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The Secret Trick for Getting Your Résumé Noticed

How to essentially dog-ear your CV in any stack.

"You just have to get your foot in the door." Chances are, no matter what rung you're at on the corporate ladder, you've heard this phrase before. And there's a reason for that: It's undeniably true. According to research commissioned by Glassdoor, roughly 250 candidates apply for each corporate job. When it comes down to it, roughly five get selected for interviews—or 2 percent. Likewise, Jobvite commissioned a similar survey, though their results were slightly less dire: According to their findings, about 12 percent of applicants score interviews—which is still not great.

In other words, no matter how you cut it, even the most optimistic figures indicate that the biggest hurdle to clear is getting your résumé noticed to begin with. But with figures that daunting, how can an applicant hope to stand out from the crowd?

As it turns out, if you want to make the largest splash in whatever hiring pool you're treading water in, there's a trick, and it's an ironic one: You should strive to make the smallest splash.

The goal is to make your résumé as blasé as possible. "Résumés should be clear, clean, and to the point. [They shouldn't] entertain, distract, or compete with the information," says Sue Karlin, president of branding studio Suka Creative. "No fancy fonts, no wild colors, no background designs."

Debbie Millman, president at design firm Sterling Brands, agrees: "Any special effects will dilute the gravitas and stature of the impression. You want people to concentrate on your accomplishments and your successes, not the curlicues of a font or unusual shades or contrast of colors."

Also, nowadays, organizations are increasingly relying on applicant tracking systems (ATS), at least in the early stages, to minimize burden on human resources departments. (As of 2015, roughly three in four medium-to-large sized employers make use of these systems.) For the uninitiated, an ATS works as an automatic résumé scanner. The program scans a résumé for select keywords—whether that means desired skills, length of employ in a qualifying role, or any other prerequisites an employer decides on—and moves the best-credentialed candidates to the top of the pile.

The flip-side also happens: Unqualified candidates are algorithmically tossed aside.

No longitudinal studies have been conducted on how many applicants opt for fancy résumé designs, but, given the abysmal rates of initial rejection—and the rise of ATS in the workplace—it's easy to put two and two together. So, to ensure an ATS doesn't discard your resume, your best bet is to keep things simple and safe. That means reverting to all the tactics you picked up from your college's career advisor:

  • Keep things to a single page.
  • Size 12 font: Times, Arial, or Times New Roman only.
  • No more than five bullet points per position you're listing.

And as an added bonus, once your résumé does end up in front of a hiring manager, they'll be thrilled—like Karlin and Millman—to see that it's a legible, discernible, and, most importantly, informative document.

Finally, make sure you proofread everything before applying.

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Ari Notis
Ari is an editor specializing in news and lifestyle. Read more