The very first impression you will make to potential employers during the job search is through your resume. This critical document is your chance to get your foot in the door and land an opportunity to sell yourself in person.
This guide will give you helpful tips to create a resume that will get you noticed and put your best foot forward during the job search.
Customize Your Resume
The single most important rule to follow when crafting your resume is to customize it for the exact position you are applying for.
The information on your resume has to be relevant. Remove all that is irrelevant as it will only dilute its impact.
Recruiters are looking for a strong fit for the position they are hiring for, particularly if the search has progressed to the point that they have gone to the trouble of advertising the position.
Take your time to read the job ad and highlight the action verbs and specific job responsibilities listed as required and preferred. If you have these skills and qualifications, they should show up in your resume using the same language, preferably near the top of the resume itself.
Compliment Your Cover Letter
It is important that your cover letter and resume compliment each other, both making a strong case that you are a strong fit for the job.
It might be helpful to think of the resume as the place where you list all of the evidence that you are a great fit for the job. One way to take this idea to the next level is to try to quantify the experiences you list in your resume where possible. For example, you can include an accomplishment such as “Awarded Employee of the Month for 8 out of 14 months.”
Think of the cover letter as your opportunity to “connect the dots” for the potential employer. Take advantage of the narrative style of a cover letter to draw attention to the bigger picture, convey your interest in the position or explain your special circumstances (such as the fact that you’re looking for a career change or were absent from the workforce for a while).
Tell Your Career Story
Another way to make sure your cover letter and resume work together to make a strong case for your candidacy is to think in terms of a career story. A career story is simply a narrative about where you have been, where you are now, and where you want to go in your career. Ideally your career story positions the job you are applying for as the next logical step in your professional journey.
On a resume, your career story is not usually explicit. Rather, it is about the impression that your resume leaves the reader as a whole. To tell a compelling career story with your resume, be sure that the elements you choose to include are relevant and build in a logical way towards the position that you are applying for.
It is important to understand that rather than having one career story, you actually have several. As long as you are being honest about your qualifications, you may choose to draw attention to different aspects of your professional experience in order to highlight your fit for a specific job.
When your resume tells a compelling career story it helps to suggest to the reader that you will be invested in the new job.
It communicates that you will take the position seriously, bring enthusiasm to your work, and approach the job as an important step in your ultimate career ambitions.
Choose the Right Format
There are three main resume formats to choose from which are broken down in terms of the order that you present information. Strategically, you will want to choose the format that positions your most relevant experience, skills, accomplishments, and qualifications near the top so they are most likely to be noticed by the hiring manager reviewing your application materials.
A reverse chronological resume highlights your work experience with the most recent job first progressing back through time further down the page. If you have a very traditional career path that naturally points to the position you are applying to as the next logical step, this format is likely your best bet.
A functional format allows you to highlight your most relevant qualifications and skills regardless of when you gained them. In addition, it allows you to obscure a large gap in your work history. This resume format is ideal for those in the middle of a career transition from one field to another, or those who have been out of the workforce for a significant period of time.
Finally, you can combine elements of both the reverse chronological and functional formats. For example, using some key sections near the top of your resume (such as a Summary or Qualifications section) and then listing your work experiences in reverse chronological order. This hybrid format offers many job seekers the best of both worlds.
Use Design Elements Wisely
You can use design elements such as lines, bolded text, infographics, color, and other creative graphics to help set your resume apart visually as well as cleverly highlight your most important qualifications. However, keep in mind that design elements can easily be overdone, resulting in a resume that conveys form over function.
When choosing design elements for your resume, make sure each one adds to your overall strategy which should be to emphasize the exact skills, qualifications, and experiences that most demonstrate your fit for the exact job you are applying for.
In addition, the overall look of your resume should communicate professionalism and have an aesthetic that matches the tone expected in your specific industry. For example, resumes in creative fields can have a bit more flare than those for bureaucratic jobs. Finally, design elements should never decrease the readability of your text (for example, the use of outrageous fonts).
Be Aware of Applicant Tracking Systems
Many employers these days use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to screen the first round of resumes. These systems use computers to scan the text of your resume to seek out specific keywords that recruiters have identified as most relevant to the job they are hiring for.
The first place to look for keywords to incorporate into your resume is the job ad itself. However, it is also important to do a little industry specific research to find other keywords commonly used for the job title you are applying for.
If you use design elements in your resume, be sure that you do not include these keywords as part of an image as this will render them unreadable by ATS algorithms. In addition, try to use synonyms if you find yourself repeating key qualifications (for example, in your job history section). This increases the probability that you will check more of the boxes such algorithms are designed to look for.
Remember that your resume will ultimately be read by humans once it makes it through the initial computer screening.
It is important that you integrate keywords in a way that still preserves the readability of your document during this second phase of screening.
As you write your resume, remember that it is a marketing tool. It is the single most important document that will be the decisive factor as to whether you're called in for an interview or not. Further, this document will probably be read by a person who knows nothing about you, except for what you choose to disclose. With that in mind, now is not the time to withhold important information out of modesty.
Be forthcoming with details about your accomplishments so that the recruiter knows your full potential. Ideally, you need a good balance between giving an appreciation of your past duties while at the same time highlighting some key accomplishments, always in function of the position you’re applying for.
It is critical that your resume be clear. Recruiters tend to go through a lot of applications so they have little patience trying to figure out what you're trying to say. Further, your resume will not be evaluated on its own merit, but always in relation to other applicants' resumes. If yours is worded terribly and another is flawless, you can bet you won't make it very far.
Clarity includes how your resume is organized, what headings you use, and most importantly how you describe your education, skills, accomplishments and experiences. One trick to keep in mind is to keep your resume simple and concise. Avoid convoluted sentences, remove superfluous words, and use the active tense. Remember, your resume has to be clear, not to you, but to the recruiter reading it.
A resume written clearly is important because it will be more compelling.
Let the Content Determine the Length
Many people want to know the perfect length for a resume. However, there is no one-size-fits-all ideal length. Rather, the length of your resume should map to the amount of relevant experience you bring to the table.
If you are new to the workforce or fresh out of college, it is not unusual for a single page to capture your most relevant qualifications. On the other hand, if you have been working in your industry for 20 years, it may take as many as three pages to adequately capture the wide array of qualifications you have to offer.
Edit, Edit, Edit
Once you have a draft resume, take the time to thoroughly edit the document. Your first pass should include a close eye for errors such as typos, punctuation, and grammar. Next, look for redundancies and find similar language to describe duplication.
Remember that your goal is to develop your resume to highlight your fit for the specific position you are applying for. Is your information organized in such a way that the most relevant experiences are emphasized to the reader? Are there completely irrelevant experiences that you can cut altogether?
Take a look at the document from a distance. Does it look balanced and pleasing to the eye in terms of your overall use of space? Does it look busy and chaotic? If so, you may have overdone it with design.
Once you’re done writing your resume, take a step back and ask yourself whether it fully conveys your potential. If not, keep working at it.