Getting your resume noticed is the first step towards successful employment, and it may lay down the path of the rest of the recruitment stages. Sure, your working experience, skills, and personality may very well be the deciding factor. Yet, if you do not present your qualities in a coherent manner, the recruiter would not be able to objectively assess you as a suitable candidate.
You need to create a resume that brings out the best of what you possess, and do it in such a way that it looks appealing enough to get their attention. Earlier on, I showcased an entry with some really exceptional resumes that are perhaps more fitting for graphic designing posts: Land Your Dream Job With 25 Innovative Resume Ideas.
In this post, however, I’m giving some pointers for those who are more comfortable with the ‘traditional’ kind of resumes where the unspoken rule is to look professional. Even so, there are still ways to tweak and tune your resumes to make it unique and secure you that follow-up interview.
1. Avoid cliche words
After reading one resume after another, the HR personnel would probably get sick of a couple of reused words common among resumes. Words and phrases to describe your past work experiences such as ‘responsible for’, ‘successfully’, ‘developed’, etc, lost their meanings in the pile of seemingly similar resumes.
If you wish to stand out and get chosen from that crowd, you’ve got to play around with unfamiliar wordings or phrasings. Do a simple search on the net and you can easily find power verb lists like this one from ResumeEdge.
Also equally important, you need to present evidence on what you label yourself as. Everyone had a different experience as to what leads them to call themselves ‘innovative’ or ‘team player’, for instance. It is these experiences which distinguish each individual candidate. Explain what you meant by being a ‘team player’ that you are.
One example would be to say that you willingly sacrifice your interest for the good of the team in a particular project. The more specific you are, the more you can stand out from the rest.
2. Have an ‘adaptable’ resume
As much as possible, don’t send the same resume to every organization which you are applying for. It’s better to modify your resumes in accordance to the job requirements stated for the particular post. In other words, you should have a resume which ‘adapts’ to the situations. Now, how should you do that?
First, you need to consider the format of the resume. When you list down your work experience and skills, should you use a functional or reverse chronological style?
A functional resume categorizes your work experience and skills by skill area of job function. For example, if you had worked under a variety of executive posts in the past, you might have amassed a substantial amount of experience in project management, planning-related tasks and so forth.
What you can do is you create headings such as ‘Project Management’ and ‘Planning’, and you list down in bulleted style the different accomplishments you have under the appropriate headings.
We are more accustomed to the reverse chronological style where we simply list down our work experience over the past decade or so, starting with the most recent one. The recruiter can easily read and comprehend how the candidate progressed in his or her career over time, and see what were the competencies gained through each stage of the progression.
A functional resume allows the recruiter to easily assess the skill sets you to possess and is especially helpful if they match with the job requirements. Especially those who’re making a career switch and lack relevant work experiences, they will be able to single out specific responsibilities they held in their past jobs that are applicable to this post.
On the other hand, a reverse chronological resume would benefit those who stick to their career path as they apply for the new post. This is because those previous posts would be deemed related in terms of job scopes to the current post you are applying.
Secondly, the resume should illustrate how you, as a potential employee, can help the organization with your skills and experience. For that, you would need to research well enough to know how you can contribute to the organization, and sell that through your resume. By selling, I mean you need to know what they look for in a candidate and show that you have those qualities.
3. Be concise and neat
When writing a resume, you must remember that the person reading it has a really short attention span. If he or she reads for 20 seconds and don’t see any point reading further, your resume will be placed on the ‘rejected’ pile. This is understandable because they need to go through many resumes like yours. So you’ll need to get to the point and captivate the recruiter enough to examine your piece.
Writing on and on with chunks of words wouldn’t help your CV. If the recruiter needs to pick out your skills and experience for you, then you have failed. Help them do that by writing in bulleted style to enhance the readability. There’s no one specific format to follow for bullets, but just keep in mind that the purpose is to organize information about yourself clearly for them.
Given that recruiter has only that limited amount of time for each resume, do remember to keep your resume short. A rule of the thumb is to restrict it to two pages maximum. Pick words wisely, choosing those that strike a balance between being overly cliché and being informative.
4. Write a Career Summary/Objective
It will be time-consuming for any recruiters to read every single resume in its entirety. So why not help them do that by having a career summary or objective at the beginning? That way, you can score a point for consolidating your facts into a neat paragraph for clarity, and you can orientate the recruiter to areas which you wish to highlight.
Some articles on resume-writing assert that career summary or objective may be outdated because employers are less interested in what you want to achieve in your career than what you can do for them. However, I believe that any job recruitment process involves two parties; the job applicant and the employer.
A seasoned employer would recognize the importance of job-fit between the applicant and the job as a good predictor of future performance and company loyalty. A career summary or objective would allow you to voice out your aspirations so that the recruiter can assess whether you would belong in the company.
You can declare your own career goals, but at the same time, try to relate those to how you can contribute to the company. At the same time, highlight your past major achievements to the recruiter such that you can induce him or her to read further and discover more about you. And as always, try to keep it short, concise and straight-to-the-point.
5. Quantify achievements wherever possible
If you are out there trying to catch the eye of the recruiter through your resume, you’ve got to include in details which would separate yourself from the rest of the crowd. You may be in charge of a team for a specific project in your previous company, but you need the numbers to back you up and strengthen your claims.
Instead of simply putting ‘Led a team in the research project’, you should also say how many people were in your team, and what the output was in quantifiable amount. Now, the claim becomes much more complete when you write, ‘Led a team of 5 in a research project which cuts down annual operational costs of the company by $xxxxx.
You see, there are many people out there who can lead a team, implement programs or whatever. The only way to differentiate yourself is by showing what it is that you’ve done. Assigning numbers to these accomplishments ultimately translate into what you can value-add to the company you are applying for, and that’s what really appeals to recruiters out there.
6. Explain gaps
One of the things you can be sure that the recruiter would ask you in your interview are those gaps in your resume. If you make it to the interview, that is. To be safe, fill in the gaps for them even in your resume. Briefly explain why you were unemployed for a year or two, and what you did during those times.
If you simply leave the gap unaccounted for in your resume, it might give the recruiter the impression that you have something to hide, or that you didn’t check through your piece.
It’s possible that rather than setting up an interview to find out what it was all about, the recruiter might just prematurely conclude that it would be a waste of time to do so. You wouldn’t want to take that chance with your dream company.
7. Integrate keywords of job post
Most companies process resumes via a tracking system that detects keywords. These keywords are chosen based on what the recruiters are looking for in candidates, and are usually found in the job advertisement itself. With the increasing number of online submissions of resumes, turning to such a system is an obvious solution for the recruiter to effectively screen out candidates.
As such, you as an applicant should do some research on your own to find out what qualities or skill sets are expected of candidates. Fortunately, this tracking system is likely to be only used at the early stages of screening, so all you need to do is make sure that you enter in the most basic prerequisites of the job.
Bonus: Visual appeals?
I’m sure that when most of you think of resumes, the first few things that come into your mind is that they have to be professional, neat and preferably in no-nonsense black-and-white. But if you are also hoping that yours would be able to be distinct from other resumes, you wonder if colors or visual appeals would make a difference.
Yes, it probably would, but you don’t want yours to stand out for the wrong reasons. In ‘Land Your Dream Job With 25 Innovative Resume Ideas‘, you see lots of really creative and out-of-the-box ideas for resumes, something that you would least expect from resumes.
As I said, if you are going for graphic designing jobs, you might consider those ideas to illustrate your designing capabilities. But if you are eyeing for a position which has little to do with graphics, I suggest you go conservative with visual appeals.
Now, what can you do to make your resume a little different? First of all, you have to remember that visual appeal has the primary purpose of facilitating the recruiter in reading the resume. It should not distract him or her. In fact, it should be used to accentuate keywords. So, bold or italicize your texts in areas which you want to emphasize.
If you do use colors, try to limit the range of colors that you use; it can get too distracting. Personally, I only use a light blue background and dark blue lines to segregate the various headings and sections. I applied them because it easily enables the reader to see where each section begins and ends.
Essentially speaking, stick to the rule of clarity, clarity and more clarity.