Critical Resume’ Formatting Tips

In Résumé Rules and How to Make the Top 5%, I talk about the various tips and techniques for creating a great résumé, amongst other things.  And then this morning, I opened an email from a recruiter only to learn that she couldn’t access my résumé.

Why?  Because I used the latest version of MS Word.

I re-saved the document using an earlier version of Word, and emailed it to her as an attachment.  While she was able to open the new version, it had lost the “perfect” formatting I’d spent so much time creating.  On my end, however, it looked just fine.

She was kind enough to take the time to inform me of these things rather than simply sending my information to the trash folder and moving to the next candidate.  She also was kind enough to clue me in to something called ATS — Applicant Tracking System — used by most companies today.

And, finally, she told me that my education was listed in the “wrong” place, even though I placed it where “everyone” places it!

Let’s go over each of these issues, one at a time:


If you are using any version of Word other than Word 97-2003, you need to re-save any documents, such as your résumé, that you intend to send electronically.

Here is how:

  1. Open the document.
  2. Click on the MS Word icon in the top left corner.
  3. Highlight “Save As” and your choices for saving will pop up.
  4. Click on “Word 97-2003 Document”
  5. The “save as ” window opens and the name of the document is highlighted.
  6. Change the name of the document.  For example, you might want to rename a document called “Résumé” to “Résumé-97-03” for quick identification of its version.
  7. Make sure the document type (below the document name) says “Word 97-2003”, and click to save.

Now that you’ve saved the document in a format that most everyone will be able to access, you need to check the document to make sure it hasn’t lost its visual appeal.

  1. Close then re-open the 97-03 document.
  2. Fix any formatting errors.  If it looks correct, as mine did, don’t assume it will be correct once it is sent electronically!
  3. Close the document and open your email application.
  4. Send the document to a friend who is willing to view it for errors.  Make sure to send it as an attachment.

Until you’ve tested your résumé to make sure it is visually accurate on the receiving end, you are taking a risk by sending it to recruiters, job boards, and potential employers.


An ATS is used by most companies today — large and small — to scan the plethora of résumés they receive in response to job announcements.  You need to know how to “make nice” with these computers.

The friendly recruiter who has been so helpful to me today advised that she is “constantly” asking her candidates to re-format their résumés to make them ATS-friendly:

More people need to know [about ATS], as I have gone over almost every résumé from an attorney who applies to us,  having to ask them to reformat and rearrange their résumé.  They just can’t believe that they have paid upwards and over $250 for a résumé  that will be rejected before it gets to the hiring managers desk.  It is a big problem today.                      [J.C., owner of  a staffing company]

The computer scans for key words, and if those words are found, you won’t get the job.  But more than that, newer versions of ATS perform something called a “conceptualized analysis.”

Simply put, it is no longer sufficient to sprinkle your résumé with buzz words.  Those buzz words need to be surrounded by descriptive phrases such that the computer can “conceptualize” the context of those key words and phrases.

For example, the employer searching for a candidate with significant experience as a Public Speaker will obviously use “Public Speaker” and/or “Public Speaking” as key search terms.  Candidate #1 speaks publicly on a frequent basis and has done so for 10 years — but her résumé uses the phrase “Public Speaker” only twice.  Candidate #2 took a class in public speaking fifteen years ago.  His résumé, however, lists the phrase 6 times.

Who gets the job?

With older versions of ATS, Candidate #2 would be the stand-out, in spite of the huge difference between the expertise of the two applicants. By conceptualizing the software, the résumé will now be read by the computer to distinguish what comes after the key phrases.  It will pick up on the dates of experience for Candidate #1, for example, and “see” that this person is more qualified.

For more on ATS and its use today, I recommend that you read Resume, Meet Technology, by Lisa Vaas.


Most of us place our educational history after the section dealing with our work history.  Because our professional achievements are perceived as “the most important” part of the document, we dive right into it — usually, just after our Career Objective.

But following this standard format may cause your résumé to end up in the trash bin, regardless of how perfectly qualified you may be for the position.

The ATS prioritizes its key words, and an educational requirement is most often at or near the top of that list.  Why read a résumé from someone who doesn’t have her Juris Doctorate, for example, if you want to hire an attorney?  Or, if the employer’s search requires that the candidate have his Masters, why wait until the end of Page Two to discover this detail?  The computer won’t wait.

Accordingly, it is recommended that you place your educational credentials just after the Career Objective and before your professional achievements!


Gone are the days when human eyes and the human brain make the initial judgment call regarding our qualifications.  To make it to that all-important human, we have to first please a machine.

It’s not enough that we use clean, crisp paper, that we perfectly describe our achievements and career objective.  We have to be up-to-date with the latest technology, even if that means using an older version of an application, and word things “just so” to make sure our résumé passes the inspection of a computer.

Free Evaluation:

I am happy to provide my readers with a free resume and/or cover letter evaluation.  Before contacting me, please click here to read by submission guidelines.

~Lynda C. Watts

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3 Responses to Critical Resume’ Formatting Tips

  1. Pingback: Buzz Words to Use on a Resume’ | Professionals Over 40: Careers & More

  2. Pingback: Resume’ Buzz Words: Words that Win! | Grown-up Living: Careers & More

  3. Pingback: Free Resume Evaluations? What’s the catch? | Grown-up Living: Careers & More

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