Beat the Bots - Part IPractical Advice on Tailoring Your Resume for the World of HR Algorithms

Cartoon robot images reflecting the automated "bots" that process resumes in the recruiting process

Our users constantly ask us how to adapt to the changing recruiting landscape. Today, much of the hiring process is automated. Recent studies show that despite having a record number of job openings since 2000, the average duration to fill a position in the US has jumped to 27 days, nearly double what it was during the recession in 2009. This is because employers are looking for highly specialized skills, like data and analytics capabilities, which we addressed in prior articles.

Almost every large employer is using automation tools in their recruiting workflow. These tools help speed up recruiting and more effectively match skills to job requirements. Moreover, the cloud era has created an entire new category of startups focused on automating hiring. We put together this guide to help you better tailor your resume and recruiting approach for the new recruiting bot overlords. This is not a guide on gaming the system. We still believe that people should find a job that they enjoy rather than chasing trends or hot companies.

Is Automated Resume Screening Bad For You?

No. Lot’s of candidates are really worried that their unique story will get lost in mechanical translation. The reality is that when a resume is screened by hiring managers they rarely have more than 30 seconds to make a decision. They could overlook important details, get distracted by the formatting, or just accidentally not review your resume at all. Even worse, because they have so little time to review the resumes on their desk, recruiters can sometimes hire with bias (e.g., favoring candidates from certain schools).

Resume screening software may help cut down on those biases and give candidates a fair shake, but it will take some getting used to in the near-term. The type of jobseeker that may get overlooked is the one with the unconventional background. If you are that candidate, your best bet is to network aggressively so you get a chance to tell that story to a decision maker within the firm.

Bolster the Content Core

HR automation tools require candidates to tailor their resume for each application they send. Before you sigh at this additional burden, remember that automated screening also puts less pressure on you to include a cover letter. So take that effort and use it to tailor your resume. Make sure to do the following:

  • Focus on keywords. Tailor your resume to include key words and phrases from the job description. These are most likely the same words that the hiring manager has selected to be screen the resumes.

  • Achievements matter. As these softwares get smarter, they are increasingly looking for things like action-oriented phrases, quantification of results and key leadership traits. Moreover, when you focus on crafting an achievement oriented resume, you are less likely to use fluff language that doesn’t carry weight with a machine or a human.

  • Use the space on your resume carefully. When applying to a large company that uses resume screening or automated tracking software, minimize sections like career objectives, career highlights, and other interests. This preserves space to bring out your key strengths effectively. We still recommend having a line or two on other interests. Just be as concise as you can.

  • (Strong) Numbers matter. If you have a good GPA, SAT, GMAT or other such scores — highlight them. If you don’t — omit them.

  • Use Online Resume Checking Tools: There are a whole host of web tools to help you optimize your resume for keywords like Job Scan or word frequency tools like Wordle. Use them to double check your resume.

  • Avoid Typos. These tools are often trained to detect typos, more so than humans. Avoid them. Having them doesn’t automatically eliminate your resume but it does lower the score.

  • Spell Out Acronyms. Common acronyms like MBA, CFA, and CPA will most likely be detected, but for most acronyms, spell them out.


  • Don’t use too many keywords. It’s obvious, it rarely helps, and takes space away from other aspects of your resume that might be important. Make sure keywords don’t appear too many times on your resume.

  • Don’t prepare a resume purely for a computer to read. It’s likely that a hiring manager or HR professional will read it before you get called for an interview. So you need to get past both a machine and a human being.

Simplify the Look and Feel

Most of the standard formatting tips still apply. You want a resume to be easily ready by a human being. Keep these few things in mind:

  • Stick to standard fonts that are easily read. Otherwise the software often has to convert your font to one available to that system which can create potential for errors.

  • Stick to standard resume categories (i.e., Work Experience, Education, Skills, and Other). Tailoring your resume categories too much can trip up these software tools.

  • Avoid tables and graphics (you shouldn’t add your photograph to a resume).

  • Don’t start work experience with dates. Start with employer name, title, and then by dates. Split different titles into different lines each with their own dates for clarity.

  • Try and maintain a one inch margin on the top and the bottom so text doesn’t get cut off.

  • Avoid borders.

PDF or Word?

PDF looks much better and ensures your formatting is preserved, regardless of the version of Microsoft Office that the employer uses, but PDF continues to trip up some systems. If applying to a big company with a automated tracking system, go with MS Word. If applying via email, go with a PDF.

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Advice Annie is a team of Tapwage writers and guest contributors who help answer career and workplace questions