The 1 Thing Too Many Superstar Applicants Leave Off Their Resume, According to a Hiring Manager

Women biting nails while interviewer looks at her resume

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Natalie Micale98
Executive Coach
April 23, 2024 at 4:30AM UTC

Resumes are meant to get you the interview, that’s it. This means your resume must convince the person (or computer–more on that later) reading it that you are qualified to carry out the exact job duties the organization has advertised it needs. So, why aren’t perfectly qualified people getting called back for an interview? 

In my decade as a hiring manager, I’ve heard from hundreds of people who say they applied for my jobs, but I never would have known had they not told me. Why? Because their resumes never made it across my desk. I never saw them. Why are these qualified people not even being considered for interviews, let alone the position? 

The reason this happens is something I see all the time. 

Far too many people are applying to jobs online without taking the time to customize their resume to the job announcement. 

They aren’t cross-referencing the words in their resumes to the keywords in the job announcement. 

For example, let’s say that the job is in healthcare and one of the stated requirements is “knowledge of patient-centered care.” If the applicant, who may have worked in the clinical healthcare field for years, describes their experience as “knowledge of long-term care Resident quality of life principles”, they run the risk of not making it past the screening criteria. Despite having decades of practice instituting the equivalent of patient-centered care, if they are not intentional about mirroring their language to that of the job announcement, they may have well had none.

This may seem like an unfair burden to some; however, I see it otherwise. This is a system that can be learned and followed. Doing so will result in a higher likelihood of your application making it through. 

The majority of institutions, companies, and governments now use what is known as Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) which is essentially artificial intelligence (AI) for resume screening. A human might not even lay eyes on your resume until it shows up on the hiring manager's desk weeks later. 

If you are someone who likes to use one well-crafted resume for every job, you have likely been overlooked by many organizations, even when highly qualified for the advertised position. Thankfully, this is fixable. 

The way to consistently make it past the screening process, be it human eyes or computer programming, is simple: genuinely have enough of the skills, knowledge and abilities outlined in the job announcement (naturally), then customize your resume to the specific job announcement for which you are applying by ensuring you are using the keywords and descriptive terms exactly as they are stated in the job announcement. 

If the term in the posting says, “experienced in improving employee retention,” and your resume says, “decreased employee turnover rate by 20%”, you’re running the risk of being overlooked, despite both these things meaning the same thing. 

Does this seem like an exercise in semantics? Perhaps, but this is the reality in the hiring world now. The AI that assists overworked staffers who otherwise would have to sift through hundreds of resumes for every job announcement is picky. Think of it much like asking Alexa or Siri or Google Home to turn on your basement lights—if you’ve programmed the system to recognize “Turn on basement lights” as the command, yelling “Illuminate the lower level” probably won’t get you much more than frustrated, even though they mean the same thing.  

Stop frustrating yourself and start learning to program your resume to work within the system.

What’s your no. 1 piece of resume ATS advice? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!

This article was written by a Fairygodboss contributor.

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