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Focus on your main skill sets, skip the résumé writer

Dear J.T. & Dale: I’ve been applying online and I’m not getting any callbacks, so I think I need somebody to fix my résumé for me. Can you recommend a good résumé writer? – Karen

J.T. No. And I will probably have a lot of angry résumé writers writing in when I explain why. I do not believe that you should be paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars to have someone else write your résumé. First of all, many of these individuals write it to make you feel better about yourself, but not in a way that helps a recruiter assess your skill sets. They hype you with lots of fancy language and fancy fonts, but this is not what recruiters are looking for. My company did a study that found that 73% of recruiters prefer a format that allows them to assess main skill sets in 6-13 seconds. This is in direct opposition to a lot of the overly-done résumés I have seen by résumé writers. Instead, you can write your own. You just need the right information and resources. And once you learn how to write it, you can easily update it, which is more important, because you should be doing a résumé update every six months.

DALE: Yes, J.T. is right: You can do it yourself. That said, if you don’t know where to start, J.T. has a free resource to help that you can find on her website, Or, if you prefer something in book form, take a look at “How to Say It On Your Résumé” by Brad Karsh and Courtney Pike. Karsh was head of recruiting with a big ad agency and brings to the subject the advertiser’s eye for differentiation; that is, figuring out how to make your unique experiences and accomplishments stand out.

J.T.: In short, here’s the message: Save your money, and more importantly, take control of your future by learning how to create this important document. You can do this!

Dear J.T. & Dale: I heard somewhere on social media recently that if you aren’t one of the first 20 people to apply online then your application never gets seen. True? – Reuben

J.T.: This is why I can’t stand applicant tracking systems (often referred to as ATS). Job seekers think they were designed to make it easier for them to apply, but that’s not true. Applicant tracking systems are designed to make it easier for companies to sort out the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of résumés they receive. Each system is built differently, but, as a good rule of thumb, if you aren’t one of the first people to apply it’s highly unlikely you’re going to be seen. For example, I’ve been told that one common online application program has a special tool that identifies the first 25 people to apply. These 25 get seen and, after that, it doesn’t matter if you’re the 26th person or the 126th person to apply. The chances are highly unlikely that your application will ever get looked at. I can only assume that other ATS systems are similar. So, this is why it’s more important for you to focus on networking with people at a company, especially if you know that over 25 people have already applied for the job. Your best shot at that point is finding a way to get your résumé directly in the hands of hiring managers, because it’s highly unlikely they’re going to see it if you apply online.

DALE: I just had a great example of this. My daughter was trying to help a friend find a job, someone who’d been submitting online application after online application. She passed along to him something I’d written that made him realize that instead of seeking out online job postings, he should be seeking out the best people he’d ever worked with and asking for advice, leads and connections. Within a month, he had a new job at a significantly higher salary. You could say he zipped past the ATS by creating a PNS – a “personal networking system.”

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators’ Lab and author of a novel about H.R., “The Weary Optimist.” Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. (c) 2021 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.