It’s been estimated that for every job posted these days, there are over 100 people that apply for it. And if the job is in a sought-after profession, you can easily expect to go up against hundreds of others who likely have qualifications that are similar to yours – or better! How can you expect to catch the attention of hiring managers with so much competition? Learn the four secrets to a great resume.
Focus on accomplishments. This seems obvious, right? After all, you want your resume to show potential employers how amazing you are. Why, then, do so many people fall into the boring, long-winded trap of simply bullet-pointing (or worse, writing a paragraph about) the different responsibilities they had at their previous jobs.
If you’re applying for a janitorial position, the hiring manager is going to assume that you’ve used cleaning products and taken out trash – there’s no need to mention the fact that you’ve done them on your resume. Same thing if the job is an assistant in an office. Oh, really, you answered phones and kept your previous boss’s calendar? How fascinating.
Instead of “made cold calls to people to get sales,” try something along the lines of “increased sales by 50 percent” or even “made more calls to clients than anyone else in the office.” No, that second example isn’t as impressive, but sometimes you have to work hard to spin what you’ve got, and it’s still more interesting than “made calls.” You’re also showing potential employers that you know how to sell yourself, which is usually a valued skill.
Know your audience. Some of this is simple. Your dream job at the fashion magazine doesn’t care that you worked at McDonald’s last summer, so either don’t include it at all or spend as little space as possible on the job. That non-profit is probably going to laugh at the fact that you put your picture on your resume, but someone at an entertainment company might enjoy getting to put a face with the name. Or not. That’s why you need to study the industry, the job, and the company as much as possible ahead of time.
A great first step is to use a site like CareerQA to get an overview of different jobs, then try to connect with someone in that industry or company (hopefully both!) and pick their brain before submitting your resume.
Keep it clean. Another obvious one, but no one seems to remember this: don’t make mistakes on your resume! The number one reason that resumes get tossed by hiring managers is because they notice a mistake on it. In fact, for a lot of those in the business of hiring people, that’s an automatic trip to the circular file. Don’t just trust in Spellcheck to catch your mistakes; double and triple check your writing to make sure that you’re not doing something stupid. This can include but is not limited to: misspellings, grammar errors, dropped words, and incorrect dates. Cover letters and emails are perhaps even more important in this regard because some people make the egregious error of putting the wrong person’s name – or even the wrong company name – in the message.
The other way that you want to keep it clean is to make sure that your resume looks good. That means creating a consistent look, using bullet points, and above all remembering that brevity is the soul of wit. Few hiring managers want to slog through a resume that is more than one page, and God help you if your resume has giant, intimidating paragraphs of information on it. Find a way to break them up, cut them down to their essence, and make them look good.
Choose your words carefully. Part of this is good writing, but where resumes are concerned in the modern world, there’s more to it than that. A lot of people don’t know this, but many companies employ software to sift through the resumes they get before a person ever even sees them. They have specific keywords attached to each position, and if you’re not using enough of them or using them in the right way, there’s a good chance that your resume won’t ever make it into human hands.
So, how do you know the right words to use? Take a look at the job description. Most of the time there will be specific words that employers use to describe each aspect of the position. When you are writing your resume and tailoring it to them, part of that should be looking for places where you can include those keywords in ways that seem organic to the work you’ve done in the past. It’s becoming more and more important to do this as time passes and these programs get smarter and smarter.
Josh Weiss-Roessler is a professional resume writer and co-owner of Weiss-Roessler Writing. He loves offering career advice and job-search tips, along with writing about a wide variety of other topics. When he’s not working, you’ll likely find him hanging out with his wife, playing with his one-year-old boy, or walking their two tiny dogs.
Photo by: Flickr