Getting plucked out of a recruiter or hiring manager’s virtual stack of resumes may often seem like an impossible game of applying, praying to the resume gods, and waiting.
If you’re getting radio silence after applying for jobs, considering a career change, or are new to the job market, it may be time to take a step back and critically review what you intend to put out into the world. Use these best practices to ensure you’re doing everything possible to get noticed by a hiring manager or recruiter.
1. Check your spelling and grammar (then check it again).
It may seem simple, but many applicants don’t give their spelling and grammar a second glance. We’re not all walking Merriam Webster dictionaries, and that’s OK. Fortunately, there are many tools out there to help you check yourself. Take advantage of these tools, but also remember to double-check your work and then show it to a trusted friend or colleague to critique.
Tip:Tools like grammarly.com or the spelling and grammar tools available in your word processing software can help you catch errors early on. Consider turning on auto-fill word prompts and automatic spelling fixes—but be careful not to use this as a crutch. Technology can help you make wise choices, but it’s not a substitute for your own brain and instincts. Your own attention to detail and context will almost always catch errors that a computerized system will miss.
2. Personalize your opening statement.
Turn your objective into a “career summary.” This is a useful (and short) statement about how you can add value to your potential employer and to the position. This statement gives you an opportunity to present a snapshot of your qualifications and high-level career trajectory, and explain how these translate into solving the employer’s business needs, in a succinct and digestible format. The career summary is listed at the top of your resume in place of an “objective.”
Tip:Your goal with the career summary is to “hook” the recruiter or hiring manager and pique their interest so they want to read on and find out more—so make it compelling, while still keeping it short, sweet, and to the point.
3. Consider length.
Generally, your resume should be contained to one page if possible. A good rule of thumb for resume length is one page for every 10 years of work experience included. Taking into account career length and relevancy, however, is also necessary.
Tip:Omitting superfluous words can also help pare down length, as can experimenting with font until you find the right size and style. While smaller is sometimes better, the font should still be readable (without a magnifying glass), and the style should be professional (Comic Sans and Papyrus need not apply).
4. Keep it relevant.
You don’t need to include every odd job you’ve held since you were 16, unless they are absolutely relevant to the position at hand. Use your best judgement, and remember that your resume should showcase why you are the best fit for the position. The same goes for skills, certifications, and extras like volunteering or association involvement. Consider what’s relevant and noteworthy, and choose wisely. Including a debate club membership may be very useful when applying to an internship or your first job—but as a 20-year career veteran, you can safely leave it out.
Tip:Once you’ve determined which jobs to include, organize them by recent jobs first, reverse chronologically. This method makes your resume easier for hiring managers or recruiters to see where you are now and where you’ve been.
5. Include specific, measurable accomplishments.
Although soft and behavioral skills have their place, that place is often in your cover letter and in subsequent interactions as a candidate. Your resume is where you will focus on the specific and measurable results you have been responsible for at your previous employers. Keep in mind the old saying, “Show, don’t tell.” Consider ways in which you can show prospective employers your unique contributions and achievements in your previous roles through specific anecdotes and measurable results.
Tip:Consider your work experience in a “glass half-full” light. Accentuate how each position (even ones you no longer see as impressive to a potential employer) has helped shape your journey to help you become the super-marketable candidate you are today. And if you are a recent college graduate, focus on the important work skills you gained and results you achieved through your internships or high school and college jobs. You can glean important skills from sweeping floors or working the pool concession stand in a summer job—find a way to highlight them.
6. Display a vested interest in yourself.
Don’t forget about including a section to showcase your professional memberships, certifications, extracurriculars, and volunteer or study abroad experiences. After all, these all represent different aspects of your soft and hard skills, and help illustrate your journey to potential employers. Your resume should be representative of much more than simply previous job titles and education. Depending on what you include in this section, you can title it something like, “Awards, Skills, and Memberships.”Including these aspects of your professional growth shows potential employers how you’ve built on your skill set and taken a vested interest in yourself and your growth.
Tip:Be sure to include a brief bulleted list in this section detailing the skills you gained with each item listed. Perhaps a particular experience as a guest speaker at a local technology conference helped you gain confidence in public speaking and earn a return invite, or maybe the advanced certification you earned while also working a full-time job strengthened your work ethic and taught you how to solve a business challenge. Employers will be impressed to see the concrete ways these achievements and experiences translate into value you will bring into your next job.
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