Turn the infamous ATS into your job-hunt friend!
Natalia Autenrieth, a contributor for our partner TopResume, tells you how!

If you are looking for a job in the financial sector, you have probably spent considerable time trying to optimize your resume.  If doing so felt confusing and difficult, you’re not alone: today’s candidates have additional hurdles to clear before they even get to a hiring manager.  The applicant tracking system (ATS) stands as a modern gatekeeper whose sole task is to keep the least-qualified candidates out.  While this software has unquestionable efficiency advantages, it can still result in a qualified candidate being dismissed. Here are five tips to help you write a resume that will sail past the ATS bots and speak to the human reader on the other side.

1. Don’t bury your contact information in the header

While putting contact information in the header looks neat and allows you to save valuable space on the page for their core competencies and qualifications, doing this may also confuse the ATS. Err on the side of caution and put all critical contact information into the main body of the document where the software can read it.

2. Be strategic about keywords

The ATS uses word-recognition algorithms to match the job requirements with the keywords on your resume. When applying for a job in insurance, banking, accounting, financial planning, or investments, using the right keywords will help you get past the bots and position you as the candidate of choice for the hiring manager. 

How can you be sure you are using the right keywords? Begin by carefully reading the description for the job you are applying for, as well as three or four others that are similar. Highlight words and phrases that are used consistently (or use word cloud software to identify patterns). For example, if you are applying for a job as an associate portfolio manager at a bank, the position description might mention the following requirements: completing an error-free new account setup process; using an automated rebalancing tool due to liquidity needs, excess cash, or tax loss harvesting; familiarity with Reg. 9; and handling trade order forms accurately and confidentially. If your resume doesn’t explicitly list these as competencies, the ATS might discard your application as unqualified.

A word of caution about using abbreviations, which are present in many financial-services-sector job descriptions. If a keyword or competency has a common abbreviation (such as CPA or CFP), include both the abbreviated version and the full version.

3. Don’t use a pretty template you downloaded online

Sure, those templates look beautiful, crisp, and professional. Unfortunately, there is a high risk that the fancy formatting won’t be read by the ATS. In a way, this limitation may work in your favor since the financial-services industry tends to be more conservative in its expectations of candidate appearances, which certainly includes the resume format.

4. Leave out charts and graphics

Sharp-looking charts and compelling graphics may catch the eye of the hiring manager, but they aren’t likely to impress the ATS. A clean and straightforward design has the best chance of making it past the bots. If creativity is a prerequisite for the position you are interested in, consider including a link to your online portfolio where you can show off your skills without ATS-imposed constraints. It is a good idea to incorporate numbers and other specifics into your resume, but you must do it in the body of the text.

5. Use an ATS-compatible file format

Not all ATS programs are created equal! Some are limited in the type of file formats that they can digest accurately. Look carefully through the application requirements to be certain which file formats are acceptable. Typically, Microsoft Word formats .doc and .docx are the safest and most commonly accepted. If the requirements list PDF as an option, you can use it — but don’t just assume that the ATS can handle it.

Building your resume to beat the bots

Financial-service-position applicants must be aware that the first “reader” of their resumes isn’t human. In order to get past the ATS, they must understand how these common formatting mistakes can hurt their chances of getting an interview.

Now, some candidates will solely write for the bots at the expense of the human reader, which is the other extreme of the same mistake. It is possible to navigate the ATS and appeal to the hiring manager at the same time, but that outcome requires practice, balance, and in-depth editing — or a little help from a professional. Once you find that balance, your resume will beat the bots and land you the job you desire.

Natalia Autenrieth is a contributor for TopResume, the largest resume-writing service in the world. If you aren’t sure where you stand in your battle against the resume-scanning bots, submit your resume to TopResume for a free resume review that checks for ATS compliance.

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