Many résumés are rejected before anyone even reads them. Why? Most large employers use software to sort through résumés—in fact, a recent study by Harvard Business School found that 99% of Fortune 500 companies do this. That software is designed to weed out unqualified applicants, but it inevitably eliminates some solid prospects in the process—seemingly trivial decisions made by those unfortunate applicants caused the software to assign them unfairly low scores.

There are things you can do to maximize the odds that your résumé will make the cut with employers’ software…

Submit your résumé as a Word file. Word is the format least likely to cause problems for the software. A PDF could be fine, too—but only if the job listing specifically says PDF files are accepted.

Skip Word’s header and footer features. Résumé-reading software sometimes scrambles the information provided in Word’s header and footer sections.

Keep your formatting simple and consistent. Avoid unusual fonts—any that you have to purchase or download. Instead use one of the following clean, professional-­looking fonts
Calibri, Arial, Helvetica, Tahoma, Verdana, Garamond or Times New Roman. Also avoid hyperlinked text, bullets, charts and embedded images that can get mangled or lost by the software. Inconsistencies can confuse it, too, so whatever format you choose, stick with it. Example: If you list the job title…then employer name…then start and end date for one job listing, do exactly the same for all the rest. Also be consistent with your formatting—if you bold the first company name and list it in all caps, then do the same for all of your employers. Make sure the ­headers to each résumé section (i.e., Professional Experience, Education, Areas of Expertise, etc.) all are formatted the same way.

Convert your résumé into plain text as a test. If any info is lost or mangled when your résumé is viewed as plain text, there’s a reasonable chance that résumé software will struggle with it, too.

Include the keywords/phrases that the software is likely looking for. There’s a simple way to determine which keywords an employer wants to see in applicants’ résumés—they’re the same keywords that appear in the job listing.

Select three to five listings for jobs that you hope to land, and read those job descriptions, qualifications and responsibilities to find recurring keywords. Or: Enter this text into a text analyzer, such as the one at, to identify the common keywords.

Work these recurring keywords into your résumé two to three times apiece—perhaps in your résumé’s “professional summary”…“key skills” section…and/or “work experience”/“key achievements” sections. Adjust your résumé’s keywords as needed to match the keywords used in specific job listings. Also: When there’s a common abbreviation for a keyword or key phrase, use both the abbreviation and the full word/phrase in the résumé.


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