of your attention on networking and direct interactions with employers. If you do choose to apply online these methods will increase your chances of getting calls. At my company Career SkyRocket, I optimize my client’s resumes for ATS and show them how to do it going forward. I also show them how to get their resumes directly in front of the people responsible for hiring. For assistance with your resume or questions about how to conduct an effective job search feel free to contact me at dharris@careerskyrocket.com. Have a great week!