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What's Wrong with My Resume?

A keyboard and a cup of coffee on a desk.

Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

My job search today is so different from the last one I did a few years ago. Then, I sent out a couple of resumes and accepted a new job. This time, I have sent out 16 resumes since January and have had just a couple of phone interviews that led to nothing. Could you review my resume? I just don't know what to do and am completely lost. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

I normally don't review individual resumes in this column, but your resume seemed to capture just about all the mistakes job seekers frequently make, so it seemed sensible to make an exception because so many people need to read this.

When you apply for a job online and send in your resume, the resume is screened initially by an applicant tracking system (ATS) and must clear some algorithm hurdles before it can get to a recruiter. Advances in technology have forced resumes to go through countless evolutions to make it through the ATS gauntlet.

Formatting a Strong Resume

Here are some ways to generate a resume that will navigate to the top of the search results:

  • Your e-mail address and LinkedIn profile should always be hyperlinked.
  • Don't place your e-mail address or LinkedIn profile in a header or footer, where an ATS cannot identify them.
  • Don't file your resume as a PDF. ATSs do not get on well with PDF-formatted resumes.
  • Even a highly formatted Microsoft Word document can cause problems for ATSs, so don't upload a formatted resume to resume databases. An ATS-friendly resume has all formatting removed and is entirely left-justified.
  • Every resume should have a target job title. Recruiters work from job descriptions, and the first thing an ATS looks for in a database search is the job title.
  • Skip the usual objective that states the type of job you want. The resume should show recruiters that you can do the specific job they are trying to fill—not the type of job you aspire to land.
  • Follow the target job title with a paragraph that focuses solely on how your skills match the company's needs.

Your Needs vs. Customer Needs

People tend to think that a resume must be an honest recitation of everything they've done based on what they think is important, but a resume like that lessens the odds it will be discovered in resume database searches.

Remember those two lessons we all learned during our first week on the job:

  • The customer is always right.
  • Find out what the customers want so you know what to sell them.

If you show in your resume that you possess the experience and skills the employer says it is looking for, that would make your resume's content far more objective and relevant, and it would increase the odds of your resume being discoverable in database searches.

It's All About Focus

You cannot write a resume that tries to be all things to all people because it will not have the focus or keywords needed to show up in databases. Consequently, you should have different resumes that focus on specific target jobs. Each resume should immediately convey your ability to do the job you're applying for based on the hiring organization's stated needs and priorities, and it should describe, whenever possible, your qualifications using the organization's terminology. The result will be a document that speaks directly to "the customer's" needs, which makes the resume more discoverable and more likely to be read with greater attention.

How Important Is Resume Length?

Forget about outdated rules on resume length. If data density is important for discoverability, will a one-page or two-page resume be more discoverable? If you have enough relevant information for three or even four focused pages, so much the better. More pages also give you the freedom to use a font large enough to be read easily—no more reducing the font size to fit everything on one page.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.

Packed with practical, honest, real-world guidance for successfully navigating common HR career challenges, Martin Yate's new book, The HR Career Guide: Great Answers to Tough Career Questions, is available at the SHRMStore. Order your copy today!