You submit your resume to an online job posting but get rejected. You ask “Why was I turned down? I’m perfect for this role!” Assuming you’re not delusional and you really are perfect for the role, then the problem could be your resume.

I coach people all the time on resume do’s and don’ts (<– I know, the apostrophes don’t match). And while there are a lot of mistakes people make when putting together their resume, the single biggest one is not connecting the dots for a recruiter who is likely the first person at a company to see the resume.

Let’s look at the usual path of a resume once it’s been submitted to an open position:

  1. Resume is automatically sent through resume screening software that looks for key words. What this means is that words in the job description need to be found in the resume. For example, if the position is for a Cloud Architect, the software would look for words like public, private, cloud, hybrid, AWS, Azure, etc. If your resume is missing these key words it will land in the rejection pile before a human ever lays eyes on it. Have you ever received a lightning fast rejection email at like 2 AM the day after you applied? It’s probably because it was rejected by software, not a human. Note: not all companies use resume screening software. In that case, the resume goes directly to a human. See Step 2.
  2. The first person to look at a resume is usually a recruiter or someone in HR. And this person is NOT a subject matter expert in the field or position for which you’ve applied. They’re smart and they’ve usually done their homework on whatever specialty area in which they’re recruiting; however, they’re still not an expert. The recruiter must quickly determine whether an applicant is a good fit for the role. I call this “connecting the dots”. More candidates are rejected at this stage in the hiring process than any other, so it’s uber important to connect the dots for the recruiter!
  3. If the recruiter determines that an applicant is qualified, only then will their resume be sent to the hiring manager. Think about that…a resume isn’t even seen by the hiring manager (the person who is probably a subject matter expert) until it’s made it past several previous steps in the process.

You must connect the dots for recruiters. Help them quickly see that you’re qualified for a role. By quickly, I mean about 30 seconds or so.

But isn’t it a recruiter’s job to piece together your story…to labor over every glorious word on your resume before making a judgment? Nope. Your resume is just one in a large stack and the busy recruiter doesn’t have the time to comb through your entire life’s history to help explain why you’re qualified.

Instead, it’s up to you to organize your experience and qualifications in such a way that the recruiter easily understands…to connect the dots for them.

Tips for connecting the dots:

  • If you have a varied background, it can be difficult for a casual viewer to pull out relevant details from your vast experience. If you’ve worked in a variety of roles or specialty areas in your career, you should consider removing non-relevant details on a case-by-case basis. This doesn’t mean falsifying the resume. Rather, it means elevating or accenting details in your past that pertain specifically to the role for which you’re applying, and removing or minimizing details that don’t. For example, an IT Manager who’s managed different specialty areas in her career. Let’s say she wants to apply for a position in healthcare IT overseeing a medical records system. Her recent experience has been managing at a bank although she worked in healthcare IT ten years ago. In this case, I would recommend taking out extraneous bank jargon from her recent position and generalizing it so that she doesn’t appear too specialized in banking. Furthermore, in the summary at the top of the resume or experience highlights also at the top of the resume, list the specific healthcare knowledge areas.
  • Customize the summary at the top of the resume for each position to which you apply. You should consider customizing the summary statement so that it’s specifically tailored to the role for which you’re applying. Again, not falsifying anything. Rather, simply accent those details in your experience that are relevant to the position for which you’re applying. A well-written summary is important as it’s the first thing a recruiter reads. See my previous blog on writing a good summary statement.
  • Remove old or non-relevant technologies or skills. For example, I sometimes see resumes with archaic technologies like Assembler, DOS or Data Processing. No one is hiring for these today and do nothing for a candidate but make them look out of touch. Another example is someone who has a business on the side selling jewelry. Unless you’re applying to a role that has something to do with that industry, leave it out. Not only is it irrelevant but it could actually be a detractor since the employer might question your commitment to your primary job.
  • Have someone else look at your resume and provide feedback. Ask them to look at the first page and whether they would believe you to be qualified for a position. Ask them – Is anything confusing, overly wordy or non-relevant? Are details missing that would help better explain your qualifications? Then be open to the feedback. No one likes to hear that their baby is ugly (Jerry, you gotta see the baby!), but when it comes to resumes the most important critique is from a third party.

Connect the dots. Help recruiters easily see that you’re qualified and worthy of a second look.