Your life on two pages. What a daunting task! Most candidates hate resume writing. A resume draws attention and perhaps you aren’t an attention-seeker. Your mother probably told you it wasn’t polite to brag. But that’s exactly what you are going to have to do. Top candidates have top notch resumes. You’ll have to lose some of your little-girl modesty and brag about your accomplishments. The limelight will be on you as you submit resumes and interview for positions. Just take a deep breath and deal with it.
I’ve been in the recruiting industry a long time. I’ve seen thousands of resumes. Most of them are pretty average. They use the same vernacular. I wish I had a dollar for every “highly motivated, detail-oriented, team player” I’ve read about. Many candidates take what actually is an interesting career and encapsulate it into a bunch of names, tasks, and dates. Reading it is about as exciting as walking through a cemetery. This kind of resume takes the life out of your career.
The ultimate purpose of a resume is to get a job interview. And in order to get an interview you need to establish yourself as one of the top candidates. A boring resume that reads just like everyone else’s may not accomplish that for you. Top notch resumes make you stand out.
Research and Brainstorm
A resume is a summary of how your background matches the job description. Read that last sentence again. Many candidates hire a professional resume writer, then keep the resume they produce as though it is a sacred text, never to be touched again. If you do this, then your resume is not working for you. Top notch resumes are updated to match each job opportunity.
When writing top notch resumes, the key is to study the job description and find all the keywords that denote skills and talents the company is seeking. Highlight those keywords. Then go to the company website and read about the company and its employees. If you look closely you will see useful keywords and phrases there as well. Does the company promote itself as offering “innovative solutions to complex problems?” There’s a hint as to what skills the company values. In this example, I’d be sure to include a statement or a bullet point about problems I dealt with in previous jobs and innovative ways I used resources to resolve them.
Another keyword locator requires that you conduct even more detailed research about the employer. You are looking for details of what the organization has done within the last year. Has the company expanded? Has it taken on some particularly noteworthy clients? Has there been any negative publicity about the company? Put yourself in the employer’s shoes and imagine his pain. What problems might he need to solve? Top notch resumes will channel this information into the resume and communicate how your skills would resolve the employer’s pain. If you do this, you’re almost certain to get an interview.
Continue to write down all the keywords and pains you discover. Then brainstorm about the things you have accomplished that show you have these qualities or can resolve the employer’s pain. This information will be used as bullet points for your Work Experience section or as part of a keyword corral you’ll include in your Summary of Qualifications. Let’s talk about that area next.
Nothing says old-school like starting your resume with a statement explaining your objective. It’s just a waste of space. I know you have a career objective and as your friendly executive recruiter I’ll talk to you about how this job might fit into your long term career trajectory. But employers aren’t going to read your resume with an eye towards helping you along your career path.
Employers are going to peruse your resume for about 20 seconds. The employer wants to know what unique skills and talents you bring to the table. He wants to know what makes you different from hundreds of other candidates. He wants to know if you have what it takes to do the job.
Top notch resumes will highlight your skills, abilities, and most impressive achievements. And the resume will place them right up front. I have seen resumes name this area a “Summary of Qualifications.” Some resumes don’t name the area at all. They list the candidate’s name and a short statement describing his profession (Engineering Project Manager, Financial Analyst) then go directly into the skill summary. Either way will work. The idea is that you immediately draw attention to yourself and your career accomplishments. And you put those accomplishments at the top of the page where the employer will spend the most time.
Be sure this area includes statements that contain the keywords you found in your research. Some writers refer to this area as a “keyword corral.” This is where you brag about your skills and list accomplishments that make you stand out. Try to use creative language that hints of your personality and unique skill set. Top notch resumes don’t copy verbatim what you see in some example online.
Be sure to name drop. If your company managed glass installation for the new Apple spaceship—say so! If the trust accounts you managed included some Berkshire Hathaway holdings, be sure to point this out. Any association you have with a big brand name or well-known individual will give you instant credibility. The same goes for publicity you may have received in any major publication or recognition by a major licensing agency or another entity.
Of course, top notch resumes will include your employment history. This is where you show when and where you actually did what you just said you did. There are several common styles that are acceptable. Always start with your most recent work experience and go back about ten years. If jobs you held prior to that are particularly applicable, you might lump them into a “Miscellaneous Work Experience” area.
Use bullet points, boxes, shading, or bold areas to highlight keywords that match your skills to those the employer listed in the job description. And even though you may have listed these keywords in your Skill Summary area, you should continue their use here. This helps to ensure your resume would match if an employer uses resume screening software to select and track applicants.
You don’t have to list every detail of each job. But be sure you include interesting accomplishments that would entice the employer to interview you to get the juicy details. Top notch resumes make the interviewer want to call you as soon as he finishes reading.
Interviewers may question periods of long-term employment as well as short-term stints. These days, 2-3 years with an employer is pretty common. Less than a year on a job might raise a few eyebrows. You will want to hint at the explanation for very short-term employment. Likewise, a long period with the same employer is not always a plus. It can sometimes brand you as lacking motivation or avoiding increased responsibilities.
This is the shortest area on your resume. It will only be consulted to see if you meet the basic educational requirements of the job. Top notch resumes list your most prestigious degree first, then cite other degrees you may have acquired. It is no longer customary to include your dates of attendance. Graduation dates are often indicators of your age. Employers don’t want to appear discriminatory. So leave the date off. It will be verified later as part of the screening process.
Be sure you denote educational honors achieved. And does the name of the school matter? Yes and no. As long as your degree is from an accredited source, an employer will accept it. If your degree is from a well-known and exclusive university, that is certainly impressive. If you happen to be an alumni of the same university as your prospective boss or interviewer that shared experience can give you an immediate connection.
List certifications you hold, as well as your professional affiliations. Include leadership positions you hold in any community or professional organizations. This will show that you continue to be current and relevant in your field. Top notch resumes always reflect this aspect of a candidate.
I’ll Probably Toss It
As a recruiter, my job is to locate top candidates and match them with companies who are looking for top talent. As we develop a relationship, I am glad to offer career advice and insights. I am often disappointed when I talk with a sharp candidate, and later receive a resume that is not acceptable. I can critique your resume, but I won’t write it for you.
First of all, be sure to proofread your resume. Have a couple of other people proof it as well. Screaming spelling or grammatical errors look sloppy and unprofessional. I can’t forward something like that to a company. It makes us both look bad.
Also, look at your contact information. Do you have an email address like firstname.lastname@example.org? Really? Are you serious? Obviously not! The same goes for email@example.com? So you still see yourself as a high school football hero? Come on! Set up a separate email for your job search activities. Remember your personal brand starts here. Is the name you chose really how you want to market yourself? Create a professional-sounding email address. Try something like firstname.lastname@example.org . And don’t use the email address you have with your current employer. It’s tacky and unprofessional. The same caveat goes for messages on your phone. If I call you and get Taylor Swift singing “Shake It Off,” I might just shake you right off my list.
Another red flag is a resume that uses boilerplate language that doesn’t relate to the advertised position. Top notch resumes are individualized. If it’s not worth your time to customize your resume to match the job, then you probably aren’t my top candidate.
Top Notch Resumes
You are so much more than black ink on white paper. I know that. As a recruiter, I’ll make sure company hiring managers know that as well. A trusted recruiter will help market you to a potential employer. We’ll be sure that your resume gets more than the standard 20 second perusal.
Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by having a resume that doesn’t do justice to your unique skills and talents. Spend the time it takes to customize your resume to fit the job description. Describe accomplishments you have made that showcase the skills required for the advertised position. Be sure to put this at the top of your resume where employers are going to notice them. Use targeted keywords and repeat them again in your Work Experience area.
Top candidates have top notch resumes. It’s hard for me to convince an employer you’re top if your resume isn’t outstanding. So spend the time it takes to perfect your resume. Keep it updated. Take the time to customize your resume for each new position you seek. If you use a recruiter, we’ll give you some honest advice on your resume. If you don’t look good—we don’t look good. We have a vested interest in making sure your resume is great! So get to work on that new resume. Brag a little! It’s time you get noticed!