What You Need to Know About Online Job Searching

Algorithms now vet resumes before humans even see them; here are some ways to ensure you make the cut.


When it comes to job searching in the 21st century, many online technologies have proven to be deeply valuable assets.

But there’s something that consistently seems to hinder the success of internet candidates. It’s called Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software.

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Virtually any resume you submit online will be funneled through ATS software, says Michele McCann, president of CareerPro Inc., a Newark-based resume-writing service.

In theory, the software makes sense: It pulls information from resumes to populate its own forms, then ranks each resume from most to least qualified.

But if you’re wondering about the likelihood that a lower-ranked (yet objectively deserving!) resume will reach the hands of a real human, ask yourself this: How often have you read past, say, the second page of Google results? (We thought so.)

Still, don’t panic. One key to crafting a successful resume is almost always hidden in plain sight.

“A good job description writes your resume for you,” says Jill Gugino Panté director of the Lerner Career Services Center at the University of Delaware. This may seem obvious, but Panté has seen plenty of people leave relevant skills off their resumes.

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Some online applicants try to cheat ATS software unethically by overloading their resumes with keywords that have nothing to do with their own skills or qualifications, or even making keywords invisible to the human eye.

Don’t attempt such deception, Williams warns. Software is smart, so you probably won’t outwit it anyway. (“It sees everything,” McCann says.) Plus, if hiring managers catch on, all your future job prospects could be jeopardized.

So: Does all this mean resume-writing services are imperative for job seekers?

Kelly Williams, owner of Expert Resume Solutions in Newark, thinks so. “Qualified applicants slip through the cracks because their resume isn’t optimized for ATS, ” she says.

McCann agrees: “Only a professional resume writer understands the algorithms behind the ATS systems and can position your content correctly to score highly,” she says. But, resume writers “come and go very quickly,” she adds, recommending some research before committing. Read client testimonials and look into free consultations first. 


  • Robots don’t care if your resume is beautiful. Nix the fancy fonts and graphics.
  • If it’s important, put it up top. ATS software tends to assign more weight to material at the top of a resume, McCann says.
  • Where possible, use the exact language that appears in the job description. For example, if you posses the “B.A.,” it calls for, say so—don’t write “undergraduate degree” or “baccalaureate” instead.
  • If you’re technically overeducated for the job, it may be best to list only your relevant degree or certifications, McCann says. (If the job only requires a two-year degree and you list your Ph.D., you may be deemed overqualified.)
  • If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, make the software blush. Use relevant keywords mentioned in the job qualifications. And for frequently abbreviated terms, follow this formula: Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
  • Yes, more keywords should go in the qualifications section. Numbers, too. But don’t just list accomplishments—use numbers to quantify your impact. How large was that team? By what percent did your changes improve efficiency?
  • It’s the end of the page, but not necessarily the end of your resume. If you need more space to comprehensively describe your career, use it.

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