Marie Herman explains how to ensure that your resume rises to the top of the pile and gets noticed by employers
Here’s my philosophy in a nutshell: Recruiters and companies are looking for a reason to screen you out, not for a reason to keep you.
Think about it.
If you had a stack of 400 resumes, are you going to go through each one of them, actively searching for a reason to keep them, hoping that when you are done you will still have a pile of 400 resumes? Heck NO! You are going to look for every little excuse to toss them so that you whittle that pile down to 10 or 20 resumes that appear worth interviewing.
It’s a brutal process and undoubtedly eliminates many fine candidates, but it’s also very efficient.
1. Formatting matters
These days, most companies prefer that candidates submit their resumes through forms on company websites. Unfortunately, many individuals choose to simply cut and paste their traditional resume instead of creating a specialized resume for the form fields. This impacts the layout of the document, how the lines wrap, how bullets and other special characters might be shown and much more.
What’s the best option then for inputting your resume in a cut and paste form field?
Start by creating a plain text resume. That means you save your document in a plain .txt file format. Then reopen the document and see how the formatting has been impacted and what you can do to correct it. It also means that you don’t take full advantage of fancier desktop publishing features available in Office. It’s better not to use tables, fancy fonts, Word-entered bullets (use plain dashes or asterisks instead), and other specialized functionality. When it comes to forms, keep it simple!
If you are emailing your resume to a recruiter, send it as a PDF file unless they specifically request a different format. If they do request something like Word, verify the version of Word they are using, if possible. Word can be a dangerous creature with resumes because different versions and printers can impact fonts and margins, and otherwise critically alter the appearance of your document.
2. Keywords are critical
Think about your resume from the perspective of the employer. They are entering keywords into the database of 5,000 resumes, trying to locate the top 2 or 3 resumes that demonstrate the skills they want. What are they going to be searching for? Instead of typing “travel arrangement,” specify “made travel reservations (including arranging domestic and international air tickets, hotels, rental cars and other ground transportation, etc.).” Ensure you include the keywords that they are likely to be searching for.
As another example, consider including all software program names, rather than just suite names. So, you would spell out Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Office rather than just typing Microsoft Office alone.
How do you know what keywords that might be? The job posting provides some excellent clues. Reword your resume if necessary, to incorporate many of the important keywords and terminology you see in the job posting duties, responsibilities, and qualifications. That’s what the recruiting database algorithm will be comparing your resume to, after all.
Consider this perspective with your social media profiles like LinkedIn, as well. Think of these sites as search engines, instead of just thinking of them as file storage for your profile.
This is one of many reasons why it is so important to stay up to date with current job postings for positions you might be interested in, even if you are not currently looking for a job. Staying aware of how job descriptions are evolving will help you to ensure you stay relevant in the employment market.
3. Limit the experience length
While age discrimination is illegal in many countries, the sad reality is that it still exists, and it is insidious in the way it impacts your job search.
Don’t mention high school graduation if you have any college experience whatsoever. Going to college implies that you graduated high school or earned your equivalent credentials. Also, you don’t have to list the year of your college graduation (unless it is recent). This is one of the ways employers can guesstimate a candidate’s age and potentially use it against them. Essentially, don’t highlight anything that could allow them to red flag you.
Your resume doesn’t have to include every job you have ever held (although your job application form might require it). If you have several decades of experience, employers may focus on your age and how close you are to retirement rather than recognizing the value and depth of your knowledge.
A general rule of thumb is to include perhaps 10-15 years of jobs. Now clearly, there is room for personal decision making here. If you had a job that provided extremely relevant experience or that clearly showed your progression through promotions, you might go back further.
So, what if you only had one job and it’s been longer than 15 years? Well clearly, you will include that job. However, holding one job for such a long period of time may or may not be an asset in a job search. On the one hand, you are showing loyalty and commitment. On the other hand, employers may be concerned about if you might have difficulty picking up new routines or if you have stayed current with marketplace skills.
You may wish to add some verbiage to your cover letter to address the concerns they are likely to have. In that case, you would highlight the positive, rather than focusing on the negative. You should also be prepared with some sample stories demonstrating certain skillsets in an interview (like the time you needed to learn a new software package quickly or when you pursued a certification or the time you needed to adapt quickly during a global pandemic).
4. Eliminate the unnecessary
You will also want to eliminate any verbiage that doesn’t support your current job search. Examples of this would be removing job descriptions of tasks you don’t want to do anymore. You might need to include some of them, of course, if they were the bulk of a past job, but if they were simply one of several bullets, remove them and free yourself of that potential future responsibility.
Your older jobs may not be relevant to the jobs you might pursue, especially if you are trying to do a career shift. By including those older jobs, you might cause unnecessary distraction in your job search, as they think about what you used to do and if you are truly committed to the new path. It can make them start thinking of questions that never would have entered their minds if you hadn’t included those jobs on your documentation.
An objective is another area that you might want to eliminate as unnecessary. Most objectives focus on what you are looking for, but honestly, most companies don’t care what you are looking for. It’s a harsh reality, I know. If you apply for the job, the company will assume that your objective is to land that job.
You might make an exception if you have more of a summary statement than an objective, but make sure that summary is something employers would want to see, such as how much money you saved the company and other ways you directly impacted the bottom line. In other words, it should be all about them, not all about you.
5. Include the valuable
Don’t list interests that have no value to the position you are applying for.
You can leave off your mushroom hunting hobby (don’t laugh, I saw a resume once that included that information). On the other hand, being certified in First Aid and CPR or being bilingual could be a fabulous inclusion that makes them stop and take note.
When you are assembling your resume, be sure to consider relevant experience that might flesh out your resume in positive ways. For example, a volunteer role like being a treasurer for an organization may have gotten you experience in budgeting and accounts payable that you might not have received on the job. That kind of experience could be an asset if you were looking for a job in an accounting department.
Think about other “extras” you might have in the way of experience and knowledge. Mentally review your hobbies, interests, and any extra classes you have taken.
Are you a notary public? Do you have any certifications? Have you received any awards? Have you ever been published? List anything that might make you stand out as an exceptional candidate!!!
It’s a challenging world out there with so many unemployed during this global health crisis, but there are steps you can take to improve the odds of being selected for an interview. A few tweaks and accommodations on your resume to customize it for the job you are applying for will give you a much better chance of being considered.