Let me guess why you’re here.
You’re done with spending hours searching and applying for jobs online only to get an auto-generated “Not interested” email (or worse, confirmation page). You’re over all those hours spent researching resume tips and best practices for the sound of crickets instead of your phone ringing to schedule a screening phone interview.
I get why it’s tempting to download a free resume template, especially ones with classy modern layouts or flashy icons or graphs.
But did you know that these resumes are likely never making it to the hiring manager when you apply online?
Here’s what’s happening to your resume when you upload it to an online job application: That employer’s Applicant Tracking software reads your resume from left to right, categorizes the text it finds in its own digital form, and stores that information for ranking or keyword searching later.
There are several reasons why that free (or not free) resume template may be hurting your job search and making it harder for you to get hired.
Resume Templates with Multiple Columns
That Applicant Tracking software I mentioned before reads your resume from left to right. The first problem with resume templates sporting a multiple-column layout is that your information isn’t being read, categorized, and stored correctly. This isn’t a problem necessarily if you’re using columns to organize skills that can be listed in any order, but make sure your Experience isn’t getting garbled by this software.
The other issue with multiple columns is the intention behind them: making it easier to cram more information onto one page. Less is more when it comes to resume writing, and a crowded 1-page resume is less effective in marketing your strong communication skills than you may think.
Resume Templates with Icons or Graphics
A common resume trend is creating a visual representation of your skills and experiences. This can include photos, different fonts, lots of color, tables, icons, graphs, and charts. While, yes, these make your resume FAR more eye-catching, they are likely keeping your resume from actually being read. Applicant Tracking software can't see photos at all or recognize icons, graphs, and charts; they can only read and store text.
These icons are often used to replace critically important keywords. If you're using graphs to show your accomplishments or icons to represent skills, employers that search for those specific details in their database of candidates will not find your resume or application. For example, employers may be looking for “customer service” or “cut costs” and their software won’t understand that an icon with stick figures or a dollar sign means the same.
Resume Templates with Unique Organization
Many resume templates have the contact information at the bottom of the resume or vertically along the side. Many also have the information divided into different columns to make the flow of information more unique. Yes, this looks different and you may think this will make you stand out; but you're really throwing off Applicant Tracking software.
When your information is parsed, the software will want to put your information in a particular order. So instead of your name, the software may put your last employer in the First Name field of their database. Employers will never find you or your resume when your information is being read and stored like this.
Resume Templates with Creative Headings
Not only does your information need to be presented in the correct order, but you need to help Applicant Tracking software out a bit when it comes to identifying your information. Your resume template may include interesting and unique headings (like “What I’ve Done” instead of “Experience”), but they will not help your information be read and stored correctly.
Stick to the basics: Summary of Qualifications, Qualifications, Key Skills, Areas of Expertise, Professional Experience, Work History, Education, Training, etc.
Resume Templates with Minimal Space
Another technical issue with resume templates is the silent nudge to include the least amount of information about your background as possible to keep the template looking neat. Have you ever heard the phrase “Content is king”? Applicant Tracking software is looking for specific keywords, the frequency of those keywords, and the context behind the use of those keywords when determining how well you match the job you’ve applied for.
When you use a resume template that has enough space for minimal information, you lower your chances of being found in a vast database of applicants. Even if you do rank as a top 10 qualified candidate, the minimal information on your resume may be selling you short compared to the other applicants.
The Best Resume Templates for Networking
There is a time and a place for resume templates in your job search, though! No, resume templates are not effective when you’re applying for jobs online. Resume templates are best used when networking or delivering your resume to a specific person by email or in person. When networking, your resume as a marketing tool should be as to-the-point and effective as a business card.
Your networking resume will still have less information than a resume for online applications, but it should showcase the most advantageous details about you. Resume templates with space for minimal information should include your contact information, a concise Branding Statement, a trimmed down version of your work history showcasing your achievements or major contributions toward organizational goals, and your most recent academic or training credentials.
The Best Resume Templates Overall
There are resume templates online that will hurt your job search, and there are resume templates that were designed by Certified Professional Resume Writers who understand the in’s-and-out’s of the hiring process and how to create resumes that conquer it. Granted, these templates won’t have multi-column layouts or graphic elements unless they are designed specifically for networking.
Don’t forget that there is more to resume writing than your resume’s design. Developing a Branding Statement that showcases the value you offer, demonstrating your skills in action throughout your resume, and targeting it for the specific job you’re applying for are all important elements for creating a job-winning resume that will conquer Applicant Tracking software.
Even you can create a job-winning resume with the Do-it-yourself Resume ($60 value) which includes this ATS-approved Modern Resume Template, Branding Statement Cheat Sheet, Skills Inventory, and Resume Targeting Checklist!
I challenge you to avoid the free resume templates that aren’t designed with modern hiring processes in mind unless you’re job search plan has a strong networking focus.
Besides designing the document itself, what other challenges do you run into when updating your resume?