The average recruiter spends only 15 seconds looking at your resume. That’s not a lot of time, in the grand scheme of things. You can read every book and blog post to try to figure out what it is they’re looking for, but the best tactic is to go directly to the source.
And that’s what we did! We talked to career coach, resume expert, and owner/principal of professional services firm Career Polish, Inc., Lisa K. McDonald. She gave us some of her best secrets—that would probably cost you a pretty penny—for free!
1. Do not mass-produce.
Lisa says one resume is not appropriate or every single job for which you apply. Don’t treat your resume as a one size fits all—it doesn’t. You should have a baseline resume, or what I call a working draft. This resume could be three or more pages long, and the bullet points should cover any direction that you could go. If you’re considering opportunities in training, project management, or a technical position, make sure that you cover all the bases in the working draft. When you find an opportunity, then you can go back and eliminate the bullets that don’t speak directly to that position. Your introductory sales statement should also be specifically geared for the one position that you are applying for at that time.
2. Apples to apples, not oranges.
Don’t waste the reader’s time on information that doesn’t relate to the specific job. If your past position isn’t a perfect fit for the opportunity but there were elements of this new position in what you did, focus on that. Think of the 80/20 rule: Spend 80 percent of your bullets focusing on the direct relationship and 20 percent on supporting information. You want to build rapport and allow the readers to see you in this role, so make it easy for them and speak directly to what they’re looking for based on your experience.
3. Job success is the opposite of the stock market clause.
“Past performance is not an indicator of future success,” says McDonald, but the opposite holds true for candidates—past success is an indicator of future success. If you did it before or with another company, odds are you can do it again. Unfortunately job seekers mistakenly think that successes are only things that can be tangible or measured; in other words, numbers. Not so. You can bring value and benefit in intangible ways. For example, building engagement, improving communications, increasing efficiency—these are all things that are important components that can’t be measure in percentages. How did you add value? Figure it out and let the reader know!
4. Write toward the future; don’t rehash the past.
Too often, resumes are a conglomerate of CliffNotes of prior job descriptions. The problem with this is threefold.
- What you were hired to do and what you actually did often turn out to be two different animals.
- A job description tells me what you were hired to do, not if you actually did it—and beyond that, if you did it well.
- It tells me nothing about the value you added as an individual. Others may have held the same position, but how did you do it better? It’s up to you to tell the reader these fine points.
Stop right now, take out your resume, and after every single bullet point, write the words, “which resulted in” at the end, then finish the sentence. If you can’t describe how you added value in performing your duties, then they have no business on your resume.
Be sure to rewrite your resume after completing this exercise; don’t leave the “which resulted in” for each bullet point. Create engaging bullet points adding these factors.
5. Don’t overestimate.
Once again, it’s generally accepted that on first blush, a reader spends only a few seconds on a resume, so you have to make it count. This is where a strong opening statement, or a sales statement, comes into play. McDonald calls it a sales statement, because at the beginning of your resume, you should set the tone for the reader as to who you are, what you have to offer, and the position for which you are applying. Don’t forget to include the position name or title. Readers may be reviewing resumes for several different positions, and you don’t want them to have to try to guess which one you’re targeting. Their time is valuable—make it easy for them.
6. Answer the reader’s most important question.
One critical element mentioned in the sales statement is what you have to offer. The reader has one underlying question: What can you do for me? Answer that question first and foremost and set the tone for the rest of the resume to support those statements. This is not a matter of letting them connect the dots; it’s a matter of setting expectations and leading them down the path of seeing you—and only you—in the role they want to fill. Throughout the resume, continue to answer this question by demonstrating rather than stating. Telling me you performed a task does not convey that you’ve mastered the skills. Telling me how you did it, the people you worked with, and the value that you added builds credibility. It demonstrates you know the purpose and how it adds value to your customers, company, and team members.
7. Don’t rely solely on technology.
A spell-checker isn’t always your friend. You can write the sentence, “I worked four Merrill Lynch,” and spelling and grammar checkers will not let you know you made a mistake. Take time to read your resume and have others do so as well. Often our mind “sees” what we expect to be there rather than what truly is, so take time to review it carefully. One trick that can help is to read the resume in reverse. Start at the bottom and read the last sentence, or read the sentence backwards. It will feel odd, but it will help stop your mind from assuming.
8. Be you and shine through.
When someone reads your resume, they get a sense of who you are based on the visual element and the tone throughout the resume, similar to forming a mental image of a character in a book you’re reading. I can read a resume and pick up on if the writer hated a past job, is trying to fluff a position because she feels there wasn’t a lot to it, or was engaged and really contributed.
Use words that reflect you as a person. If you’re a behind-the-scenes kind of person, don’t use words that describe you as a take-charge, frontline person. Be true to who you are and create that image. When a reader speaks to you in person and the image she created and the persona you project match, it builds her confidence in what you have presented. If there’s conflict, the reader will get confused as to who is the real you. Remember, readers only believe about half of what you say because many resumes are overstated or overfluffed so consistency and truthfulness build credibility.