Maybe the biggest problem you have when it comes to your resume is that you’re thinking of it in the singular. Lynne Williams, executive director of the Philadelphia Great Careers Group, wants you to pluralize that word, if you want to beat the black hole that swirls around the job search.
Williams will present “Beating the Applicant Tracking System,” a free talk at the Princeton Public Library, on Friday, June 1, at 9:45 a.m. The talk is presented by the professional Services Group of Mercer County. Visit www.psgofmercercounty.org.
An obvious first question is, “Why do I need two resumes?” The answer is, you don’t. You need a few. Or, to put it less intimidatingly, Williams suggests having flexible resumes that can be tailored to fit the jobs you’re applying to. Also, one of your resumes should be a LinkedIn page, she says. Something you can steer people toward, because despite “the dreaded Applicant Tracking System,” or ATS, people do actually read things differently with their human eyes.
Print vs. online. The heart of the reason to have multiple resumes is that you need at least one for the machines to read and one for the people to read, Williams says. That’s in addition to your LinkedIn resume. She calls the three phases of resume “your deconstructed one, your pretty one, and your LinkedIn profile.”
The ATS-ready resume is a zero-frills version of the pretty one, which is the one human eyes will read. And because human eyes like to look at colorful and shiny things, there are lots of visual ways to steer the eye toward what you want it to see. The trick, she says, is understanding that human eyes don’t move in straight lines across pages anymore. Being so used to scrolling and swiping and bouncing around computer screens with lots going on visually has trained people to scan more than read in a linear way.
The other trick is knowing you don’t have much time to jingle your keys to get someone’s attention. Resumes, Williams says, get six to 15 seconds, and then recruiters move on. If you haven’t pointed them toward the most important blocks of information in the time it takes for a batter to ground out to second, it’s on to the next candidate.
“You’ve got to bring it with your resume,” she says. “And your LinkedIn profile.”
Because eyes move up and down a page, things like shaded boxes, colored bands, bullet points (six to eight, at least), and other visual cues can lead the eye where you want it to go. On paper, or at least on a PDF, that’s easy to do. But then there’s that dreaded ATS, which scans emotionlessly for keywords and jargon and specific phrases. It cares not for your colorful presentation and eyepath-hacking trickery. It cares only for substance, and if it doesn’t find what it wants in the time it takes the pitch to get to the plate, you’re out before you even dub that grounder to second.
“This is where you have to deconstruct your pretty resume,” Williams says. “No italics, no tables and charts. If your resume is not copying and pasting into that little box, that should be a very big hint to you.”
Now, a follow-up question here might be, “What if the job site asks me to either upload or attach my resume?” A good question. But it’s a trick one in a way. Williams says the best approach is to send both — upload the deconstructed one and attach the pretty one. Why? Because you don’t know who or what is going to see your resume. And if it’s the ATS first, and you get through, you don’t want the person from HR looking at a flat, black & white resume formatted for a machine.
A note on jargon. “Parsers will mathematically score text,” Williams says. That’s a remarkably jargon-sounding way of saying “use jargon.”
Parsing is what ATS does with all the frills in a resume. Forget that it can’t read colored bars or pie charts, it will just skip past fluffy words in the way your teacher would if you were to call something very, very. very. very good in an effort to write a 500-word paper. Online parsers want to find words they’re programmed to look for, which means they’re looking for words that show you know your field, Williams says.
In other words, use jargon for your deconstructed resume. Jargon, she says, triggers ATS to put you in the maybe pile. It’s especially good when you use it to show you’re a specialist. Some years ago, a professor told Williams “there are riches in niches,” and she has held on to that — and highly recommends listening to it — since.
About LinkedIn and tailoring. LinkedIn is a sort of hybrid version of your pretty and your deconstructed resumes. There’s a certain limit to what the site will let you do format-wise, but Williams says you can get a lot more creative than you think. Beyond your profile photo, for example, you can add icons to catch the eye.
Williams’ own LinkedIn page is a good example and an epic read in its own right. Then again, she has lived an eventful life. Born in Michigan, she also grew up in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Her mother was a music teacher and her father was in sales.
She majored in business administration and marketing and French at the University of Delaware, graduating in 1980. Her career started in the sales department of a tile subsidiary of National Gypsum Company. A few years later, she oversaw the sales force of Buchtal (manufacturing) in California.
During that time, Williams got married and had two daughters, but both the tile business and her marriage proved tumultuous. She left the industry to help her husband build a construction business, but the two later divorced.
Williams moved back to Pennsylvania to start fresh. In 2016 she told U.S. 1, “I was on food stamps and had a medical access card. I wound up at the bottom of zero.” (See U.S. 1, December 7, 2016)
She began a new career as a teacher and spent the next 12 years in classrooms while earning a master’s degree at Immaculata University. She is currently working on her doctorate in educational leadership there. In 1994 she started Around the Clock Executive Helper, a career coaching service that involves building better resumes.
After her daughters were out of the house, she tried to break back into the corporate world, which led to another period of career transition. She joined numerous career support groups, and eventually became the director of the Philadelphia Area Great Careers Group.
In 2014 she landed a full-time job with Berkshire-Hathaway, which she left at the end of 2017. She is looking for a new job again while she continues helping executives hone their resumes for maximum appeal.
That includes their LinkedIn page and how to tailor a resume to fit a specific job. Williams’ advice is to think of the resume in the way you’d think of a cover letter — you wouldn’t write the exact same one to every company.
Williams says it’s best to look over the job ad thoroughly. The language of job ads gives lots of clues to the tenor of the business, the kinds of things the company is looking for, and the kinds of things it wants you to say and not say on your resume. And no two companies are exactly alike. Some might want specifics, some might want a more casual idea of what you can do. The point is, she says, be flexible and don’t make the mistake of thinking one resume carved in granite is the only game in town.
And don’t be afraid of your experience. She is aware of age discrimination in hiring, and if Williams has one piece of advice for hiring managers it’s to not overlook the veterans you think are going to cost you extra money in salaries. They rather will save you money by not having to constantly go out and replace them.
“The seasoned people can hit the ground running,” she says. “There’s more stability in the work ethic among the seasoned folks.”