Beyond the ATS: How and Why to Target Your Resume

By Carol Henger

Are you already adding key words to your resume to get it past an ATS (Applicant Tracking System), and still not hearing back from many employers? You are not alone and here is why: There is another critical step in the resume process that most job seekers skip, and that is targeting your resume to the first human being who will read it, a recruiter, or an HR representative. Today I’m going to share the best kept secret I have for appealing to the people who make the decision on whether your resume will go to the hiring manager or not. 

The 6-Second Rule 

Let’s begin with the 6-second rule which states that once a resume makes it beyond the first gatekeeper, an ATS, there is a second gatekeeper (a human being) that reads the resume for approximately 6 seconds, which is how long it takes to absorb the top 25-30% of page 1. This area includes a headline, a profile paragraph, and a list of key words separated by the line key with a “Qualifications” header. Next you need to determine what information to include in these three targeted sections.  

Finding Content for the Targeted Section 

First, start with the job posting. Read the entire thing. Every word. I know not every job posting is a compelling read, but this is where to find your targeting clues. As you read the job posting, highlight all the skills and job requirements in it that match your own skills and experience. This is the information you will use to appeal to the reader; the next challenge is how to make it fit. You will likely have a lot more words and phrases highlighted than your 25-30% of space on page one of the resume will fit. That’s ok. Just select the most important words to include. 

How to Draw the Reader In 

Begin with the headline. Type the exact title of the position, preceded by “Targeted Position:” making it very clear to the reader the exact job you are targeting. Next, write a powerful first sentence in the profile paragraph such as: “Highly skilled accountant with 5+ years of experience working in a global team on SAP software with results that consistently exceed clients’ expectations.” Each word in this sentence contains a requirement in the job posting. Every sentence thereafter (in the profile paragraph) is carefully chosen according to what you have highlighted in the job posting, while only including information about yourself that is true. Once you add qualifications to your resume, it signals to the employer that you have the experience or skill. (Don’t add anything to your resume that you couldn’t address in an interview!) Next, populate the “Qualifications” section, which is below the profile paragraph, with the key words from the job posting. 

Tips for Success 

Most job postings are written in order of importance. The job summary usually appears in the second paragraph after the overview of the company. Pay close attention to the summary section as it is ripe with key words and tells you exactly what the employer is looking for. 

Once you move to the bulleted Job Responsibilities section of the job posting, you’ll notice that this section provides details of the high-level information in the summary section. Pay closer attention to the bullets at the top of the list than those toward the bottom of the list, when selecting what to include in your resume.  

Lastly, ALWAYS include skills and/or requirements that you have that are in the job posting with the words “a plus,” as in “bi-lingual Spanish is a plus.” When the algorithms are written for scanning software, the skills in the “is a plus” category are almost always included in the key word search. Make sure they make it to your targeted section. 

How I Know This Process Works 

My clients consistently report a big difference in their call back rate from employers when they target their resumes in the method described in this blog post. In fact, when I started using this method 15 years ago, most clients were still writing one resume and sending it to every job they applied to. I recall one client who when I met for the first time said he had sent out over 100 resumes. When I asked how many interviews he had, he said none. I asked him to pick the top 5 jobs on the list that he really wanted and target his resume to each of them and reapply. Of the 5 targeted resumes, he got interviews with two of the employers. Success in getting an interview is much more about the quality of the resume than the quantity you send. 

Career Lift 

If you live in Baltimore County, then you may be interested in a program we are currently running through June 2023, called Career Lift. Our career coaches are ready to help you with your resume and all other aspects of the job search. Give Jewish Community Services a call today to enroll.


Carol Henger is a Career Coach at the Ignite Career Center of Jewish Community Services.

Whether you are new to the job market or a seasoned professional, the Ignite Career Center, a program of Jewish Community Services, can help you go further and get there faster. Our highly experienced Career Coaches provide individuals of all backgrounds and abilities with the customized services and tools they need to stand out from the competition. To learn more, visit ignitecareercenter.com or call 410-466-9200

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