This is how to bypass the secret résumé-reading software

Ladders founder Marc Cenedella points out five things to keep in mind when you submit your résumé online.

This is how to bypass the secret résumé-reading software
[Photos: Gabrielle Henderson/Unsplash; Olena Sergienko/Unsplash]

You might know that your résumé doesn’t go straight to the hiring manager’s desk after you apply.


First, it goes through the company’s ATS (Applicant Tracking System) and, importantly, a “résumé parser.” A résumé parser is the software that turns your résumé into a neat pile of words that a company’s computers can read, understand, sort, search, and, unfortunately, mangle if you’re not careful.

Your goal is to maximize understanding and minimize the mangle.

I recently had a chance to get résumé advice from the CEOs and technical résumé experts at Hiretual, Textkernel, Sovren, DaXtra, and HireAbility, five of the largest résumé-parsing companies in the world. They shared valuable insights on getting your résumé noticed.

Keep it simple

Our experts were unanimous on this. “Stay away from fancy résumé,” “keep things simple and clear,” “the cure for the bad résumé is to tell less, more powerfully,” and “avoid complexities”—these were their words of wisdom.

Nobody gets hired because their résumé was extra creative. Perhaps professional designers get a point or two for a truly clever one, but for the rest of us, any tendency towards being cute, clever, or creative on your résumé will come back to bite you.

MS Word (or Google Docs) is preferred, not PDF

We’ve heard for years that PDFs allow for greater control of your résumé’s look, feel, and content. It’s impossible for a recipient to accidentally edit or delete a section of a PDF, which makes it feel like a safe choice for your résumé. But in fact, our experts explained that it’s actually the wrong format.


That’s because PDFs can be read in two different ways, one of which is essentially a picture of your résumé. And when that happens, parsers have a really difficult time reading the letters correctly, which causes errors for you.

Therefore, MS Word is the best choice, or Google Docs for those of you that use GSuite.

Interestingly, most experts warned away from using templates found online, pointing out that the hidden tables and formatting sometimes really goof up how your résumé is read by parsers.

Logical, chronological presentation in one column is best

Make it easy on the parser to make it easy for you.

One column is the best presentation. Many experts acknowledged the trend in online résumé samples to display a two-column format. Unfortunately, while this may look attractive to a human reading your résumé, it often confuses the parsers.

Be very obvious in your labels and headings. Title your work experience “work experience” or “work history” and not “steps in my journey.” Label volunteering as “volunteering” and not “community infusion.”


Reverse chronological presentation is the correct format for your résumé. That means starting with your most recent job and stepping backward through time to touch upon each of your experiences in order. Functional résumés are out of style and incomprehensible to the parsers.

Don’t use your LinkedIn profile

One of our experts was adamant on this point.

“LinkedIn has, for several years now, been on a campaign to make their PDF profiles not accurately readable by parsing software. Which is their right to do, but it’s a disservice to their users. I don’t have a problem with LinkedIn trying to keep people from taking that data off of LinkedIn. I don’t think it’s unethical, but I think it’s unfortunate.”

Making sure your experience and talents come through accurately is important, and it’s best to use a properly formatted résumé that you control, not a third-party social network such as LinkedIn.

Visuals and graphics are deleted

The fancy trend in résumés for adding charts or graphics to visually demonstrate your proficiency in various skills does not help you communicate with hiring managers. The insights of our parsing experts: “Visual information is not going to be understood by the machine;” “Bar charts, graphics, and other visual communications are not handled well by parsers;” “Graphics and images that are meaningful to the human eye are not meaningful to the parser, usually they’re omitted.”

Furthermore, text boxes, tables, and lines will show up poorly or not at all. Don’t rely on these to communicate your value.

With these insights from the world’s top experts in résumé parsing, you’ll have a much more readable, effective résumé.


Marc Cenedella is the founder of Ladders, Inc., where he writes the Career Advice Newsletter.