What Is an ATS? Should You Care? #jobsearch #resume

November 4th, 2014

For a few years the new buzz word in training for resume writers is how to write a resume to get through the ATS system.

ATS is “applicant tracking system,” which is kind of like JibberJobber for the recruiter.  They aren’t tracking a relationship with YOU as much as they are tracking specific job openings, who applies, and who gets to have an interview with a human.

I guess that is tracking you, kind of. But only as far as that specific opportunity goes.  There is no relationship nurturing going on… it’s all about filling open jobs, and weeding out the high percentage of people who shouldn’t have applied in the first place.

You can imagine how resume writers want to write a resume that will get through the ATS, and eventually get to the live person.  I haven’t completely wrapped my brain around the technology, but I’ve understood that most jobs people are hired for are with companies that are smaller, and might not even know what ATS means.  I’ve focused my advice more on networking into a job than on monkeying around with your resume to get it better (which I call “hiding from your job search,” since you can do that for days and weeks and not really get any closer to getting an interview).

But I keep my ears open to what the experts are saying, and am always looking for any information I can share with you.  When I saw this article on LinkedIn from Louise Kursmark, I knew it would have important information.  I think this is a super-important perspective because she is a well-known resume writer who has trained hundreds, maybe thousands, of resume writers. Louise gave me permission to repost her article here (original post)… I hope this helps you with your job search strategy today!

ATS: I Couldn’t Care Less

louise_kursmark_headshotATS – Applicant Tracking Systems – cause a lot of twitter and chatter among job seekers and resume writers. I might even call it an obsession about finding the keywords, mimicking the job posting, and designing the document to get through the automated screener.

Personally, I think that obsession is a distraction from the real work of job search.

Even if your resume is a perfect match for the job posting, you have a very small chance of being chosen for an interview. That’s because your resume is one of dozens or even hundreds competing for just a handful of top slots. It’s likely at least a few other candidates will have qualifications that are slightly stronger or a background that’s just a bit closer to the ideal specified by the recruiter or employer.

So it’s easy to spend a lot of fruitless time trying to rise to the top of a very large pool. And when you don’t, you feel frustrated, discouraged, maybe even depressed and angry.

My advice: Have a keyword-rich, simply formatted resume that stands a reasonable chance of making it through the ATS. Then, spend less time applying to posted openings and more time getting referrals into the companies you’re interested in.

Use your network to find a connection, ask for an introduction, and start a dialogue. Rather than applying for a job, have a conversation about the company’s needs and how someone with your background might be able to help. Become a real person rather than a piece of paper or collection of keywords.

Chances are very good that you’ll be able to parlay many of those conversations into actual interviews for real jobs. Even if you don’t, you’ve built another strand in your web of connections that will ultimately lead you to your next job.

And isn’t it more satisfying to have a colleague-to-colleague business discussion than to be judged (and rejected) based on a mysterious set of keyword qualifications?

Thank you, Louise, for a real perspective and great advice!  There really is no way around doing some of the hard work in the job search!



How to Explain a Sabbatical If You Were Taking Care of an Ailing Parent or Loved One

October 16th, 2014

Last week I was doing a LinkedIn consultation with a professional who had taken time (a couple of years?) off to care for her father. She has had a fantastic, awesome career, but didn’t know how to explain her years off.  She asked me how to explain this, and I reached out to career professionals in the Career Directors LinkedIn Group for advice.  The experience these professionals have is broad and deep, which is why I like getting input from different professionals.  Below is what I learned. I hope this can help you if you are in this situation:

don_goodman_headshotDon Goodman, Certified Resume Writer,, and reseller of my video course: LinkedIn for Job Seekers

I would say,

Sabbatical (Date) – Attended to urgent family matters now fully resolved,


Sabbatical (Date) – Attended to needs of ailing parent now fully resolved,

It is perfectly OK to help family members in need and all the employer needs to know is that it is completed.

mary_schumacher_headshotMary Schumacher, Writer and Coach, 

Hi Jason – I would also use a sabbatical statement such as the ones Don provided. I also might just insert a statement such as:

“Took two-year leave to serve as caretaker for parent. Stayed current on industry trends and learning to remain fully prepared for next corporate challenge.”

Employers want to know that your knowledge is up-to-date as far as their needs, and that your skills aren’t rusty. There are plenty of free online courses to help even those very immersed in their caretaker roles.

irene_marshall_headshotIrene Marshall, Executive Resume Writer and LinkedIn Profile Writer,

Jason — I don’t think it requires a big explanation. I would either put “Family sabbatical,” “Personal Sabbatical” or “Professional Sabbatical” without adding anything else in either resume or cover letter. It just accounts for the time. And I only use years, not months/years.

There are millions and millions of Baby Boomers taking care of parents (myself included). And over the past several years I have worked with many people who have relocated, quit their jobs or took part-time work to handle what their parents need.

It is very common now and nothing your client should be nervous about. You never know that maybe the person reading would have given their eye teeth to be able to take time off work rather than feeling guilty that their job was keeping them from doing it..

I moved my mother with Alzheimer’s into assisted living in January. I was at part-time work until about the end of July because none of her affairs were in order. And I’m still dealing with two attorneys, etc. even though I’m close to full time work now. I would have had to quit a corporate job.

But in the first half of the year there was absolutely no way I could have been doing anything related to my work for keeping up with my industry or anything else. I was up to 3 am, 5 am and more trying to sell my mother’s home and everything else. I would not have been able to even think about online coursework because it frankly was not my top priority and I was exhausted.

And I wouldn’t include “fully resolved” because I think it then puts the reader in a slightly awkward position of assuming that mom or dad actually died.

christine_robinson_headshotChristine Robinson, CPRW,

Jason, I try to be as straightforward as possible, composing a quote based on the client’s circumstance. Also, I usually refer to it as a “professional leave” or “career break” because I feel the word “sabbatical” has some nuances that don’t necessarily apply to every situation.

I place the quote under the Professional Experience heading.

2012 to Oct. 2014: “I took a professional leave to attend to my terminally ill brother; following his passing, I engaged in a variety of professional development opportunities to maintain credentials and volunteer roles to keep abreast of industry trends.”

You get the gist. It may be wordy and it may be slightly shocking, but on the other hand, it leaves nothing to the imagination of the reader. Plus, the dates will (ideally) be captured by ATS.

Thanks to Don, Mary, Irene and Christine for sharing their thoughts – if you have a different idea, please share it in the comments below!

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An Interview with Jeff Browning (Austin Ventures) and Liz Handlin (Ultimate Resumes)

October 1st, 2014

I get Liz Handlin’s newsletter.  She gave me permission to post this from her newsletter… I thought it was interesting. Liz says these are her questions and his answers over coffee (learn more about Jeff Browning here):

Do you read profiles on resumes?No. Most of them are not useful to me. I want to know about specific domain experience, scope of job, and your accomplishments. Metrics matter. Add metrics to your resume.  I also want to see some information about your employers because I haven’t heard of every company in the world. What does the company do? How large is it? Is it public or private?

When someone sends you a resume how long do you look at it to determine if you are interested in reading more of it?

About 5 seconds.

What are you looking for in resumes that are submitted to Austin Ventures for jobs in your portfolio companies?

Well first you have to understand that most of our job descriptions are VERY granular and specific.  Domain (industry) experience is the most important thing I look for so if you don’t have the domain experience we are looking for at the moment you may not be a fit for the immediate need we have, but could be at a later time.

We also look for individuals who have actually worked in early-stage start ups before. We want someone has seen this movie before and knows how it goes because we need our executives to be able to hit the ground running.  If you have never worked in an early stage start up before you just don’t know what you don’t know. Individuals who have spent an entire career in large corporations sometimes think they could easily make the jump to early stage start-ups but it’s just not usually the case.

Do you think that someone who has spent their entire career in Fortune 500 companies could be successful at an early-stage start up?

Well anything is possible and large company executives have many talents and valuable experiences. It also depends on the stage of the company. But, generally speaking, we find that executives who are the most successful in leading start-ups have previously been employed by other start-up companies.

What advice do you have for big-company executives who want to switch gears and work in a start-up environment?

If you are an executive at a large company like, say, IBM, and you want to work in an early-stage start-up, my advice is to take it in steps.  The analogy I use is diving. You learn to snorkel first and then you slowly learn to dive deeper and deeper.  The same can be said of the start-up world. If you are a big-company executive you might try transitioning to a mid-sized company before diving into the world of early-stage companies.  Start ups and large corporations are totally different professional experiences.

What DON’T you want to see in a resume?

I don’t like to read functional resumes because they are confusing.  I want the resume to be simple, straightforward, and to the point.  No graphs. No charts. No hard-to-find dates or metrics.  Think about how to make the resume easy for me to get the information I need to decide whether or not to call you. Don’t make it confusing or colorful because it’s distracting and I don’t have time to try to decipher confusing resumes.

What surprises you about the job seekers to whom you talk?

I am surprised at how many people contact me about jobs and when I tell them that I don’t have a position for them currently and don’t really have any ideas for them about job openings they have no other questions for me. They don’t ask me about the Austin marketplace which I know well. They don’t come prepared with questions other than “do you know of any job openings.”  I enjoy executives that have done their homework and come prepared with thoughtful questions.  It’s also really nice when they end the conversation with “is there anything I can do to help you?”

Liz says “Jeff may see more resumes than any other recruiter in Texas so his perspective on what a resume should say and how it should look is crucial information for job seekers.”

Thanks for sharing Liz and Jeff!



Get Useful Resume Feedback

June 26th, 2014

Nine times out of ten, when someone asks me to look at their resume, I’m assuming it’s because they want me to make an introduction, or help them find a job.  I don’t assume it’s because they really want my feedback on their resume.

Maybe you have truer intentions, and only want feedback on the resume, but the truth is, I’m not the person to give it to you.  My brain and resumes don’t mix very well.  They are too formal, with boundaries that I think are dumb.  I can point out glaring issues, but so can most people.  Why are you taking up my time (and potential help) by asking me for something that doesn’t make sense.

It’s like asking your neighbors to check your oil in your car.  You can do it, you can learn to do it, or you can find someone qualified to do it.  But you don’t ask all of your neighbors to check your oil, right?

If you really want my help with your job search, find out how I can help you, and then ask for that!  It might be networking, introductions, sitting down and giving you ideas, participating in a mock interview, or a host of other things.  But don’t let the first request be “will you look at my resume?”

Here’s a post I wrote about this last year: What do you do with a Killer Resume?

Here’s a recent post from Thea Kelley, a resume expert, titled How to Get Useful Resume Feedback

There comes a time when you have to stop hiding behind “I’m working on my resume” and realize you simply need to have the right conversations with the right people.  And you don’t need to use your resume to do that.


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How Long Does a Professional Resume Writer Take to Write a Resume?

March 27th, 2014
This post has been edited to strike through the text about a relationship with JC Resumes. After getting the first comment from a trusted user (and friend), and more investigation, we determined that we didn’t want to have the JibberJobber brand/name associated with their services or brand.

Julie Walraven of Design Resumes has a great post titled The Chief Cause Of Many Poor Hiring Decisions.  She starts off with CareerBuilder’s new stat about how long hiring managers spend reviewing resumes…as we know, it’s pathetically low.

But then Julie takes her post in an unexpected direction: how long SHE, as a professional resume writer (she is certified and has been doing this, afaik, for over two decades): she will easily spend six hours creating a resume.  Usually that is for an entry-level person.  It’s not unusual for her to spend ten or more hours designing a resume.

Julie is a resume expert, having investing more than 10,000 hours in her trade to claim expertise.  When I lost my job I spent a couple of weeks fumbling around trying to piece together my own resume.  I had no expertise, experience or training… just an attitude that if I could put myself through two degrees, I could certainly write a one or two page document!


I didn’t understand that a resume was not simply a list with work history, dates and some “cool” action verbs.  I thought I could easily put that document together… but what I didn’t realize was what a great resume really is.

A great, even an excellent resume, is a marketing document. Coincidentally, a sucky resume is also a marketing document – it just screams: don’t hire me!

A resume is not a standard business document for filing away in a three ring binder, simply to be forgotten.  Your resume has a very specific purpose.  What’s more, the “judge” of your resume is going to take your days, weeks, and for some of you, months of work and give it a cursory 30 or 120 seconds… it’s almost an atrocity!

But really, spending less than two minutes really is NOT an atrocity.

You see, it’s not about YOU.  It’s not about the amount of work you put in.  It’s not about how amazing you are, how clever you are, or how dumb the viewer is for not “getting” how brilliant you are.

This is all about THEM. Pursuing you will reflect on them and could have an impact on their career. Are they capable of hiring the RIGHT person?  Can they hire the BEST person?  Or will they hire a dud, or a lemon?  This could cost them their job!  Hiring the wrong person could sink the entire company!

If an expert, like Julie Walraven, spends six hours to develop the most basic of resumes, which she can only do because she has over ten thousand+ hours of writing resumes, what makes you think that you, or I, without this expertise, can “throw something together” in a few hours, and have it be good enough (much less great!)?

The mistakes I would make would undoubtedly cause my resume to be in the “under-ten-seconds-and-then-throw-away” pile.  Whether that is a typo or a grammar mistake, or not using the best word(s) to put us in the right light, it will cost me.

I know there are people out there, including one of my favorite recruiters (Steve Levy… read his blog!) who say that we must write our own resumes, and hiring a resume writer is as good as hiring a charlatan (those are my words, but that’s the message I hear from him).  I agree that we should do a lot of work to help get the resume done.  We should put our hearts into it.  We should spend time going through our past, listing our accomplishments, and doing the very hard work of self- and career-evaluation.

But I still think we should run it past a real resume writer who will polish our final marketing document so that it gets more time, and more respect, from the person evaluating whether they should bring you in for an interview or not. (professional resume writers are not merely polishers.  They are experts in creating perhaps the most important marketing document at this point in your career)

Convinced you need resume help? I suggest considering either of these two options:

First Option: look for someone who’s experience matches exactly what you need and who you are.  There are resume professionals like Liz Handlin (Ultimate Resumes) who are so focused on executives, especially finance executives, that you should NOT consider using someone who doesn’t do finance executive resumes before talking to someone like her.  There are resume experts that specialize in IT executives, CEOs, entry level (recent college graduates), and everywhere inbetween.  When you are looking for the right match, don’t disrespect these professionals and tell them how the process works.  See if they are a right fit, and then humbly work with them within their system.  Otherwise, you might hear a very kind “I’m not sure I’m the right person for you – let me recommend you to one of my colleagues.”  That really means “I wouldn’t choose to work with you for double the money – I can tell you are going to be a massive pain to work with.

Second Option: if you are looking for a low-cost just-get-me-to-the-next-level and clean up what I already have, consider JibberJobber’s new partnership with JC Resumes (we have negotiated discount bundle available to you to get you what you need).  I have been hesitant to do a partnership like this for YEARS.  But I have talked to the owners of this service and I always come back to “is this high quality?  I don’t want to recommend a resume mill that just pumps them out like typists.”  I have asked them about their writing and quality process, and I’m really quite impressed.  I personally should have spent the money to do this instead of wasting a week or two trying to write my own… get it done, have something you can be proud of, and if you find out it’s not good enough, then go back to the first option above.  But I doubt it will be money wasted. Here’s the page to get started.

We’re working on creating an list of specialized resume writers that you can reach out to on your own… stay tuned :)

The point is, make sure that you are putting enough time and resources into getting this marketing document put together the right way.



Bad Examples From Real Job Seekers

February 6th, 2014

liz_handlin_ultimate_resumesI follow my Austin buddy Liz Handlin, owner of Ultimate Resumes, on Facebook and am entertained by her experiences with job seekers. Here’s something she shared on Facebook recently…. see my comments below the box. (I [edited] some of this to try to protect anyone who needs protecting, although I imagine this plays out dozens of times each month)

Stupid things that people do when interviewing for a job #4,000:

[Someone] called to tell me about a guy she interviewed for a job at her company yesterday. She … never would have chosen to interview him because he had a 1 page resume with a colorful timeline in the middle of his resume and little useful information.

Interviewer: I see that you have a 1 page resume. There isn’t much information on here so it’s hard for me to assess your accomplishments.

Candidate: Well I am really trying to push people to look at my LinkedIn page and not my resume. That is where you can see the bulk of my experience.

Interviewer: (looks at resume and notices that his LinkedIn address is NOT EVEN ON THE RESUME) Hmmm.

Two main problems (these are Liz’s observations and advice):

  1. if you want interviewers to see your LinkedIn profile put the address on your resume, and
  2. your resume should be comprehensive enough that an interviewer doesn’t have to go anywhere else to get a good sense for your accomplishments. Don’t create more work for interviewers.

Folks, seriously. The MAIN issue here is that the job seeker (aka, the marketer, or person marketing their services) made it HARD for the decision-maker (buyer) to make a decision. What’s worse, they intentionally made it harder!

I get that you want people to get to your LinkedIn profile, but consider your audience, and the situation.  If you are in an interview, the interviewer usually has their resume in front of you (so they don’t mix you up with the fifty other people they are interviewing/considering).    If your resume doesn’t have any meat, what are they to do?  Remember how awesome your LinkedIn profile is?


Give them the information they need when they need it, which is on the resume.

I know you want your LinkedIn profile to be your resume, but for now, until people catch up to your vision, you need to play the game.  They expect a marketing document from you that has sufficient information (aka, your resume), and they use this marketing document to compare you with your competition, who has a similarly formatted marketing document (aka, resume).  If your formatting is not close enough to the rest, you might be discarded.  If your information is not deep or broad enough, and the others are, you might be discarded.

This is called “the game.”  For now, the rules are established, and they have been for decades.  You can try to make a statement and change the rules, and it might work with some companies and some people, but you risk losing out to others who know the rules of the game.

I don’t need to talk about the one-page thing, or the graphic in the middle thing, but I do want to address the “go to my Profile” issue.

On my webinars I tell people that they need to understand the concept of channel and destination.  This job seeker was using his resume as a channel to get to the destination (the LinkedIn profile).  He did it poorly, by not putting a link, but still, that was his intention.

Are you sure you really want to send someone to your LinkedIn profile as the destination?  Or, are you hoping the LinkedIn profile is one more step in the channel to get to the destination? I can’t answer that for you, but for me:


When I was finishing my basement the heating and air guys came in.  We talked about where we wanted vents, and they said every time you put a bend in the duct work it decreases efficiency (after they bend) by some crazy amount, like 25% or 33%.  In other words, every time the air has to bend (usually at 90 degrees), you lose efficiency.  Put a bunch of bends in one line and you won’t get much air out of the vent.

This is the same for the channel/destination concept.  Each time you give someone something with the hope that they will go somewhere else, you lose a part of their interest.  Just send them to where you want to send them first, without having them jump through hoops, go around bends, and ultimately get distracted!




Understanding the ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems)

November 7th, 2013

There is a lot of buzz about how to get your resume through an ATS (aka: applicant tracking system).  An ATS is to a recruiter what JibberJobber is to a job seeker.  It is a tracking system.

Before I go on, if you don’t think you need JibberJobber to keep track of your job search, realize that HR and recruiters are using some kind of ATS or tracking system to keep track of you.  Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight – get on JibberJobber!

So here’s a great article on ATS systems: Ensuring Your Résumé Avoids Applicant Tracking System Pitfalls

In yesterday’s Ask The Expert call with The Recruiting Animal, Animal said he doesn’t use an ATS, and that is really something that internal recruiters are going to use.  In other words, getting your resume through an ATS is not going to be an issue for ALL recruiters.

Check out Arnie’s article:)


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What do you do with a Killer Resume?

May 22nd, 2013

Recently a JibberJobber user sent me a resume that one of my colleagues did for him and asked me what I thought.

The resume was really quite impressive.  I’m not surprised. The resume writer is someone who has been doing this for a long time and loves to stay current and do a great job.

My first impression after looking at the resume was that this guy had decades of doing amazing things.  The companies he worked at, and the products he worked on, are household names.

If I were interviewing I would want to satisfy curiosities and ask more.  I would want to ask stories about his experience.  Some of my questions would be because it would be intriguing to know, and others to learn how involved and instrumental he really was in each of the things he claims on his resume.

He needs to go through his resume, pull out every claim, and put at least one story behind it.

In JibberJobber we have the Interview Prep area, where you can put those stories together, and even “categorize” them so you can pull them up when you are getting ready for an interview. (I recommend categorizing based on industry, title (aka, profession), or size/type of company, but you could categorize based any criteria.  Use the Interview Prep in JibberJobber to create those stories.

I’m not much for critiquing resumes.  I almost always decline when someone asks me to look at their resume.  But I opened this one and that was my very first impression.  You have a great resume, now what?  Be ready to TELL STORIES!

My second thought was to be careful not to ask too many UNQUALIFIED people their opinion of the resume you just got.  I asked people for opinions of my resume and the information I got was misleading (making me think it was great, while it really kept me out of interviews).  Everyone will have their opinion but recognize this is a marketing tool to get you interviews, and that is it.  Dick Bolles talked about resumes very frankly in our last Ask The Expert – you can view the interview here (he comes on 20 minutes into it).



ATE: Nick Corcodilos of Ask The Headhunter Fame

April 8th, 2013

I had the pleasure of interviewing and chatting with Nick Corcodilos for last week’s Ask The Headhunter.  It was a blast.  I had questions for Nick but the audience had a lot, too.

Here’s the conversation, enjoy!

Note: Vimeo video.  To make this full-size, push play and then on the bottom right click the icon that looks like this:



Case Study: Customizing Your Resume To The Company

January 30th, 2013

This case study / example is more minor than Monday’s and Tuesday’s but it’s still really cool.

In 2005 this person (I don’t know the name) wanted as job at Electronic Arts (over $4B last year)… right out of school he sent a pretty weak resume (image at the bottom).

Well, pretty weak except for the Accomplishments sections:

Here’s the whole resume… not even a job at Taco Bell or anything… but the Accomplishments is killer, and written directly for this industry (I’m not a gamer, but I bet those games are EA games).

Are you customizing YOUR resume to stand out, and to directly address the WHY?


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