Want that fabulous graduate job? You have to get past the computer first

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Bold typeface, italics, fancy layouts …. there are plenty of tried and tested methods of making your resume stand out in the crowd. The only problem is that in the modern digital landscape, they’re about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

Why?

Because the chances of a real person actually reading your resume at the initial application stage are becoming increasingly remote. When the time comes (and for the graduating class of 2013 it is nipping at your heels), the chances are that many of the jobs you apply for are likely to be posted online. What that means in practice is that your resume has to be good enough to impress a sophisticated software application before it is ever glanced at by an actual recruiter. 

Talent acquisition or applicant tracking software searches resumes and identifies potential applicants based on given criteria such as educational qualifications, experience, and skills. What it does not do is place any importance on how long you toiled to make your resume look “pretty”. Computers don’t do pretty. In some cases they even translate pretty as unreadable (you didn’t get the job!). By and large, talent acquisition software works best when presented with the plain facts, so if you’re planning on applying for graduate jobs online, that is something you will have to take into account when drawing up your resume. 

How to get noticed by talent acquisition software

It’s really as simple as reversing everything you would do to create a fancy looking resume in favor of formatting things as plainly as possible for the software. 

The first thing to consider is keywords. These are the terms recruiters will use to identify possible candidates once all the applications have been collected and scanned by the software. It’s a no-brainer that you should include relevant terms within the copy of your resume. Perhaps the only problem is understanding which keywords to target in the first place. The job description can usually offer some insight. Look at the required skills section of the advertisement and tailor your resume accordingly, remembering to include any commonly used acronyms (i.e. Microsoft Project / MSP). You can also get clues about the skills and expertises that a particular company values by exploring their corporate website and other materials. Where possible try to use the keywords you identify as naturally as possible within the context of other text in your resume. You might also consider including a dedicated keyword section at the end. 

Aside from the effective use of keywords, it’s important to keep things simple by using a plain font, plenty of white space, and easily recognizable headlines. When you’re done, you can evaluate just how software-friendly your resume by taking a look at it in a plain text editor program such as notepad. 

It’s worth remembering that not every application will be fed directly into a computer, although if you are applying online via a submission box (as opposed to emailing) there’s a good chance it will be. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have two versions of your resume available – one for the software application and one for the human recruiters. Looks like you might get to show off that fancy layout after all.

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