Resume Tips: How To Write A Resume And Cover Letter That Hiring Software Can Read


If you’ve ever uploaded a cover letter, resumé, or filled out a questionnaire while applying for a job online, you’ve already had a taste of pre-screening software.

But what happens with your information next?

And, more importantly, how do you write a competitive resumé and cover letter with the right keywords that will get your application noticed?

The questionnaire’s pre-screening questions can offer clues as to some of the important sticking points and responsibilities, which you can easily incorporate into your resumé and cover letter.

What is pre-screening software and what can it do?

Pre-screening software (also called hiring or recruiting software) stores job applicants’ information, including a computer-scannable copy of each candidate’s resumé and cover letter. For a job recruiter, the software cuts down a lot of work, says human resources professional Emily Candy.

“Before, [recruiters] would have resumés emailed to an inbox and . . . print them all out,” says Candy. The resumés would then be read and sorted into piles: yes, no and maybe.

Today’s software allows applicants to upload a copy of their resumé and cover letter, as either a Word document, a .pdf, or even pasted into a dedicated text box.

Advanced search capabilities and thresholds

Pre-screening software can also go a step further than old-school piles in a few ways.

First, it can have applicants fill out a questionnaire in regards to the position. Questions can include “what are your salary expectations, do you have a post-secondary degree in journalism, are you eligible to work in Canada, where you live,” and “whether you have a car or license,” says Candy.

Then, recruiters can set thresholds as they search through applicants. For example, Candy can see only candidates who answered more than five of the 10 questions the way they’d like. But, “as a recruiter you still have to be careful,” warns Candy, “because they’re not foolproof.”

And, second, with all the cover letters and resumés saved in their databases, recruiters can search for specific words, phrases and professional lingo. Candy admits she rarely uses the keyword search function (she mostly sticks to the pre-screening questions), but says she can search for broad skills such as “marketing,” to specific, niche experience like “e-commerce.”

Computer-friendly resumés and cover letters

The secret to a keyword-friendly resumé and cover letter is literally right before your eyes: the words in the posting’s job description.

“Using the job description to your advantage [would be effective],” says Candy. “The company’s telling you what they’re looking for.”

Incorporating professional terms found in the posting, along with professional vocabulary you’ve picked up during your own working experience, will grab both the software’s and the job recruiter’s attention. But don’t get carried away – you can’t fool recruiters easily.

Once while reading over a resumé, Candy says she thought, “‘This looks great. We’re looking for all of this.’ But then I thought, ‘Wait, this looks familiar.’” The applicant had, in fact, copied and pasted the entire job description into one of her past jobs.

The questionnaire’s pre-screening questions can also offer clues as to some of the important sticking points and responsibilities, which you can easily incorporate into your resumé and cover letter.

And one answer you can definitely be sure of is salary expectations (be honest and pragmatic when completing this portion – this is a job, not a lottery).

If you’re unsure of what a fair salary or hourly wage might be, you can quickly reference websites such as or Don’t forget to search for entry-level or “junior” Canadian figures whenever possible.