Ask LH: Getting My Resume Past Screeners

Ask LH: Getting My Resume Past Screeners

Dear Lifehacker,

I heard that a lot of companies use software to weed out “good” from “bad” resumes. How do those systems work and is there anything I can do to improve my chances of my resume getting through the system and into the hands of a real person?


Resume Revamper

Dear RR,

It’s true: Employers and hiring managers are turning more than ever to resume-screening software, thanks to the overwhelming number of job applications they get. It pays to know how these systems (called Applicant Tracking Systems or Automated Resume Screeners) work so you can make your resume more relevant to the job you’re applying for. Here’s a brief overview of how the software analyses your resume and what you can do about it.

Resume Screeners Score Resumes On Keyword Relevancy And Experience


The infographic at right (click to expand) from previously mentioned resume web app Resunate illustrates the basic process:

  1. Your resume is run through a parser, which removes the styling from the resume and breaks the text down into recognised words or phrases.
  2. The parser then sorts that content into different categories: Education, contact info, skills and work experience.
  3. The employer’s desired skills or keywords are matched against the results from above.
  4. Your resume is scored on relevancy — using semantic matching against the employer’s search terms and your years of experience.

So, clearly, it’s vital to include relevant text in your resume — but rather than just dump all the keywords from the job description in, for best results you’ll need to employ a strategy. (Most savvy job applicants are likely using the same keywords in their resumes.)

How To “Hack” The Automated Resume Screeners

First, don’t just focus on the keywords that are in the job description. Sophisticated resume screeners have gone beyond just keywords to look for semantic matches — related terms (e.g., not just CPA, but also accounting, audits, financial statements, etc.). Resunate co-founder Mona Abdel-Halim told me that this is how sites like and others use technology to help employers find the best candidates (you can see Monster’s concept-matching resume search engine here).

Prioritise the words in your resume. The Resume Help blog recommends auditing the job description to build a list of priority and secondary words to include:

Priority resume keywords: words used in the company’s listed job title, used in the description headlines, used more than twice, called out as success criteria.

Secondary resume keywords: mention of competitor companies or brand name experience, keyword phrases (phrases surrounding priority keywords), notable industry qualifications (training, associations).

Consult an insider for help finding relevant words. It never hurts to get friendly with an HR manager or employer in your field — you can go straight to the source and ask them if they could either look over your resume or suggest what kinds of experience/skills they look for in a candidate.

Another possible contact to make is a person in a position similar to the one you’d like to have. LinkedIn, which is can be a great resource for job hunters, might be the best place to make these connections, especially in the industry groups forums.

Pepper all the job-related words across your resume. As the screeners also factor in the depth of your skills (i.e., analysing your length of experience), it’s also important to place those important words, where appropriate, throughout your resume, in all job positions if possible. Order your bullets in descending order of relevancy to the job description, Abdel-Halim advised.

Create a relevant category expertise section. Make sure your resume matches the special categories for the job you’re applying for. Resume Help gives these examples:

Companies are looking for specialists, not industry generalists, so identifying a category match is a critical first step. One way to do this is by creating a separate section in the top one-third of your online resume that captures the relevant category expertise.

Examples of generic category expertise: Management, Operations, Communications, Marketing.

Examples of specific, relevant category expertise: Client Relationship Management, Revenue Growth, Risk Management, Negotiation, CRM Program Development.

Don’t use photos on your resume. Background images and photos might trip up the system, making your resume unreadable.

Use bulleted lists, not paragraphs, to describe your work. Resume screeners may have a harder time separating long paragraphs. (Bulleted lists are also easier on human eyes.)

Use social networks to enhance your resume. Some resume screeners add other features to check up on you. Reppify, for example, checks your social network posts and how you use sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. So make sure what you post on those networks vibes with what you say on your resume.

Finally, don’t forget the basics: Make sure your resume includes all the job requirements. Your resume should address all the listed job requirements, such as years of experience and education.

Don’t forget, of course, that the ultimate goal will be to get your resume in the hands of a real human. Luckily these tips should also help your resume’s chance of getting past human screeners and hopefully land you an interview.

So while there are a lot of ways to get a job, if you’re concerned that your resume may never actually end up in anyone’s hands, these suggestions are a good starting point. Good luck!



Got your own tips for strengthening a resume and making it more relevant? Help job hunters in the comments.


  • Actually don’t bother applying online at all. Remember, regardless how good your resume is, even if it gets past the filters, the recruiter should know that 1) you are interested. 2) You are capable.

    So pick up the phone and chat to the recruiter/hr drone etc first. Get their email and send it directly to them. This makes them immediately read your resume without having to scan through hundreds of your competition.

    Was a consultant for 15 years. Never failed once.

    • Any recommendations for companies that use an external recruitment company to hire people? Seen quite a few who wont tell u exactly who they are without u getting far enough into the application process.

    • +1, except I’d go one step further.

      I’ve never got a job by applying online (Woolworths excepted). I’ve never *failed* to get a job by picking up the phone and calling a *recruiter* in my industry. Have a quick chat, schedule an “interview” and demonstrate value in a human-to-human interaction.

    • My question is determining what jobs are real and what aren’t? I applied for a ‘job’ about a year ago and got called by the agency, even had an interview with the supposed company, never got a call back about the job and the job is still being advertised and has been every week since.

      • Yeah, I consider online “job” ads to be actually ads for the agency that places it. I believe that this is spot-on 90% of the time – they’re fishing for applicants and advertising the kind of jobs they place.

        Still, it gives you an idea of the agencies that are out there and a number to call. Did you keep calling the agency back? I’ve found it helps to chase them.

    • You might be a bit out of touch with the job market today. Ads are saturated by job agencies and it’s rare to get a phone number or direct contact. HR people are absolutely awful to deal with and terrible at communicating.

  • So this is what it has come to, you’re vetted on the style and look of your resume without anyone actually reading it? Years at school, more at uni and probably more as a drone getting the experience you need and you don’t even get the satisfaction of the person you’re trying to impress actually reading the results of that effort! Bloody sham…

  • Melanie,

    Thanks for a great article for jobseekers and thinking to mention Reppify!

    A small point of correction, though: Jobseekers’ private information, such as content of posts, photos, videos, age, sexual orientation, etc. is, well, private, and we DO NOT share this kind of information with employers. We think using these elements is the WRONG way to hire.

    Recruiters often use Google and other Internet sources to search for information on candidates — often making hiring decisions based on the first few things they see (whether relevant to the actual job or not).

    The way we help jobseekers is by giving control over information exposed through resume details social media, which can be used to help them land that dream job they’ve applied for. As your article (and cool infographic) points out, recruiters use Reppify to learn about job applicants (the right way) and to quickly identify best-fit candidate matches to their open positions.

    We have a FAQ page on our website with more about social profile privacy and how Reppify works with job applicants.

    Thanks again!

    The Reppify Team

  • Use keywords in your resume, however there is a better way to overcome that.
    Simply copy and past the job add into the resume itself, then change the font to white and make the font 1pt.
    This means that, all the words from the add are “read” by the software and you get 100% compliant. As it is white and 1 pt, it won’t show on the print/resume!

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