In an increasingly competitive job market, the resume is the first step toward landing the job. It’s the basis for HR’s decision to interview or not to interview a candidate. The best candidate for the job has to prove it before even meeting a hiring manager through a resume. Is yours up to snuff? Here are a few remedies for an average resume to help it stand out.
Proofread, Proofread, Proofread: Nothing gets a resume tossed on the “no” pile faster than typos, grammatical errors, and misspellings. (Practice: See if you can find the misspelling in this article.) Worse yet, is incorrect contact information which could tie up the interview process if the company can’t contact you or one of your references. Read your resume out loud to easily catch mistakes you otherwise might have missed, and ask someone else to proofread next to be certain you haven’t missed anything. Take the time to write the best resume possible, and that won’t happen in one night. A resume is never finished; it will always be a work in progress as you gain education, work experience and relavant skills
Be performance-oriented: Instead of the common expressions “Duties included” or “Responsible for,” keep the focus on your accomplishments. An employer understands that you’re probably capable of performing the job description of your previous job and wants to see instead how you went beyond the job description and exceeded expectations.
Focus on Readability: To write a winning resume, you must first understand how employers read them. Resumes are a list of your job experience, skills, and accomplishments to show the strength of your candidacy for a job. Sentences and paragraphs are unnecessary; focus on making your resume concise. Since your resume might only get a few seconds’ glance, make sure it can give a solid impression in that short time. Appropriate use of section headings, indentation and bullet styles can help organize content consistently.
Ingredients for Success: Follow Donald Asher’s resume ingredient rule and list information in order of importance to the reader. For work experience, list your position, employer, location and dates of employment in that order. Some applicants list the dates of employment first, information that takes second string to job title and employer. In addition, the applicant tracking software that many companies use may not read your work experience correctly if you list dates of employment first. Similarly, education should follow the same rules: name of degree, major, university, location, graduation year, minor if applicable and GPA. As a general rule, graduation year need not be listed if it was more than ten years ago.
Show Your Skills: List any relevant skills and knowledge such as foreign languages, computer programming languages, software packages, or industry standards. Such keywords are easy to spot and remember, if an employer is looking for a particular skill, your resume will stand out immediately.
Ready, Set, Go: Be ready to talk about anything on your resume. The resume is like a preview for the interview, so prepare to stand and deliver when the time comes. Anything on your resume is fair game for an interview question, so consider each job, activity and skill and how you would describe it to a potential interviewer. You may also be asked questions that are off topic. Your resume is a way to leverage your responses by tying in the answer to the question with an experience you’ve written on your resume. This adds a visual effect to the interview, as well as it shows you’re the relationship between old occupations and the one you are applying for.
Watch your Language: Avoid using the verbs “were,” “did,” and “worked.” Everyone was something, did something, and worked at a job. Use strong verbs. Instead of “Worked with other departments” try “Collaborated with purchasing department to cut costs.” Consider verbs like initiated, resolved, established, achieved and pioneered, for example. Be cautious when using acronyms as well. Every field and industry has acronyms that would be baffling to an outsider. Use the acronym if you have confidence that the reader will understand, but if in doubt, spell it out and clarify any that might be unclear. College students should be especially aware of this. Universities can have very distinct and particular events, programs and student organizations, so assume that your reader has no familiarity at all with your school and read your resume from that perspective.
Length: Don’t write your resume like a term paper by filling the page and calling it quits. College undergrads and those new to the workforce will likely use a one page resume, while those with MS or PhD degrees, longer work experience or publications in their field can use two to three pages. If you have multiple pages, avoid having a mostly-blank last page. If two-thirds of the last page is bare, condense by adjusting margins, text size or formatting. Margins of .75” still appear as professional as the Microsoft Word default 1” margins. Don’t resort to microscopic text; shrinking text by 1-2 points makes a subtle yet more legible change, but any smaller than 10.5 point will likely present difficulty for the reader.
What to Skip: “References Available upon Request.” That’s standard practice, and stating it is a waste of space.
Excessive Dating. Dates of involvement in extracurricular activities are probably not meaningful or relevant to an employer. Leave off the clutter and focus on streamlining.
Articles. Avoid a, an, and the. Since resumes are written as concise phrases and information rather than sentences and paragraphs, articles are unnecessary and slow down reading.