What You’re Doing Wrong On Your Resume
By Robin Oxley
First and foremost, your resume is a marketing tool. And the first rule of marketing is to always ask: What’s in it for the recipient? So many professional resume writers don’t know how to optimize resumes because they aren’t thinking like marketers! As a marketing veteran who has now been in the recruiting world for years, I’ve learned what works, and what doesn’t, when it comes to making the most of your resume.
It’s Not About You
First and foremost, you need to think about how you will be helpful to the person who’s hiring you. This isn’t your autobiography, it’s a pitch about how you will ease their pain and what your skillset will do for them. Highlight your skills, your metrics, what you actually do, and what is in your toolbox.
Focus on what you want to do and are good at, rather than trying to lay out a history of everything you’ve ever done. Your interviewer will be looking at your resume thinking, I need someone to do __________. You should be able to give them evidence that you can fill the need of theirs. When writing your resume, each line and inclusion should be framed to answer the simple question: What are you going to do for me? (Not an answer to: Tell me about every accomplishment you've had.)
Every Word Counts
It’s a sad truth that many resumes are sorted and filtered by a computer before they even get into the hands of a human. Be sure that your resume is filled with keywords, even taken right from the job description, to make sure that you aren’t eliminated prematurely.
Whether there’s an automated sorting first or not, the first person to see your resume is likely not going to be the person who needs you. You have about three seconds to grab this person’s attention and persuade them to pass your resume along to the person who will be hiring you. Your resume must be customized and show how you are qualified for that particular job – if your resume is too broad, you won’t be remembered. You can stand out by being specific and using language that resonates with the company and role you’re applying for.
Look up people who are like you, who work in the kind of roles you’re looking for. How are they talking about what they do? It’s easy to assume that certain things about your past roles are obvious, but often you’re too close to the work and forget to highlight or talk about important aspects of your work. By reading LinkedIn profiles or other content about your industry and role, you’ll have better insight about how to market your work and what you have to offer.
How to Get an F
It’s been shown that we read resumes in an F pattern: scanning down the page, then reading over into more detail. If your resume doesn’t grab attention on the way down through the highlights, they’re never going to dig into all the great information you have listed in detail.
Be sure to have your relevant highlights at the top, and don’t be afraid to use bullet points. You want to get your point across quickly – if they have to read deep into a paragraph to get to the point, you’ve likely lost them. It’s totally fine to have a two page resume these days, as long as you include some breathing room. Having some negative space will actually make your resume more readable, and help the highlights stand out even more, so don’t worry about jamming everything into one page.
Sweat the Small Stuff
There are some really basic mistakes people make, and it’s such a shame that minor errors can make such a big impression:
- Make sure that your resume has your basic contact information like email, phone number, and LinkedIn profile.
- Have someone else proofread your resume to check for punctuation, spelling, and consistent grammar. It doesn’t matter what verb tense you use, past or present, as long as you’re consistent.
- Leave off your high school education, and eliminate your GPA. Unless this is your very first job out of college, that information just really isn’t relevant.
- It's best to send your resume as a Word document or a PDF, never as a Google Doc or InDesign file.
- You can't guarantee that your cover letter will follow your resume through the process. If it is important to highlight a particular skill or experience, put it in your resume.
- Never assume that your reader knows what you’re talking about – avoid jargon and insider company terms as much as possible, and use industry standard terms for the role. When you’re customizing your resume, you can tailor it towards whatever industry you’re heading into, like retail or consumer packaged good, etc, but always be careful not to alienate the person reading your resume with acronyms that aren't universal. Remember, it’s about them, not about you.
Make a List - Check It Twice
Follow this checklist before you send off your resumes to make sure that you're maximizing your impact, and avoiding the traps, of all your hard work. It's an important first step in the process, so make sure you always take one final glance before you hit send.
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