I work with clients everyday asking me to review their resume. They’ve been sending out applications for months and hearing nothing but crickets in return. Once I take a glance at their resume, I understand why.
So many resumes try to be too fancy, or too wordy, or just too over-formatted in an attempt to “stand out” from the stack. The truth is the best resumes are simple, professional, and follow the rules necessary to be read by an HR department’s applicant tracking system (ATS).
The following are 9 resume tips peeling back the curtain on what makes a stellar resume. Start implementing these tips on your own resume, and you’re guaranteed to land more of those dream interviews.
1. Get Specific (about the job you are applying)
The first tip when writing a killer resume is to get specific about the position you’re applying. Many people want to keep their resume general so that they can apply for lots of different types of jobs. I understand they’re wanting to keep their options open, but when it comes to a resume, it needs to be specific in order to get through the front door.
Understand that recruiters and hiring managers are seeing hundreds of resumes each week. Imagine they’re sitting at their desks with a big red Sharpee making check marks…”she has this skill” “she meets this qualification” “he has experience in this and that.” They’re more interested in finding a candidate who meets the needs of the job description than about your multi-faceted interests.
Walk through this exercise with me: Spend a couple hours on a Sunday surfing LinkedIn, Monster, Career Builder, and other job board sites. Write down all the positions that interest you and that you would be well-qualified.
Now, take your master list and narrow it down. Put a #1 next to all the top positions (the ones you are most qualified and the ones that give you that excited feeling inside). Then a #2 and #3 for the others. Begin to eliminate the #2s and #3s until you have a shorter list of #1’s. Now notice the pattern with the #1s, and this is the type of job to tailor your resume toward. If you have 2 or 3 different patterns, then you need 2 or 3 resumes…each tailored for those different types of positions.
2. Tailor Your Resume for Each Position You Apply
Your resume should be tailored for each position that you apply. Remember that hiring manager sitting with her red Sharpee making check marks? If your resume is specifically tailored to the job description she’s seeking to fill, you’re going to get more positive check marks. Make sense, right? Don’t blame her, she’s just doing her job.
Here’s how to tailor your job for the position you’re applying. Scan through the job description and notice specific verbiage, qualifications, experience, and skills mentioned. Make a list of all the most important ones.
Now, take your resume and begin to work that verbiage in. If the job description asks that the candidate has 5+ years of B2B sales experience, be sure to highlight that in your resume summary. If the job description requests that a candidate is experienced in Salesforce, Quickbooks, and Relationship Management, by all means, add these keywords into your resume.
3. Make Sure Your Resume is ATS Ready
The applicant tracking system (ATS) is by far the trickiest aspect of the job-search process. These are computerized systems that human resources departments use to manage resumes and candidate applications. Once a resume is stored in the ATS, an HR person can access it by using a various set of keywords. There are multiple ATS programs out there and each one is a bit different.
But here’s the thing…many candidates format their resume with crazy boxes, colors, fonts, and other weird resume design elements that make it difficult to be read by an ATS. That means their resumes are getting sucked up into this mindboggling ATS black hole never to return.
Have you been sending out dozens of resumes for months and never hearing back?Your resume might be entering the ATS black hole.
Here’s how to avoid this mess and ensure your resume is ATS-friendly. The applicant tracking system doesn’t like weird formatting. Be sure that you take out any strange boxes, use a plain traditional font, and stay away from the free resume templates out there. They might look pretty, but the ATS hates them.
Avoid fancy bullet points, symbols, and anything else that’s out of the ordinary for a resume. Try to make your resume as easy to read as possible for an ATS.
4. Stick to a Professional Format & Font
When writing your resume, it’s best to stick to a professional format. Avoid the free formats out there from Word. These resumes are great when you’re meeting face-to-face for an interview, but it’s best to stay clear of them during the initial job search process.
So, what’s the best format to use when writing your resume? Stick with a reverse chronological resume format which starts with your most recent job experience and works backwards.
The resume should start at the top with your name, phone number, and email address. Then, also at the top will be a Summary of your experience (remember you can tailor this toward the position you’re applying). Next will come your Professional Experience followed by Education. If relevant, you can add Awards, Technical Skills, Associations you are a member of, and Languages. References can be left off the resume and used later.
When it comes to fonts, stay traditional. Times New Roman, Ariel, or Helvetica work just fine. Absolutely no Comic Sans or anything “fancy.” The font should be large enough and easy to read. Usually 10-11 size font works well.
5. Focus on Your Achievements
It’s easy to simply list a multitude of bullet points detailing your day-to-day responsibilities at a job. But, hiring managers are looking for what you have achieved. They want to see what kind of impact you made on the company while you were there. You want to list a few responsibilities, but stick mostly with your achievements.
Achievements can be specific projects you worked on; how much sales you increased; specific marketing strategies you developed; the number of new customer accounts you closed in a month; or an award you were given. There really is no end to the types of achievements you can list.
If possible, add numbers to your achievement-driven bullet points to create more impact. When you are able to quantify your achievements, they really stand out. Here’s a couple examples:
Old Bullet Point: Responsible for gaining new business by prospecting, cold calling, and closing contracts
New Achievement: Spearheaded business development closing avg. 18 new customer contracts accounting for $110K in sales revenue
Old Bullet Point: Worked with customers to understand their individual needs and resolve any arising issues
New Achievement: Increased customer satisfaction survey results 18% by implementing a new customer success program
See the difference? Try to make your bullet points specific, fact-driven, and quantifiable, and they’ll leap from the page.
6. Trade out your Objective for a Summary
Old school resumes always start with an Objective. We’ve all seen them, and they look something like this:
Objective: Seeking a challenging new position with a reputable company where I can utilize my skills in business development, sales, and marketing.
The problem with an Objective is that, well #1 it’s boring, and #2 it can pigeonhole you if you’re not careful. If you mention that you’re looking for one thing but the hiring manager is actually looking for another, you’ve just shot yourself in the foot right there on the top of the page.
It’s best to trade your old Objective in for a strong Summary. The Summary can be 4-5 lines highlighting your strongest skills, emphasizing your biggest achievements, and bringing attention to how your experience meets the requirements of the job posting.
Remember that this is a great place to tailor your resume. Scan through a job description and locate the top 3-4 key requirements. Address how your experience meets those requirements in the Summary.
7. You Can Make it Longer than 1 Page…it’s Ok, really
There’s an age-old rule that’s been stumping us for years. Should your resume be limited to 1 page, or is it OK to use 2+ pages? What’s the answer!?
The answer is simple: Your resume should be as long as it needs to be…but no longer.
Most resumes are simply skimmed and not given but less than a minute of attention. Your resume should adequately communicate your best skills, experience, and achievements. However, it shouldn’t be wordy or too long. Adding content to your resume just so that it looks longer and “more impressive” is a no-no.
So, go ahead and break the 1 page rule, but justify it with well-communicated experience. For students and brand new professionals, it’s likely best to stick to 1 page because your experience is short. But, if you have 5+ years of experience, go ahead and use 2 pages while staying succinct and brief. Nobody wants to read a novel.
8. Add a Link to your LinkedIn Profile
LinkedIn has become a staple for today’s professionals. Your profile can be used as an extension of your current resume.
Remember when I said your resume should be succinct and brief, right? Well you can go ahead and develop your LinkedIn profile as much as you want.
LinkedIn is a great place to highlight some of your other hobbies, awards, achievements, and skills. You know, the things that make you a real life human. Yes, resumes can be a bit cold, but let your LinkedIn profile can shine with all kinds of interesting tidbits.
Make use of the media sections on your LinkedIn profile to showcase pictures of your awards, PowerPoint files of major presentations, and go ahead and add your fancier graphic resume, if you like, too. This is where you can write about yourself in first person and be more casual.
Your resume should spark enough interest that the hiring manager wants to call for an interview and check you out on LinkedIn. Now that you have their attention, show off a little.
You can add a link to your LinkedIn profile’s URL in the header of your resume. For example, mine is: linkedin.com/in/wespearce11 so it’s specific and personal.
Here’s how you create your own custom URL:
From the Profile header, click Edit Profile:
Then click Edit next to your Public Profile (the last field below):
Finally, click Customize your public profile URL, change your URL to something unique and Set Custom URL.
9. Now Write a Short Cover Letter and Tailor It
I don’t care what people say, yes, cover letters are still read. Maybe not by everybody, but they’re still read by enough people to create one that’s professional.
If a hiring manager is on the fence about who to call for an interview, she might revert to reading the cover letters to make her decision.
The cover letter is another great place to can tailor your application. The cover letters I write for clients allow for 3-4 bullet points where you can actually explain how your experience meets the job description’s requirements.
If a job description is looking for a candidate with 10+ years of non-profit experience, tell them right there in the cover letter that you have 10+ years of non-profit experience. If they’re looking or a “team player” who is “goal-driven” and able to “meet deadlines,” then just go with the flow and write that in your cover letter (as long as it’s the truth, of course).
The cover letter should be about one-half to two-thirds of a page. It should begin in the first paragraph by expressing your interest for the position and mentioning any other specifics about how you heard about the job opening. You can name drop, too, it’s OK. If someone recommended you for the position, mention it here.
Then, briefly touch on your most recent and relevant experience in the next paragraph and stick to achievements. Work on impressing them with numbers, awards, or any other specific impacts you made in your last position. Finally, wrap the cover letter up by asking for an interview and let them know you will follow-up promptly.
In my opinion, the cover letter is where you get to shine a little. Take the extra step forward by presenting a professionally-written and specifically-tailor cover letter, and it just might be what it takes to score the interview.
Wrapping it Up…
Resumes shouldn’t be a mystery, and they surely shouldn’t cause any anxiety. Keep it achievement-driven, tailored for the position, and very professional, and you’ll greatly increase your odds of landing that dream interview.
If you’re seeking a professional resume writer to review your resume, feel free to send it us email@example.com. We’ll be happy to give it a review and offer some insight.