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Revising Your Resume

by Taylor Slattery | April 14, 2022

Have you spent hours polishing your portfolio only to come up empty-handed in your job hunt? You may think you need to retool your presentations, tweak some copy, or add more personal work, but in reality, hiring managers may have never even seen your portfolio in the first place. If you’re failing to land any interviews, the true culprit may be your resume.

When you think about the process of finding a job, it may seem like the two most important aspects are your portfolio and the interview. As a result, you’ve likely given both of these a lot of thought. You’ve meticulously laid out your portfolio to demonstrate your abilities and your unique way of thinking and practiced responses to common interview questions. However, before you can get any eyes on your site or have the chance to charm an interviewer, your resume needs to make it past that first initial hurdle.

And this hurdle has a name. This invisible barrier to entry is also known as an Applicant Tracking System, commonly abbreviated as an ATS. The job market is saturated with candidates, and with most applications taking less than a minute to complete, hiring managers are inundated with resumes—many of whom belong to applicants who are underqualified for the job. To make the process of sorting through them to find the most qualified candidates easier, Applicant Tracking Systems are used to scan the contents of each resume. Using a set of keywords based on the job description, the ATS will give each candidate a score which is used to rank them against the other candidates. The hiring manager then uses this final list to select candidates for the interview process.

So the reason you haven’t landed any interviews may very well be that robots don’t like you. While it may be too late to take back what you said to your Roomba last week, it’s never too late to revise your resume.

To beat these robot gatekeepers, you need to learn to play their game. There are a few aspects of your current resume that might be working against you. First, let’s tackle the contents. Head to a job board like LinkedIn. Perform a search for the types of positions you’re looking for and copy all of the text from any job listings that look interesting. Place the text from those listings into a word editor or your favorite organization tool like Notion and start to compile a list. Do this a few more times until you’ve got a decent-sized collection.

The next step is to analyze these listings for keywords. Start reading through the first listing, and make note of any words pertaining to hard skills or job responsibilities that stand out to you. Next, perform a document-wide search for this term (commonly cmd-F or ctrl-F). If you’ve selected your words well, then chances are there will be multiple instances of this word found throughout all of the job listings—the higher the instance count, the better. That’s your cue to add this word to your resume.

Your goal here is to identify the keywords the ATS will be using so that you can include them in your resume and be seen by the hiring manager. Using a larger sample pool of job listings will give you a more general idea of the types of words you should include in your resume, but ideally, you’ll slightly alter your resume to better match each job listing you apply for. Look for clever ways to slightly alter the way you describe past work experience to include these words. Failing to include the correct keywords for any given job listing will have the biggest effect on your chances of landing an interview, but other factors can play a role as well.

Formatting that doesn’t play well with an ATS can also work against you. If you’ve got a highly polished resume that you designed in Illustrator, an ATS will likely have trouble scanning it.

While the design itself may be frame-worthy, when it comes to searching for jobs, you’ll be better served by something much more reserved like a Docx. Stick to Word or Google Docs for this part. It’s not as glamorous, but they’ll get the job done. You’ll also need to find a way to translate the content of any infographics or charts that you’ve included into text, as an ATS can’t scan those either.

Once you’ve reformatted your resume to make it ATS-friendly, and included as many of those juicy keywords as possible, all that’s left to do is get out there and apply. Don’t think of your resume as being “done”. Use each round of applications as a chance to revise your approach and improve. Happy hunting.


Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.


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