In 2016, an article in ACAMS Today1 provided information and tips on crafting effective resumes. Fast-forward to 2020, when the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus resulted in the so-called “great resignation” where, for various reasons, large portions of certain industries quit their jobs, leaving businesses searching for applicants to fill open roles. In addition, the U.S. economy has taken a considerable hit, resulting in mass layoffs in some industries. Many of those who have resigned or were laid off may be fighting for the same roles, making the possession of a well-crafted resume especially important.
Times have changed. Gig roles and remote roles, which were once rare, are now common. To remain effective, resumes must keep pace with the times. With that in mind, this article presents the best advice from a previous article on resumes while adding new tips for today’s competitive job market.
There are generally two levels of review a resume must successfully navigate to land on a hiring manager’s desk. Getting stuck in either process will significantly decrease the chances of an interview.
The first level of review is the applicant tracking system (ATS). An ATS is a software that scans resumes for keywords identified by the hiring company relating to job titles, skills or education that are significant to the company’s hiring requirements and decisions. For example, when a company requires a data analyst to hold a particular certification, the word “certification” may be a keyword in the ATS. Any resume not containing the word certification may not be moved through the process for further consideration.
The second level is the human resource recruiter review. Applicants spend hours drafting and redrafting resumes. It may be hard to believe but recruiters spend little time reading resumes. In fact, according to an article published on HR Dive, “in its 2018 Eye-Tracking Study, Ladders Inc. revealed that…today’s recruiters skim resumes for an average of 7.4 seconds.”2 Therefore, it is imperative that resumes be formatted to immediately grab a recruiter’s attention.
Below are some general guidelines to construct a resume that will present key information in a layout that is pleasing to recruiters and highlights key experience, making the most of the seven seconds the resume is given to make an impact.
- Use an ATS-friendly resume template. Templates designed specifically to meet ATS design requirements allow the system to parse the information on the resume into a profile within the tracking system. When critical information is placed in unexpected locations (e.g., in a side column or a footer), ATS systems have difficulty finding the key information to import, resulting in either an incomplete profile or a profile that contains gibberish. When this happens, the profile likely will not meet key criteria set by the employer and will fall into an ATS black hole, never to be seen by human eyes.
Avoid images, headers and footers as these cause issues for screening software. Headers are often where applicants place key information like name and contact information. Move this information out of the header for a greater likelihood of success in the tracking software. If you must use a header for aesthetic purposes, ensure that critical information like your name and contact information is repeated in the body of the document.
Ensure the resume file format is appropriate for the submission process. Oftentimes applicants will default to a PDF file format to ensure no changes can be made to the resume. Not all tracking software accepts PDF files. When uploading your resume, check the list for acceptable file types. Ensure your resume is saved in a file format on the list.
- Select a template with a “Professional Summary” field at the top of the page. The Professional Summary field gives recruiters and hiring managers a few key details, such as relevant experience or professional accomplishments, before diving deeper into your resume. You may choose to call this section “Career Profile,” “Executive Summary,” “Primary Qualifications,” “Professional Summary” or anything similar. Keep this section short; it should be no more than five sentences. This section should showcase your qualifications while also demonstrating how you have brought value to prior employers. This section should be your 30-second elevator pitch to the person reading your resume.
The Summary field is one location on the resume where you can highlight remote work experience. For example, “Over five years of experience supporting anti-money laundering transaction system tuning, with three years of experience working 100% remotely.”
- Ensure the ATS-friendly template also has a “Key Skills” section. For recruiters who are only scanning your resume, this provides information critical to decision-making. Include skills related to the job to which you are applying. This section should be comprised primarily of “hard skills.” Hard skills are somewhat quantifiable traits like writing SQL queries, procedure writing or acting as a liaison for audits or exams. “Soft skills” should be added when relevant. Soft skills are core attributes that are transferrable to many roles. Examples of soft skills include critical thinking, public speaking, and being self-motivated. While soft skills are important to a successful career, these traits should not be the main focus of a “Key Skills” section but rather highlighted during the interview process.
This section is also where you may choose to highlight industry-specific software and applications. Do not list basic applications like Microsoft Word as a “Key Skill.” Do list proficiency in an application like Microsoft Excel if it is relevant to the role. The skills section is an area where remote work accomplishments can be highlighted. For example, “managed projects remotely” or “performed remote BSA audits.”
The resume is the first example to a potential employer of how well you write, organize and communicate
According to research conducted by Professor of Linguistics at American University Naomi Baron as published in her book “Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World,” people comprehend less when reading on a screen than when reading on paper. Moreover, people devote less time to reading an onscreen passage as they multitask more. Her studies found that people tend to skim and search instead of reading slowly and carefully. Therefore, it is critical when crafting a resume that the content is succinct, accurate and clearly states the skills you are attempting to highlight.
The resume is the first example to a potential employer of how well you write, organize and communicate. Grammar and spelling mistakes must be avoided at all costs—especially if you happen to list “attention to detail” as a trait.
- Keep the resume to one or two pages. A resume must appropriately represent your skills and experience. For applicants with little to no experience, do not fall into the trap of adding non-relevant information simply to fill the page. Filler content like hobbies adds no value to the hiring process and will actually accentuate your lack of experience. Likewise, candidates with decades of relevant experience should resist the urge to capture every skill and accomplishment on paper. Recruiters and hiring managers do not have the time or the appetite to read a four-page resume.
- Select a resume template with bullet points. The goal is to immediately and succinctly identify for the recruiter why you are the best candidate. The white space created using bullet points draws the reader’s eyes to critical elements. Job accomplishments should be prioritized, with the most relevant being the first bullet point. Avoid dense blocks of text. Each bullet point should be one to two lines, when possible, to maximize white space. Select a maximum of five projects or accomplishments (e.g., bullet points) to highlight for each role.
- Focus on accomplishments, not skills. Your resume should highlight accomplishments and positive impacts rather than simply list job duties or responsibilities. Whenever possible, quantify the accomplishments to illustrate how you added value to former employers. When quantifying accomplishments, use the following format:
— Accomplished X as measured by Y by doing Z, which translates to a strong action verb followed by the accomplishment validated with numbers and context highlighting what you did.
— “Expanded responsibilities of the investigative team by creation and implementation of templated review responses, which reduced average time per review by 15%.”
This is another area where you can highlight remote work accomplishments. For example, “Successfully transitioned 100% of the policy governance team to remote/work from home without loss of productivity or quality by instituting daily check-ins.”
- Customize the resume to each role. ATS mathematically scores each resume for relevance and sends only the most qualified through for review by human resource recruiters. Candidates should identify the traits or skills critical to success as outlined in the job description, aka “keywords,” and incorporate them into the resume. However, take care not to repeat the exact verbiage from the job description in the resume. The keywords can be incorporated into a “Key Skills” section or in the accomplishments section, as the ATS system will search the entire document for the keywords. Incorporating keywords will improve the chances that the resume makes it past the initial ATS screening to the next phase of the hiring process.
- Carefully consider the placement of dates. Dates provide a lot of useful clues to an applicant’s age and potential experience level. In a competitive job market, you do not want to put yourself at a disadvantage by emphasizing your age. Your experience and accomplishments should be the stars of the resume. For example, adding that you earned your Bachelor of Science degree in 2022 may lead a recruiter to believe that you are inexperienced. Using a college email address will also give a clue to age which some recruiters might correlate to being inexperienced or unqualified.
Similarly, adding professional experiences from over 15 years ago may influence a recruiter. Resumes should focus on relevant experience and accomplishments. Experience from 2005 is, in most cases, not going to be relevant as technologies, regulations and work environments change.
- Place education and certifications at the bottom of the resume. By placing the educational information at the bottom, you further highlight your accomplishments and relevant work experience. Recruiters are not wading through extraneous information to get to your skill set. For relevant certifications, place the initials after your name at the top of the page. Example: John Smith, CAMS (Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist). The “Key Skills” section would also be an appropriate place to add CAMS. Do not waste valuable space by putting it in the “Key Skills” section and the “Education” section.
- Gaps in work experience. Between the impact of the “great resignation” and COVID-19 taking devastating tolls on the health of some individuals, gaps in work experience are becoming normalized. There are multiple ways to address the gap on a resume. First, explain the gap in your resume. Add the dates as if it were a recent job. Keep the explanation brief and honest. Most importantly, the explanation should demonstrate to future employers that the reason is likely not to be repeated.
— Example: August 2020-January 2021—The result of a one-time long-term illness resulted in the need for extended hospitalization. Fully recovered, I am ready to rededicate myself to the career about which I am so passionate.
— Example: March 2022-May 2022—Downsized due to a downturn in the mortgage market. Alternatively, if a cover letter is being sent, the gap can be explained in the cover letter. Finally, try to fill the gap on the resume with relevant information. Did you study for a certification while not employed? Did you happen to do volunteer work while not employed? If so, add that information to the resume with the applicable dates. Recruiters may be able to match the gap time to the time you spend improving yourself or helping your community.
- Above all, be honest. Lying on a resume may have negative consequences. In a competitive job market, unscrupulous applicants may consider embellishing their job histories or experiences in order to gain an advantage over other applicants. Embellishments may include such things as adding a certification an applicant does not have, detailing duties never performed or providing false dates of employment. Whether the embellishment is an exaggeration of a truth or an outright lie, resist the urge to embellish. No one wins when someone is hired into a role into which she/he cannot perform or succeed because the experience, skills or knowledge is just not there. Misrepresenting oneself on a resume may limit the ability to take legal action against the employer in the future. In addition, if uncovered, the embellishments could permanently damage reputations.
In summary, a resume is not a document to be thrown together when applying for a role. Candidates should dedicate time and effort to crafting a resume that succinctly and honestly represents their skills, experience and educational background. Candidates should tailor the resume to match the job being applied for by inserting additional relevant information and deleting irrelevant information. Remember to include keywords and phrases to assist with navigating applicant tracking systems. Your resume has 7.4 seconds to grab a recruiter’s attention—make every second count.
Amy Wotapka, CAMS, BSA Officer, First American Bank, Kenosha, WI, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Amy Wotapka, “Resume Tips for the AML Professional,” ACAMS Today, December 9, 2016, https://www.acamstoday.org/resume-tips-for-the-aml-professional/
- Riia O’Donnell, “Eye tracking study shows recruiters look at resumes for 7 seconds,” HR Dive, November 8, 2018, https://www.hrdive.com/news/eye-tracking-study-shows-recruiters-look-at-resumes-for-7-seconds/541582/