From the best resume tips to interview strategies, this guide will help job seekers win an employer’s attention and provide some insights for HR leaders and recruiters seeking to understand how their peers are addressing modern recruiting challenges. The information used to generate these tips comes from the RiseSmart 2018 Recruiter Survey, which asks recruiters about the most important elements when selecting promising candidates.

We’ve taken that data and created a guide with actionable steps to follow and improve job search efforts and recruiting practices.

Understanding the Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) system

An Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) system is a software application that helps recruiters with the recruiting process. In short, the system is designed to weed through the many resumes received for job openings. Without it, recruiters would be swamped with resumes and find it difficult to weed out the best candidates from the not-so-great ones.

Findings from the 2018 Recruiter Study indicated that 81% of recruiters use an ATS system and 90% of recruiters pull candidates from these databases. It makes sense that many recruiters would use an ATS system since most job openings can receive up to 250 resumes, which is why ATS systems are so widely used.

How to get past the ATS system

ATS systems are “smart” and getting more sophisticated. While it’s a great idea to work with a professional resume writer, there are four best practices anyone can employ to make sure a resume is optimized through ATS systems.

  1. Use a Plain Layout – Ditch the text boxes, tables, and graphics. These elements can easily jumble up a resume, causing it to get bypassed by the ATS system.
  2. Incorporate Keywords – Include relevant keywords taken from the job description. Don’t overstuff your resume with keywords. Instead, utilize keywords in sentences that describe your actual experience and accomplishments.
  3. Include a Summary Section – Objective statements are outdated. Instead, include a well-written summary of your best, relevant talents to provide a snapshot of your professional expertise and draw in your reader.
  4. Check the Spelling – Given the plethora of spell-check and grammar-check programs available (Grammarly is a favorite), it's ironic that this tip is still required. Don’t be a “manager” that “overlooks” details. Simple spelling mistakes on a resume can ruin the entire document.

The next section dives deeper into areas of the resume the recruiters reported that they focus on; review this information to help you tighten up these sections and improve your chances of being seen.

Primary resume areas to improve

Job seeking begins with self-assessment and identifying one’s goals. Once you know what type of role you’re looking for, it’s time to start looking at specific areas of your resume to get them up to par.

It’s good to remember that 56% of recruiters are looking specifically for resumes that have honest content. Make sure the key areas of your resume match what you say about yourself on all digital channels and anything you claim will hold up against scrutiny and further investigation.

Align skills to the job description

When you create a resume, the goal is to align your career experience and skills as closely as possible to the job description. Avoid copying content verbatim, as this can get your resume thrown out.

Related content: How to Uncover Keywords in Job Postings and Write Attention-Getting Resumes.

It’s also important to have transferable skills that line up with the position. A few examples of transferable skills that recruiters want to see include:

  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Positive attitude
  • Adaptability to change
  • Strategic thinking and analysis

A clean, well-written, and concise resume is an obvious preference for recruiters. A resume should be designed to pique a recruiter’s interest. Be sure your content is relevant to the position and that it hooks the reader early. Recruiters only give about 6 seconds per resume, so state the most important details clearly.

Generalist vs. specialist

Another interesting tip is to stay away from generalized resumes. While you might think you want to “stay open” and “not limit yourself,” experienced resume writers will tell you that having a generalist resume won’t help you in your job search. Your document should be focused and easy to scan, and present only the most relevant and applicable details that speak directly to the job.

Length of employment

The resume rule for your employment history is to only go back 10 or 15 years. This helps avoid revealing your age, if you feel it's detrimental to getting the role you desire. However, this rule could be bent depending on the relevance of your earlier job history.

Often, your work history prior to the last 10-15 years is made up of experience that you have now surpassed in terms of accomplishments, technology, market trends, and titles. However, it can seem awkward to not show the evolution of your advancement. After all, no one will believe that you started your career 10 years ago in a senior-level position, without having to work your way up the ladder.

One method that can satisfy the need for a historical track record without showing your age is to create an “Additional Experience” or “Early Experience” section. In this section, you might have your employers’ names and your titles, but not include years of employment. In some cases, you might add in relevant accomplishments that's impressive by today’s standards.

Number of resume pages

This is debatable because resumes can be a single page, two pages, or even longer. Yet, according to the 2018 Recruiter Survey, 71% of recruiters accept two-page resumes, with only 8% preferring one page. While two pages are acceptable, they also communicate in the survey that job seekers need to ensure those pages are filled with relevant, targeted content.

Avoid filling your resume with fluff simply to reach two pages. Your goal is to include content, achievements, and skills that capture the recruiter’s attention.

Key interviewing insights

Looking at the results and feedback provided in the Recruiter Study, interviewing skills and self-marketing were identified as two areas of weakness for many job seekers.

Basic interviewing skills

When it comes to getting back to basics, focus your attention on the following:

  • Research the company – Be the candidate who has done research on the company for which you are applying. Find out the most recent company news and use that information to align with your enthusiasm for the position. You will come across as both professional and prepared.
  • Know your resume – They called on you because something in your resume impressed them, and they’re likely going to ask about the accomplishments that piqued their interest. Be sure to have your SMART Stories ready to expand on your accomplishments and tie them to their needs. 
  • Ask good questions – Avoid asking questions that can be answered by looking at the company’s website. Instead, shoot for questions like:
    • What sort of challenges can be expected in this position?
    • How does your company measure success?
    • Where does this position fit in with the company’s primary goals?
  • Stay professional – Avoid badmouthing previous employers, exhibit calm body language, and listen as much as you speak.
  • Be a good listener – This goes beyond staying quiet while someone is speaking. To truly listen to someone is to give them your undivided attention. Clarify what was said to avoid misunderstandings, and then formulate a thoughtful response to keep the conversation going.

Related content: Tips for “On-the-Spot” Behavioral-Based Interview Questions

Marketing yourself

 If you’re new to the idea of a personal brand and self-marketing, here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Know your unique talents and skills – Knowing your professional passions and what drives you to go above and beyond the job requirements is a key differentiator. Be able to discuss your talents and skills without bragging. Instead, explain how your abilities helped your previous employer(s) improve productivity, save money, or reduce costs.
  • Maintain a personal branding toolkit – When you go to your interview, be sure all your professional documents match your online profile(s). Maintain the same brand across the board for your LinkedIn and/or website.
  • Leverage SMART stories to show your best self – Instead of reiterating what’s on your resume, go into SMART (Situation with Metrics, Actions, Results, and Tie-in) Stories to provide details about your accomplishments. Show your passion and enthusiasm as you tell your stories to showcase personality, and your potential employer will see the real you.

Related content: How to Land Your Dream Job – Start with a Professional Value Proposition

Best time to follow-up

Anxiety is normal to experience after an interview. You may feel eager to know if you were selected, or not. Typically, companies conduct two or three interviews before they select a candidate and make an offer.

With that said, most recruiters mention that they would prefer candidates wait three to five days before following up. In fact, they can disqualify candidates for jumping the gun and following up too early.

How to say "Thank You"

Recruiters have an opinion of the best form of thank you notes to send. Most prefer email, and many enjoy a handwritten note. Job seekers have an opportunity to impress recruiters by providing a personalized hand-written note that shows both interest and authenticity. However, some recruiters were just fine with a thank you note sent via LinkedIn messaging.

Whichever method you choose, thank those you met with during an interview and keep the message short and to the point.

Networking and LinkedIn tips

Interestingly, 80% of recruiters enjoy networking, but it must be done correctly.

Comments from the Recruiter Study included references to poor networking behaviors. For instance, don’t reach out to connect only to find out which jobs you qualify for. Avoid pushing your resume onto a recruiter. It’s unprofessional and often they won’t network or even consider such a pushy candidate.

The best thing to do is to apply for the position first. After that, reach out and let the recruiter know why you’re seeking to connect. Provide information, such as how you’re excited about this opportunity and how your experience with a previous employer relates to this job.

About 95% of recruiters use LinkedIn to source candidates and top talent. According to the Recruiter Study, the top two ways recruiters look for quality candidates is by using keywords and matching skills.

This is not the time to have a bare-boned LinkedIn profile. Start brushing it up by adding keywords that are relevant to the career you’re seeking. You can add up to 50 skills on your LinkedIn profile. Aim to fill out all 50 skills. This way, you’ll have plenty of keywords and relevant matching skills that will make it easier for recruiters to find you.

Related content: The Art of Making Small Talk to Improve Networking Success

Avoid immediate disqualification

The Recruiter Study indicates the two main reasons some candidates are immediately disqualified are for unreasonable salary demands and candidate attitudes.

Show salary flexibility

Although you do want to be paid appropriately for your job, you have to consider what that entails. Are you asking for an accurate amount based on your experience or are you simply aiming for a higher rate?

The study mentioned that recruiters like to see when a candidate offers a salary range that they’re willing to take. It provides the wiggle room necessary to negotiate a proper salary that makes the employer and candidate happy.

Of course, don’t take a job if you feel the salary wage is too low—you’d be doing yourself and the company a disservice. However, if you’re willing to be flexible with your salary, your chances of being selected improve.

Present a positive attitude

Having a poor attitude or exhibiting unprofessional behavior will ruin any candidate’s chances for a job offer. Companies like people who are upbeat, excited, and ready to show how they can contribute to overall company goals. They also appreciate candidates who do their homework and understand the company’s unique market position.

Know your background

Background checks are common for most, if not all, employers. The check is usually the last step in the hiring process, and passing this step means you’ll likely be extended an offer. The most commonly reviewed elements of a background check include:

  • Criminal background (felonies/fraud)
  • Dates of employment
  • Degree and education

Criminal history checks are the most important information that employers review. They want to know if the candidate has any legal issues. Most often, they’re looking at offenses such as violent crimes, fraud, or felonies. If a candidate has a felony, it is often grounds for immediate disqualification.

These background checks make it crucial to be honest about employment dates on your resume. Any information that is purposely embellished or omitted will eventually turn up.

Be honest about your education. If you don’t have a specific degree, don’t lie about it. It’s better to indicate what you’ve studied, and the number of credits accumulated, than to list a degree as complete if you haven’t finished it.

What can hiring managers do to improve interview processes?

While our study revealed many lessons for the job seeker, it also provided great insight for hiring managers and recruiters looking to embrace the newest best practices and stay competitive with their hiring processes.

Related content: 7 Easy Steps to Improve Your Company’s Hiring Processes

While the hiring process is never simple, there are emerging trends that have significantly streamlined the process and opened up different methods of conducting interviews.

There are three top methods identified by recruiters that make the interviewing process easier.

  1. Use online soft skills assessments – Get a better picture of your candidates early on by issuing and reviewing soft skill tests. This can also help find more diverse and fresh talent in places you may not have considered.
  2. Try casual interviewing – This is exactly what it means. Perform the interview in a more laid-back setting, like over a meal. This can give you better insight into how a person behaves in a natural setting.
  3. Perform video and Skype interviews – Even though traditional interviews take place in person, video and Skype interviews have made it easier for remote employees to participate. Whether interviewing a remote employee, or someone who lives in the same town, video interviewing can be a time-saver while allowing recruiters to connect to the interviewee.

Transparency has become huge among employers since social media changed the game. It’s crucial to be open about your policies, company goals, and working environment to attract and maintain the best talent.

For the job seeker, success can be achieved by having good interview skills, a solid resume, and exhibiting your personality. From the initial contact to final hiring, it takes the average employer 6 weeks to extend any candidate an offer. So be patient and allow the process to unfold.