A tip for applying to jobs online

This post is part of a series that takes generic job search advice from experts and attempts to give you actionable steps to implement that advice.

The first post in this new series can be found here.

We’ve all read catchy career advice titles like the ones below:

  • Top ten ways to nail that interview
  • Job search priority number one: networking
  • Five ways to make a great first impression

I ate this stuff up while in school and while focusing on my career search. Based on the titles, the career search seemed so simple because, according to “career experts”, it was all distilled down to ten steps, three techniques, etc., etc. On the surface, this advice spells out exactly what you should be focusing on. A key issue that you’ve probably noticed with 95 percent of career advice, however, is that it’s painfully generic!   

For this edition, we’ll focus on a cool way to implement this generic tip: “When applying to jobs online, beat the Applicant Tracking System by tailoring your resume with the right words.”

First off, great advice (albeit generic)! By tailoring your resume to meet what recruiting software screens, you improve your chances of getting noticed. That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is how to actually accomplish this.

What the heck is ATS?!

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS for short) are software packages used by recruiters, HR professionals, and executives to weed out candidates based on words, phrases, and titles used in your resume, cover letter, and online application.  If you’ve submitted your resume into the bottomless black boxes that are online job applications, you’ve likely had your application screened by this software.  ATS software uses a mixture of algorithms to sift through hundreds and thousands of resumes at a time. It highlights (according to the algorithms) which candidates are the best fit for the position. Hiring managers can then take this list of “top” candidates and start the interviewing process.  You may be perfect for a position and, because your resume doesn’t meet the sniff test of the software, may never get a call to interview.  Bottom line: the software is designed to weed through the fluff of online applications according to the hiring manager’s rules.

If you want to learn more, here are a few software packages on the market:

http://www.hrmdirect.com/

http://www.halogensoftware.com/products/halogen-erecruitment/

http://recruiting.jobvite.com/

Here’s an interesting youtube video from an HR perspective:

Just to recap:

The recruiting industry uses algorithms in their resume screening …why not do the same to focus your resume writing?!

Enter Wordle

Wordle is an online word cloud generator.  You simply paste in a block of text, and the algorithms sift through it to highlight the most prominent, useful, and impactful words and phrases.  While this application isn’t new, it’s still incredibly useful (used in the ’08 presidential campaign by media outlets to analyze themes and messages in candidates’ speeches).

By pasting in a job description, Wordle can be used as a tool in your job search to quickly isolate which keywords and phrases hiring managers place an emphasis on.  Words that are more important in their selection process will likely appear larger and more prominent in the Wordle word cloud.  You can then highlight these words as you write your resume for a specific position.

Here’s a quick exercise that shows how this can be useful.

I found a job description (Director of Real Estate) from a well known real estate job website, pasted it into Wordle, and this graphic was generated:

Wordle generates a graphic composition of the words in that job description. Words with more emphasis and importance are given larger font and more prominence in the graphic.

Given the replication of “real estate” and a few other common words in the job description, they are the most prominent. But the second tier of words starts to hint at what is likely important in this position. When writing a resume for this position, I’d want to explain my experience with all of these words, skills, etc. For example, these words jump out to me as ones to focus on when writing a resume for this position:

Leasing, strategy, development, growth, relationships, negotiations, operations, and design..

By using these words, and others in the word cloud, you may improve your chances of beating an ATS because hiring managers are likely to focus on these words when weeding out online applications, cover letters, and resumes.

I hope that helps you in your career search. Good luck!

Want to improve your resume for better results?! Focus on WHITE SPACE!

Since many students in undergrad and graduate real estate programs are graduating this month, improving one’s resume is an important topic to discuss.  Here’s the deal: most people dedicate much of their effort to the content of their resumes (as they should) but they often get overlooked by potential employers and recruiters because of the sea of people focusing on exactly the same thing. The resume is an essential tool in the job search and can be remarkably improved by this simple tip:

To make more impact on a potential employer or recruiter, give your resume more WHITE SPACE!

In a past life (college) I went through the rigors of education in finance and architecture.  The experience forced me to constantly switch between my analytical side and creative side.  In a way, a resume acts on the same fashion  If one defines their resume as a tool—one for enticing an employer to inquire further about a candidate for a potential position—it is structured to give that potential employer a snapshot of the candidate’s factual, content driven background while being a holistic, design driven document.  Most people miss the step about merging the design of the document with its content. This can have profound effects on a potential employer’s perception of a candidate.

Here’s a quick exercise to wrap some context around the subject: Search Google for “resume book” and focus the search only on PDF files (advanced search…bottom of search page—> file type—> PDF).  Take a few minutes to look over as many resumes as you can.  If you spend about ten seconds on each resume, several will start to jump out at you as more interesting, more professional, more polished, etc.  These resumes likely have the same content as the others, yet they are likely excellently designed and probably have the right amount of white space—two things that make a resume jump out to a potential employer or recruiter.

White space is an essential design principal that’s captured well in this quick article:
quick white space article

When I was in business school we were coached to write and structure our resumes to be read in 30-60 seconds by a potential employer or recruiter. That seems extremely quick when you want to pitch an entire career’s worth of skills, experience, and value.  You’ve likely done amazing work in your career and want to do all that hard work more justice than 30 seconds worth of time.

As this article and research study suggest, you have much, much less time to actually make an initial impact (just 6 seconds!).
resume design eye tracking study 6 seconds

The reason that white space is so important is because it provides breathability and hierarchy to a page.  As the article mentions, a recruiter’s eye naturally focuses on several parts of your resume to quickly make a judgment call on your fit with their organization. Now that we know trained HR professionals develop first impressions very quickly when deciding on your “fit” with a position or company, it is extremely important to highlight and direct their eye to your most important accomplishments and attributes—done through white space.

OK Kyle, you say white space is important. But how the heck do I actually improve the breathability of my resume?!

Here are a few quick and simple white space tips to help you improve the readability of your resume with a time-strapped HR representative in mind:

1) To gauge the effectiveness of your resume, take a hard look from a recruiter’s perspective
A recruiter’s main goal is to weed out 100s of resumes as quickly as possible. Ask a friend to review your resume for 6-10 seconds (time them) and then have them tell you what kind of position you are right for—essentially see if your resume makes that right first impression.  Are you gunning for an analyst position in a public or private REIT? Are you a hoping to launch your career in development, brokerage, capital markets, etc.?  If they are confused, not sure about your direction, or have too many questions after an initial scan, creating more white space (and deleting useless content) could help immensely.

2) Have your left margin be entirely dedicated to three to four main topics: Education, Experience, Skills, etc.
Indent everything else to the right by at least ½ inch. This allows the structure of your resume to become more prominent because it visually creates hierarchy in your resume.  White space is all about creating hierarchy, flow, and structure.  A half an inch may seem like too much space, but it helps the structure immensely.  If you’ve crammed your resume with tons of content, it may cause your text to fall onto two pages after indenting. If this is the case then DELETE CONTENT. Believe me, it’ll be hard and tough to take out that award you won three years ago or shorten the wording on the project where you improved ROI by ten percent last year, but you will create a greater impression because your resume will appear much better structured and more pleasing to the eye—which will also create a better impact on the person viewing your resume. It’ll also allow them to read the gems in your resume with far greater impact.

Here’s a quick before/after example:

3) If you have to have a large block of text, insert more spacing between each line.
This helps further with creating hierarchy within your resume. No one will actually read content in your resume in detail if the entire thing looks like this:

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah I’m perfect for this position!! blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Hire me!! blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah I’m awesome! blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah

Spacing between lines places prominence on the text and further highlights the content. If you’ve got a large block of text, you can also build in more white space by isolating that block of text above and below. This further highlights the content and adds additional structure to the overall document. To do this (assuming your resume is in MS Word), go to paragraph->spacing->before/after.  You can adjust the points accordingly. Make sure that you are consistent throughout your entire resume with spacing adjustments—just remember: white space between lines, white space between sections.

Here’s a quick before/after example:

The resume sample on the right uses 6pt separation between sections and 1.15pt separation between lines.  Certainly tweak those to allow for the desired amount of content since the example may be more or less content than you like. I deleted 8 lines total between the two.

4) Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Why?! Because you identify someone else’s work you like, know they’ve done something right with it, and wish to replicate it to hopefully get similar results.  White papers (quick research findings summed up by consultants or industry leaders) are a great source for applying design techniques to resumes.  White papers, at their core, are doing the same things resumes do—they convey one’s work quickly and succinctly. They are similarly space constrained because they have to explain a mountain of research, opinions, and trends in a short amount of space. The techniques they use are specifically done to quickly maximize the message to the reader. They also have excellent white space. When you read a white paper, if it’s done correctly, you have a “get it, got it, good” mentality.

Check out this CBRE White Paper from 2009. Pay close attention to how white space is used, how hierarchy of information (titles, sub titles, etc.) is structured, and how key points are made (don’t worry about the fact that it’s seven pages, that’s not the point).
cbre white paper 

The research and findings behind the white paper are likely very lengthy (in a resume: your education, experience, accomplishments) and yet the information is quickly explained to the reader—partly because good white space and hierarchy techniques are used.

So there you have it.

Improving the breathability of your resume, through white space, is a simple way to make an impact with a potential employer or recruiter because it structures their eye and allows them to quickly read your content.  Remember that deleting content (though painful b/c of the work you did to write it) could be necessary to improving your resume.  On the other hand, less content (i.e. too much white space) could leave a negative impression on the viewer. To find the right level of white space, try out many versions with friends and family.  It’ll be an exercise that could pay dividends when your resume is in a huge stack that a potential employer or recruiter wants to weed out very quickly.

Good luck!