I get it. I really do. Only one person gets the job, and there are hundreds of applicants. So naturally, the first thing jobseekers do is ask themselves how they can make their resume stand out from the crowd.
Next thing you know, they’re searching all over the internet for that super cool resume template with infographic designs, a bright colour scheme and the whole shabang – something that’ll really capture the hiring manager’s attention. Perhaps they’re also thinking about changing up resume headers. “Work Experience” sounds lame anyway, so how about something more original, like “Notable Work Achievements”?
As someone who has helped hundreds – if not thousands – of jobseekers write their resumes, this is a common mindset many of them come to me with. And while I commend them for taking their job search so seriously, the ironic truth is that the extra effort they’re putting into their resumes may very well be hurting their chances of finding a job. In fact, the more off the beaten path one gets with their resume, the more likely it is for employers to throw it out. Here’s why, plus tips for jobseekers to help their resumes stand out more effectively.
1. Standard resumes are easier to process
With so many applications to go through, recruiters only spend a couple minutes tops looking through each one. This means it’s important for your resume to be written and formatted in a way that will allow recruiters to process the information as quickly as possible. So, how do you do that? You write your resume the way everyone else does, because that’s what recruiters are accustomed to reading. If instead you decide to use strange headers or combine resume sections that aren’t usually combined, this will just frustrate recruiters and make them more inclined to score your resume poorly.
2. Applicant tracking systems can’t process fancy resumes
The overwhelming majority of Fortune 500 companies use applicant tracking systems to evaluate resumes. Applicant trackers work scan resumes for keywords, ranking the resumes based on relevance, and then sending only the high-scoring resumes over to recruiters for review.
While you might be mystified by applicant trackers and think that they’re a sophisticated AI software capable of magically identifying strong candidates, they’re actually more juvenile and prone to mistakes than you would think. In fact, unless your resume is formatted in a very specific way, there’s a high chance an applicant tracker won’t be able to properly read and process your resume.
This is why when it comes to beating applicant trackers, it’s always best to stick with standard resume formats that are tried-and-true. I recommend standard font families such as Times New Roman, Arial and Calibri. Also, if you’re planning on using any sort of infographics or pictures, you can forget about applicant trackers being able to interpret them.
You can also use a resume checker like ResumeGo’s to make sure your resume is scannable by applicant tracking systems. These checkers can also give you useful tips for how you can improve your resume.
3. Strangely formatted resumes are suspicious
While you’re hoping recruiters who read your resume will pause for a moment and really appreciate the extra effort you put into making your resume unique and different, they often have quite the opposite reaction. Recruiters are actually far more likely to react with skepticism and become suspicious when they come across a strangely formatted resume. And you know what? They have good reason to be.
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Resorting to a particular resume format in order to hide unwanted elements of an applicant’s work experience is actually an extremely common tactic. For instance, if an applicant’s career has been on a slow, downward spiral throughout the past decade, the applicant might opt to go with a functional resume instead of a chronological one, which is far more common and easy to process. This same trick can be used to hide the fact that an applicant might be switching in and out of careers or job hopping.
4. It’s about following universal resume etiquette
Your resume is about more than just informing recruiters of your work experience and education. It also signals to recruiters if you’re someone capable of meticulously following all the rules and etiquette involved with writing a quality resume.
Recruiters want to see that you’re starting each and every bullet point of your resume with an action verb because that’s what it means to follow proper resume etiquette. The same goes with making sure your resume doesn’t contain any personal pronouns and that it perfectly fits one or two pages. If you’re just going to do your own thing with your resume and ignore all these rules, recruiters will simply assume you aren’t competent enough to follow instructions and do things the “right way.”
If you’re ever in doubt about whether it’s better to play things safe by taking the traditional route or to break the wheel by doing something creative, I usually recommend the former. However, like everything in life, there are exceptions. For example, if you’re a graphic designer looking to showcase your artistic ability or you’re applying to a startup that you know doesn’t use applicant tracking systems, it may be a wise choice to try your luck at a fancier resume design.
In the end, the pros and cons of the decisions you make in regard to your resume are going to vary depending on your unique situation. Weigh them carefully, and keep in mind that it’s not what you think that matters – it’s what the hiring managers think.