Your resume is your calling card to a potential employer – often the only chance you get to stand out from the crowd and show just how perfect you are for the job you want. So it pays big time to do your best to write a good, strong resume that gets you noticed!
But the biggest challenge your resume faces is that it needs to clearly communicate who you are and why you fit so well within just seconds. If the match to the job you want isn’t quickly apparent, the resume screener won’t ever give you a chance to make your case in person at that all-important interview.
But the right resume can open interview doors. And that’s why it pays to take the time and effort to create a resume (and cover letter) that is almost impossible to say no to – one that looks great, is well organized, and speaks clearly to the job you’re applying for.
So what makes a resume strong?
A resume is strong if it answers the employer’s question “Why should I even consider hiring you?” Most of the time, they know nothing else about you, and have only this document (and your cover letter) in front of them to make your case.
You want to make sure you create a resume that leaves no doubt that you are well worth speaking to. Here are some things that can help make sure you catch their eye and interest:
(1) I can’t say this enough. Take the time to creatively target your resume to the job you are applying for. Each job.
(2) Use clear powerful sentences that start with action words like “created”, “developed”, “managed”, “led”, “improved”, etc. Years ago, a former employer looked at my resume and told me to get rid of “helped” at the start of my resume phrases, even those relating to work I did for her. “Did you do it or didn’t you?” she asked.
(3) Use key words and key phrases in your resume that make it easy to see how well you match the required job skills. Not only do these help a screener quickly see that you have what they’re looking for, but if your resume is being fed into a computer, these words will help someone find you. Searches use words similar to those in the job description.
(4) Quantify where possible. It’s not mandatory to do this; I’ve gotten many jobs with almost none of this in my resume. But where you can show you increased productivity by xx% or saved a company $xxx,xxx or improved response time by xx% or managed a $x,xxx,xxx budget, by all means do so.
(5) Structure the resume so that your strengths are easy to see. That includes using a skills summary / primary skills section at the top, clear headlines that speak to your strengths (especially those that match the job), and as much of your targeted skills and experiences toward the top and bottom of the first page (where studies show eyes often go when scanning quickly) to raise ample interest at a glance.
(6) While we’re at it, your resume should look great. Margins, fonts, easy-to-read spacing, clear headings, etc. It’s making an impression for you. Maybe your only chance. Don’t let the impression be “sloppy” or unaware that an actual human is supposed to read it.
(7) Remember to include transferable skills, meaning those skills you may have used in other types of jobs that can be translated into this job – with a little help from you and from some creative wordsmithing.
(8) Eliminate tasks from your resume that you don’t want to do again, if at all possible. Why include skills you’d rather not use? Not only does it sharpen the focus of your resume to the job at hand, but it gets rid of things that might divert or even confuse the screener. You’ll still include the jobs on your resume and/ or application, but the resume is a statement of why you match, not why you might not match.
(9) Make sure your dates make sense. If you have some multi-month gaps you are trying to cover, just use years. And if you have experience from many years back that you don’t include any more, that’s ok. Just make sure if someone is looking at your resume, there is a logical progression in the dates – or that any longer gaps have volunteer work or projects or anything of substance you can list to help explain what you were up to, rather than avidly watching Days of Our Lives and Judge Judy.
(10) No unexplained gaps (covered above). And while we’re at it, no wildly divergent experiences that will only leave them confused. My business resume did not include any of my acting experiences. I filled the gaps with a “freelance consulting” section, using part-time job experiences and volunteer work that best matched what I was applying for.
(11) Sweat the small stuff! Beware of strange email addresses, weird hobbies, and personal data beyond basic contact info. If you even have a question, better to leave it off. This isn’t a dating profile. It’s a professional document representing you to an employer who is screening for any hints of trouble. You can always share the more interesting stuff later.
(12) Proofread CAREFULLY for typos and grammar, as well as overall look and feel. Ask other people to lend their eyes. Even if you are a great proofreader, they might catch something obvious – and potentially detrimental to your chances.
A few odds and ends
- What about objectives? I’m not a big fan of them. If your objective isn’t to get this particular job, why even bother? You can use that resume real estate for better things, including a skills summary section that speaks to what they say they are actually looking for based on their job description.
- Seriously … don’t use a standard one-size-fits-all resume and cover letter. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. You only come off as lazy and not very creative. Employers see the effort you put into your job search as representative of what you’d be like as an employee.
- About those strange email addresses … if your email is personalized to be cute or funny, save that for other things. Check to make sure your email address looks professional, and if it doesn’t, go to gmail or whatever service you want (AOL is still looked down on by many, even though I admit I use it), and create an email address just for job search.
- When you send a resume to someone’s email address, make sure the Subject line has the position title (and position # if applicable). And remember your email message represents you also.
- If you are asked to submit an ASCII resume, just save it in Text format and send that version. And if you use .docx and aren’t sure they have that, safer to save it in an earlier version of Word.
Hope that helps. Feel free to ask questions!
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