Five Steps for a Resume that Gets Results
It’s common knowledge that a resume is usually needed to land a good job, but just having “any old” resume is not enough. In days past you could improve your chances by coming into a workplace in person, rather than submitting online. This is still true for some smaller employers, but many companies now prefer a candidate to submit a resume online. In this age of information overload, it’s critical that your resume distinguishes you from the many other candidates your potential employer is going through. After all, your resume is what will secure you some form of interview. If the employer passes on it, then it’s often game over.
At first crafting an effective resume may seem like a daunting task, especially if you’re not sure what features of your work history and experience serve to put you ahead of the curve. Fortunately, there are certain simple tricks and techniques that can help you to improve your resume without resorting to trickery or deceit.
Let’s start by focusing in on that last point. It can be tempting to fluff up a resume with qualifications and work experience that, while not entirely falsehood, isn’t entirely true either. These “fibs” may seem like they would improve your chances of getting hired, but most employers are experienced at reading resumes and recognize when a candidate is padding their qualifications. If the employer catches you in a lie while checking your references or job history, that’s almost always a deal breaker. No employer wants to hire someone who isn’t trustworthy, so lying can even be worse than having no resume at all. It is better to have a resume that is clearly truthful but lacking in some areas than it is to have a resume that is clearly deceitful or won’t hold up to scrutiny.
Know Your Reader(s)
Not everyone realizes this, but you need to prepare your resume to be read in two different ways. The first is by the human reader who decides whether or not you’ll get an interview, and the second is by the computer system that many employers will use to filter through their candidates. The first is obviously important because this person has the final say on whether or not you have an opportunity with the company, but the second is possibly more important, since it determines whether or not the employer ever looks at your resume in the first place.
So how do you tailor your resume for these readers?
The Human Reader: Most employers will look at a resume for less than 20 seconds before deciding whether or not to read on. You have that long to make a solid impression. If they do read the resume they will move it into one of three categories: pass, last resort, and possible match. Your goal is to make the employer realize that you are definitely a possible match.
- Make your resume clear and legible. Make sure you only use professional language and avoid contractions, slang, etc. Ensure that any industry terms you use are terms your employer will understand.
- Avoid speaking in generalities. Whenever possible: be specific. When possible, use numbers and other forms of raw data to back your claims and quantify your accomplishments.
- Avoid using passive language like “responsible for” or “duties included.” Instead use active language like “managed,” or “carried out.” Try to start each sentence with a powerful action verb. This language serves to showcase your actions and the effects they had for the company. Try to write your duties so that they read less as responsibilities, and more like employee assets that you have to offer.
The Computer Reader: Avoid speaking in clichés. Terms like “self-motivated,” or “team-player” may get filtered out by the employer’s program. A good trick to make sure that you don’t get filtered out is to keep a general use resume, but tailor it for each specific employer. Take a look at the job posting and try as best as possible to mirror the language that the employer is using. If the job posting you are looking at doesn’t help much with language you can also look at other similar job postings.
Another place to search when attempting to find “keywords” to mirror the employer’s language is the company’s website, especially their “About” page. These pages are often written very intentionally using language that the employer cares about, and if you can pick up on the terms they care the most about it can go a long way towards getting your resume past the sensor.
Even if you feel that you know the terms to use it can be helpful to check them periodically, as these terms do change over time, and using outdated terminology can date you. It’s best to keep your language current for your profession.
Trim the Fat
Try to use as few words as possible to get your points across. “Lean and Mean” should be the ideal. Remember, you don’t have much time to get your employer’s attention, so every word should have an impact and anything that dilutes the resume’s potency should be cut. Eliminate anything that could read as “filler content.” You can even play around cutting words like “a,” “an,” and “the” to tighten your language so long as the resume still flows well. Do your best to minimize redundancy. If a job title says, “customer service representative,” the employer already knows you talked to customers. Use the available space to either clarify or expand on that role.
Keep it Up to Date
Maybe you don’t think your most recent position is as important as your previous positions. Maybe you just don’t think it’s as impressive. Maybe nothing has really changed. For whatever reason many candidates don’t keep their resumes up to date, and this can be a big mistake. Some employers simply don’t have the time to check and see why there’s a gap in work history and will put a resume aside if the resume is older than they’re comfortable with. Updating your resume periodically is a simple effort you can take to improve your odds of getting an interview, even if that update is something as small as re-uploading the same resume to change the upload date and show that “2012 – present” is still current.
Write with your ideal job and your immediate career goals in mind. When choosing what to highlight, consider what your target employer is looking for.
Keep the Layout Clean and Professional
Your resume should read from top to bottom in order of how relevant the information is to your potential employer. Provide more detail on jobs that are more relevant to the potential employer and provide more detail on more recent jobs as that experience is still fresh and the employer is likely to be more interested in it. Lead each job listing with a single powerful point that showcases your contributions during that role, then list any additional duties. Pay special attention to any gaps in work history. These can be very detrimental to landing a job. It’s better to have weak work experience for a period than no work experience for a long stretch.
Try to write short sentences and bullets over long paragraphs wherever possible. This sort of language rewards the skimming approach most employers take to reading resumes and keeps their interest.
The first section of your resume should be a summary of your prior work experience. In past decades an “Objective” section was not uncommon, but this should mostly be avoided. Your employer knows your objective based on the job you are applying for. More importantly, an “objective” tells your potential employer what you want, whereas a summary of experience tells your employer what you have to offer. They are much more interested in the latter. Your goal should be to showcase how you can solve your company’s problems, and a summary of experience will help with that.
If you list your phone number, make sure your voicemail an any hold music is professional. Likewise, if you list an email address ensure that it is professional. When in doubt, the format firsname.lastname@ always reads well. If you need to, make a second email address specifically for applying for jobs and associating with potential employers.
Make sure to include any specialized equipment that you used or were trained in. The same goes with computer programs, and other forms of credentials you obtained or classes you were put through. Any qualification that might help you obtain the job should be listed. In the same light, it’s reasonable to include volunteer work with nonprofits and other charitable activities that may help showcase your character.
A good design layout can help make your resume look more presentable and aesthetic, which can help in getting your resume read. But make sure not to overdue it. If your resume looks gaudy or unprofessional, the employer may throw it out without reading it.
Consider including a cover letter. While it may represent extra work, a cover letter can go a long way towards putting you ahead of other candidates. Like with your resume, you can create a “General Use” cover letter, then tailor it for each potential employer. You can search “cover letter” in google to easily find examples of basic cover letters that you can tailor to fit your resume and serve as your general use letter. If you do use a cover letter, make sure any critical information is on your resume itself, since it may be passed around internally without the cover letter attached.