In bygone years, design professionals might refer to job seeking as “pounding the pavement,” referring to schlepping up and down Madison Avenue and dropping off their book at various agencies. Like bourbon ads in magazines, fins on automobiles or cigarette breaks, that’s not how it’s done anymore.  To get the attention of a prospective employee, you have to submit your resume online.  This post will cover some tips and tricks to follow with these online resumes, some that will come easily to UX professionals and some that will seem counterintuitive.

When you submit a resume online, it typically ends up in a specialized gate keeping HR tool called an applicant tracking system, or ATS. Fortune 1000 companies use them, and ATS solutions are becoming more popular in small and medium sized companies as well. There are some solid, cloud-based examples out there, such as Greenhouse, Jazz or Zoho. But the general nature of a ATS platform could be charitably described as a unique blend of software as a service and dystopian teen novel. It is a non-human, algorithmic system designed to screen (aka eliminate) candidates faster than a Hunger Games reaping.

There is a reason for this. When a job gets posted on a corporate website, it is not uncommon for dozens of candidates to submit their resume on the first day, and for each subsequent day stretching into weeks thereafter. You’ll need to format your resume in a machine-friendly, not human-friendly manner so you can get in front of those manager’s eyeballs.  

So, how do you, as a UX professional get your resume to have a Katniss-like ability to survive? Here’s what you do:

·      Submit the resume as plain text (.txt) or MS Word (.doc, .docx) format

·      Keep it to 1 page

·      Use the simplest characters possible such as default bullet points

·      Put in your address, phone and links to LinkedIn and/or portfolio

·      Use straightforward information architecture. Rightly or wrongly, ATS systems are biased towards sections with labels such as Skills, Qualifications and Professional Experience but may hiccup with sections such as Publications or Affiliations. Most HR managers will say to eliminate sections such as Career Objectives, as the ATS doesn’t really care about your career.

·      Use a consistent data structure, e.g. Job Title – Company Name – City, State –  Date Hired – Date Left – bullet point of skills. If you had multiple roles in the same company, list them separately as some ATS have difficulty reading nested information. Note that the software may make educated guesses on your qualifications – if you listed “wire framing” in a bullet point under a job you had for three years, it may assume you have three years of wire framing experience. All the standard recommendations for resume writing still apply as well – avoid the first person, use action verbs, etc.

·      Use keywords. Think of an ATS as a keyword recognition system – it’s matching the words in the job description with the words in your resume. The more matches, the better your chances. Take a look at the job description and make sure you have the words they are looking for. Tweak and adjust the keywords on your resume to match the job. Pay attention to frequency as well, but whatever you do, don’t keyword-stuff.  

·      Acronyms and Abbreviations: If you use terms such as “UX” or “UI,” make sure you spell it out (“User Experience”) especially in your first usage.

·      Eliminate all images. You can probably get away with a personal icon (I have)

And here is what you don’t do:

·      Do not submit the resume as a PDF. Many ATS systems don’t read PDFs well, or read them at all.

·      Do not use a fancy or unusual font. The ATS is going to change it to some milquetoast san-serif font anyway, so your fancy use of Bauer Bedoni will go to waste and increase the risk of a machine-reading error.

·      Don’t use images, especially for key information. As wonderful as your chart about how your UI redesign increased the YoY product adoption rate 300%, if it’s a graphic- it’s gone.

·      Headers and Footers can be problematic. Some ATS can parse info from them, and some can’t. Consider eliminating them.

·      Do not have spelling or grammar issues. Use spellcheck in tool like MS Word and make sure there are no mistakes or any grammar or phrase that the programs considers weird. Some ATS are programmed to automatically discard resumes with mistakes, so be aware. 

·      Don’t use call out boxes or side bars for information. 

·      Do not trust Peeta

Some resume tip sites will recommend that you run your resume and the job description through a tag cloud software like Wordle and compare clouds, but that may be overkill. An easy way to check for ATS compliance is to paste your resume into a text file and see if it’s completely readable. If it is, you are probably OK. It is also fairly common for applicants to have an ATS-friendly resume and another, more designed version for humans.

One of the most frustrating things about an ATS is that it is unlikely that you as an applicant will ever find out if your resume got eliminated. But your chances of survival increase if you follow these tips and tricks.

 I leave you with the three-fingered salute!

– Rob Fitzgibbon, CPC guest blogger

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