You’re Probably Making This Major Résumé Mistake When You Apply for Jobs Online — Here’s How to Fix It

published May 12, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image

The average recruiter only spends seven seconds scanning your résumé, which means you have very little time to make the right impression. That’s why it pays to design a résumé that immediately distinguishes you from the sea of online competition and PDFs.

No matter how qualified you might be for a particular position, if your résumé doesn’t grab a potential employer’s attention, career coach Patricia Figueroa of The Career Glow Up says you run the risk of being overlooked altogether. “On average, there are 250 résumés received for every job opening,” she tells Apartment Therapy. “Given those odds, it is imperative that a candidate’s résumé stands out.”

Fortunately, a little effort can go a long way when you’re trying to create an eye-catching résumé — and that starts with incorporating plenty of keywords and phrases into your résumé, and tweaking your résumé for each job application.

In other words, if you’re applying to every job using the same résumé, you’re hurting your own chances of being found among the candidate pile… let alone landing the position.

It’s especially important to integrate keywords (that is, words or short phrases that relate the particular requirements for a job) from the job description into your résumé, Figueroa says. “Recruiters use software (known as Applicant Tracking Systems) to scan résumés for keywords from the job description and if they’re missing, the system will often reject the document or ‘stack rank’ it so low that the recruiter may not ever see it,” she explains. 

Along with incorporating keywords into your résumé, career coach David Wiacek of David the Fixer says it’s important that the language you use makes sense for your specific industry, and for the specific job for which you’re applying. “ATSs will scan your résumé for relevant words and phrases, ranging from software to soft skill and beyond,” he explains. “The appropriate language can change from one industry to another, so take the extra care to translate your résumé to the target industry, otherwise your application may be ignored.”

There are a lot of ways to tweak your résumé and take your chances of getting noticed to the next level. From tips for crafting an impactful summary statement to the best type of verbs to use, here are five more things career coaches say you can do to make your résumé stand out online. 

Start with an impactful summary statement.

First and foremost, Wiacek says it’s crucial to make a strong first impression in the top half of your résumé. “Instead of a traditional objective statement, summarize briefly — in two or three sentences — the overall value and impact you have made in your career to date,” he explains. “This summary paragraph atop the résumé lets the reader quickly know who you are, and why they should give the rest of your résumé serious consideration.”

When crafting an eye-catching summary statement, Figueroa says it’s important that you communicate what distinguishes you from the competition straight away. “You want to clearly convey your unique value proposition, as well as your key differentiators as a candidate,” she explains. “You can do this by focusing on your soft skills, intangibles, major accomplishments, and what sets you apart.” 

Highlight your top talents. 

Once you’ve added a solid summary statement to the top of your résumé, Figueroa recommends listing a few of your key skills right under it. “Many candidates make the mistake of burying this information at the bottom of their résumé under their professional experience and education, but this information is absolutely essential for the recruiter and they are going to be scanning your document for it as soon as they begin reviewing it,” she explains.

If you’re struggling to come up with a list of compelling key skills, Wiacek suggests focusing on some of the high points of your career instead. “For some of my clients, we included three to five career highlights (some numerical, and a few soft or qualitative achievements) at the top, kind of like a highlight reel or ‘best of,’” he explains. “This helps demonstrate that you are a candidate who delivers impact and invites the reader to explore the balance of the document.”

Make your achievements crystal clear.

When summarizing your professional experience, Figueroa says including five to seven bullet points for every position listed will help your résumé stand out to potential employers. “Each bullet point should start off with a strong action verb (such as ‘managed’ or ‘responsible for’) and focus on how you did what you did, not just what you did,” she explains. “If your résumé reads like a laundry list of your duties at previous jobs, it will be difficult to differentiate yourself from other candidates.”

Instead of simply highlighting your past job responsibilities, Figueroa recommends focusing your bullet points on your impact as well as any quantifiable achievements and measurable accomplishments. “Try to include numbers (KPIs, metrics, percentages, etc.) wherever you can,” she advises. “Even if a candidate isn’t in sales, they can still speak to budgetary savings, process improvements, and time saved to communicate their achievements.”

Keep it short and sweet.

When it comes to the ideal length of a résumé, Wiacek says less is definitely more. “Keep your résumé document relatively short and concise, and don’t agonize over length,” he advises. “If you’re applying for an entry or mid-level position, one page is usually appropriate, while senior or executive level positions might call for an extra page or two.” 

Instead of worrying about the length of your résumé, Wiacek says you should focus your efforts on impact. “If your résumé is full of descriptions of tasks and responsibilities, and only a few mentions of specific numbers and hard achievements, that ratio is off,” he explains. “The recruiter doesn’t want to know how you kept busy — they want to know how you delivered results for your previous employers.”

Double-check everything before sending.

Whether you submit a résumé in the wrong format or send one riddled with spelling errors, Wiacek says some seemingly small mistakes can have unfortunate consequences when applying for a job online. “If the instructions say PDF only, apply with a PDF, and if it says to include a cover letter and recommendations, be sure to do so,” he says. “Anyone who doesn’t follow directions to a T runs the risk of being overlooked by either the ATS software or the human being behind the software — and often both.”

If possible, Wiacek also recommends asking a friend or family member with a sharp eye for grammar and spelling to proofread your résumé. “It’s always a good idea to have another pair of eyes read through your résumé before sending,” he says. “While many recruiters are forgiving, I have heard that some will not give your résumé a fair shot if they see an egregious typo in the first few lines — even if, let’s be honest, the job has very little to do with perfect grammar.”