Whether you’re actively job hunting or just casually thinking about what’s next, it’s important to have a fresh and well-written résumé ready so you don’t miss out on any opportunities that come up.
If you’re like most of my clients, your current résumé doesn’t do you justice. Maybe it’s out of date, maybe it’s too long, or maybe it just doesn’t sell your experience as well as it should.
The job market is more competitive than ever right now and you don’t want a weak résumé to hold you back from achieving your full potential.
I’m here to tell you how to make over your résumé and start getting the attention you deserve. These are six proven tips straight from my résumé writer’s toolkit to help you make a big difference in your resume’s appeal to employers.
TRIM THE FAT
When it comes to your résumé, it’s important to realize that you only have a small window of time to impress a hiring manager or recruiter. You have to grab your reader’s attention quickly, so you have to be strategic about what you include.
Trimming the fat means you are purging all of the information on your résumé that’s no longer relevant. The rule of thumb is that your résumé should represent only the last 10 – 15 years (maximum) of your experience.
If you are listing positions that are no longer relevant to where you’re trying to go, they should be eliminated. If you feel that earlier positions are necessary to show history and consistency of employment, keep the entries very brief and save the space for your more impressive experience.
Keep in mind that it’s no longer a strict requirement to limit your résumé to one page. Don’t get me wrong: a one-page résumé is still the way to go for those in the early years of their careers. However, with the average professional history being 3–4 positions or more, two-page résumés are now more typical.
Even with a two-page résumé, it is critical to get your reader’s interest within the first few lines of the first page or they likely won’t read any further. That means you must be ruthless about making every word count.
As you go through your résumé, ask yourself: does this information help to position me for my next position or is it filler? Even worse, could it hold me back?
Look at every line with an eye toward making it compelling (see next tips) or cutting it.
SELL THE BENEFITS, NOT THE FEATURES
When working with clients, I always tell them that you don’t want your résumé reading like a to-do list. For example, as an office assistant, one may answer phones, file documents, greet guests, set up meetings, etc. Is that list of general job duties compelling or blah?
If you said, “Blah!” then you’re right! Your résumé and other career documents (cover letters, portfolio, LinkedIn profile, etc.) should be written with the reader in mind at all times — from your opening summary to your requisite education details.
Answer their questions, “What can you do for me?” How can you benefit my company/position? Long gone are the days when a résumé could grab attention with a generic opening résumé objective statement laying out what you want in a position or career.
I know it’s harsh, but hiring managers don’t care that much about what you want. They are far more interested in how you can benefit them — save them money, make them money, elevate their products and services, etc.
You are the potential solution to their problems, so show them how you could contribute more than other candidates. Tell them about your accomplishments, results, and how you went above and beyond the job description.
GO FROM TRADITIONAL TO MODERN
Did you know that recruiters favor modern résumé formats over traditional styles? It’s not just a matter of aesthetics. For a recruiter, time is money, and when you’re sifting through hundreds of résumés, they will pay the most attention to the ones that grab their attention right away.
Modern résumé styles are more readable, allowing the reader to scan and find important information more quickly.
If your format is a bit old school, it doesn’t take much to transform your résumé from traditional to modern. Here’s how:
• Keep the content concise. Paragraphs should be kept to 3 to 4 lines, while bullets should be considered scannable sound bites and kept to 1 to 2 lines.
• Remove generic phrases and adjectives. Accomplishment descriptions should be kept tight for quick reading.
• Use space well. Design the page to make the most of the space while keeping the text readable. Use white space around sections to draw the eye and avoid crowding that makes the text blur together.
• Be strategic with color and graphics. Simple visuals like using bold font and bullet points can draw the eye to important information. Keep in mind the content in graphics won’t be scored by ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems).
ELIMINATE VERBOSE LANGUAGE AND OVERWRITING
Some applicants can’t resist the temptation to go a little too far to try to make themselves look good. However, trying too hard can hurt more than help sometimes. Too much fluff or over-effusive language can hurt your credibility.
DO use positive language to sell your experience but DON’T go overboard and come across as exaggerating or outright misrepresenting your experience.
For example, if you were a cashier, don’t turn that position into a “cash handling expert” on your résumé. Playing the switcheroo will not fool anyone and it just makes you seem like you’re trying too hard. Be confident in your actual experience and what you have to offer. Transparent attempts to fudge your experience will make you look dishonest – or worse, desperate.
It is impossible for your résumé to be complete without industry-specific keywords. They are the glue that holds all of the pieces together. I’m not referring to general keywords like team player, oral communication skills, etc. Remember number two on the list? You’re selling the benefits. If you choose to include a Key Skills section, make sure you are including a minimum of 9 keywords.
But how do you know which are the best keywords to feature in your résumé? The best résumé keywords will depend on your industry and the job opening, so you will have to spend some time analyzing job descriptions.
For each position, based on the job description and your knowledge of the industry, what are the most important skills that the recruiters are likely to be screening for? Yes, this does mean that you’ll want to reconsider and customize your keywords for different opportunities.
Once you’ve brainstormed, narrow your keyword list down to the top 9 to 12 keywords to use under your Key Skills section.
Note: You have the option of not including a Key Skills section at all. More and more modern résumés are eliminating the Key Skills section and using keywords strategically throughout the résumé. Either way is acceptable.
SHOW THE NUMBERS
Recruiters and hiring managers love numbers. Why? Hard numbers show your results in a measurable way. Statistics also allow you to eliminate long paragraphs and verbose language and get right to the point.
If you state that you “reduced overhead 12% for 2016 by….”, be ready to back up these numbers with details in the job interview. Good numbers are impressive on paper and can get you in the door for an interview, but you also have to be prepared to explain how you achieved results (here’s where your behavioral STAR stories come in).
If you don’t have numbers to show, that’s okay. Not every position lends itself to measurable results. You will just need to show positive outcomes more anecdotally – by highlighting project successes, positive feedback, promotions, and other credibility builders.
Almost every career move starts with a well-crafted résumé that communicates the most impressive highlights of your career. With these six tips, you will put yourself in the best position to get your résumé noticed for all the right reasons.
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