Amanda Augustine, career-advice expert at TopResume, the world’s largest résumé-writing service. Based in New York City, she is a certified professional career coach (CPCC) and certified professional résumé writer (CPRW). TopResume.com
Bottom Line: Today’s résumés have to work for three kinds of readers.
Applying for jobs? Bringing your résumé up to date must include more than adding your latest work experience. Today’s job hunters need to construct résumés that work equally well for three different types of readers and include several key features that appeal to the different readers. These readers include employers sorting through massive stacks of candidates and giving each just a cursory glance…employers taking a closer look at the résumés of the most promising candidates…and increasingly sophisticated software called “applicant tracking systems” that employers use to sort through résumés instead of humans doing it. These software systems have become extremely widespread. Creating a résumé that works for all of these audiences requires some finesse.
Here are the eight things you must do before you submit your résumé…
Make a key degree part of your name. An employer flipping through a stack of résumés might not read yours closely enough to notice that you have an advanced degree or certification.
What to do: If you have an important credential, cite this after your name on the first line of your résumé where it can’t be missed. Examples: Jane Smith, MBA…John Jones, EdD…Mary Johnson, CPA.
Eject the objective. Modern résumés no longer include an “Objective” statement—a subhead summarizing the applicant’s career goals. The single focus of a résumé today should be what the applicant can provide to the employer, rather than what the applicant wants from the employer.
What to do: Replace the objective section with a “Professional Summary.” This summary should mention your most important skills…note how you have used those skills to help former employers…and describe how you will use them to help your next employer—all in just a few sentences. Including this summary improves the odds that an employer reading your résumé quickly will see enough of the highlights to include you in the stack of applicants deserving further consideration—employers often read less than one-third of a résumé before making this initial decision.
Mention the specific skills and attributes that employers most value for the position you are seeking. Employers use software to search résumés for these. What are the skills and attributes? You don’t have to guess—employers usually include them in their job listings.
What to do: Read job listings not only for positions you intend to apply for but also for similar positions that you don’t expect to apply for because they are far from where you live. The words that appear in multiple listings are the words employers are most likely to search for in your résumé—which means that they’re words you must include in your résumé. These words might include position titles, software programs or equipment names, specific tasks…and general workplace traits and attributes.
Link skills and traits to prior jobs. Many of the keywords you cite in your résumé can be included in the professional summary and/or a “Skills” section. But also work as many of them as possible into your descriptions of prior work experience. This shows that you’re not just claiming to be able to do these things—you’ve actually done them. Example: If you list “team management” among your skills, your work history should cite examples of times you led teams to quantifiable successes.
If a skill is relevant to several of your prior positions and you don’t want to cite it over and over on your résumé—that would become repetitive—include it in your description of a recent job and/or a job you held for a significant duration. The software that scans your résumé for this keyword might give you less credit for it if it’s listed only under a job you held for a short period or years ago.
Don’t bury your accomplishments with bullets. Traditionally, many résumés have been structured as a series of bullet-point lists. Example: Every previous position would be marked with a bullet…as well as every cited skill. Bullets can be an effective way to highlight key info on a résumé—but when so many listings have bullets, nothing seems special.
What to do: Use bullets to call attention to your bragging points—the information that most likely will land you an interview—including career-making achievements and prestigious honors.
Let go of the past. Employers rarely put much stock in job experience from long ago—it isn’t considered very relevant. In fact, given today’s constantly changing technology, having a long work history often is taken as evidence that an applicant is out of date, even though it is not supposed to.
What to do: Describe in detail only your past 15 years of work experience. Condense all earlier jobs into a total of no more than a few lines under the heading “Earlier Work Experience.” List only company, title and location for these earlier jobs…or describe all of your earlier experience in a sentence or two. Exception: If you held an especially prestigious or notable position earlier in your career, it makes sense to include an additional sentence or two about that. And if you’ve been out of the workforce for much of the past 15 years, including the older experience might be necessary—but also obtain training or seek part-time work so that you have something recent on your résumé as well.
Modern word-processing software makes it easy to construct creative, distinctive résumé designs—but you shouldn’t do that. Yes, you could arrange your résumé into columns of text…add graphics and photos…and include shaded sections or multiple-color fonts—but doing any of these things would be a mistake. “Creative” résumé designs could prevent applicant-tracking software from reading your résumé properly…and frustrate humans trying to find information on it, too.
What to do: Design a résumé that looks like a résumé. There are appropriate résumé templates available for free online. If you want to show off your creative side or design skills, include a link/web address on your résumé to an online portfolio of your work.
Two résumés are too many. It used to be fairly common for people to have two quite different résumés (sometimes more), each structured for a different potential career path. The omnipresence of LinkedIn has ended that. Virtually all employers now visit applicants’ LinkedIn pages before deciding whom to interview. If your LinkedIn page does not seem in line with the résumé you submitted and with the job being offered, you probably won’t get an interview. (And you definitely need a LinkedIn page these days.)
What to do: It’s OK to tweak your résumé slightly to focus on the experience or skills most appropriate for a particular job opening, but the résumé must still be in step with information in your LinkedIn profile.