Most recruiters spend less than 20 seconds looking at your resume. With such a limited amount of time, it’s difficult to stand out among the rest. You could read all sorts of books and blog posts on how to make your resume better, but why not go directly to the source?

We talked to Lisa K. McDonald, a career coach, and resume expert who owns/runs Career Polish, Inc., for some professional secrets that would probably cost you a lot of money!

1. Do Not Mass-Produce.

Lisa mentions that you shouldn’t use the same resume for every job application. Your resume should be specific to each job, and you should have a “working draft” or general template that you can adjust as needed. This baseline resume could be three pages or more, with bullet points covering all possible paths your career could take. Before applying for any jobs, revise your resume bullets and sales statement to match the position you’re eyeing. In doing so, you will make yourself a more appealing candidate and increase the chance of receiving an offer.

2. Apples to Apples, Not Oranges.

Your resume should only contain information that is relevant to the job you are applying for. If your previous position wasn’t an exact match for this new opportunity but there were some aspects of the new role in what you did before, focus on those. The 80/20 rule suggests that you should spend 80 percent of your time focusing on the main relationship and 20 percent on supporting information. You want to create rapport and let the readers see you in this role, so make it easy for them by speaking directly about what they’re hoping to find based on your experience.

3. Job Success Is the Opposite of the Stock Market Clause.

As McDonald points out, candidates’ past successes are predictive of their future successes. Therefore, if a candidate has done well in the past with another company, it is likely that they will be successful again. Many job seekers mistakenly think that the only successes that matter are those which can be tangibly measured, like numbers. However, this isn’t the case. You can also bring value in more intangible ways, such as by building engagement or increasing efficiency. These might not seem like they can be quantified, but they’re still important components of any workplace. So ask yourself: how did you add value during your previous positions? Once you’ve figured it out, make sure to let your potential employer know!

4. Write Toward the Future; Don’t Rehash the Past.

Resumes that are simply a list of prior job descriptions often result in one or more of the following problems.

  • Your job description and what you do day-to-day are often quite different.
  • A job description only tells me what your position is, not if you’re good at it or excel in it.
  • Your resume should include more than just your job title and dates of employment. It’s essential to demonstrate how you excelled in the role and what unique value you brought to the company. Anyone can list their previous positions, but it’s up to you to show why YOU were the best person for the job.

Immediately take out your resume and, after every single bullet point, write “which resulted in.” You need to be able to describe how you added value while performing your duties; if not, it has no place 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.

Given that a resume is often only read for several seconds, you need to make sure the opening statement is impactful and catches the reader’s attention. A sales statement serves this purpose well. McDonald suggests starting your resume with a sales statement to give the reader a clearer understanding of who you are and what position you’re applying for. If your reader is reviewing multiple resumes, you don’t want them to spend time guessing which position you’re targeting. You can make it easier for the by specifying that at the beginning of your resume.

6. Answer the Reader’s Most Important Question.

The sales statement is critical, and one element that should never be left out is what you have to offer the company. The reader always has one question in mind: How can you help me? By answering that question immediately and setting the tone for the rest of the resume, you’ll increase your chances of impressing them. Instead of making them connect the dots, you need to set expectations and lead them towards only seeing you in the role they want to be filled. You can do this by continuing to demonstrate instead of simply stating throughout the resume. Platitudes won’t convince me that you know what you’re doing–show me how you did it, who you collaborated with, and most importantly, how it benefited those involved. This way I can trust that you understand the value of your work and its importance to our company goals.

7. Don’t Rely Solely on Technology.

Always read over your resume multiple times, even if you have a spell check. A sentence like “I worked four Merrill Lynch” can easily be overlooked because it appears to be correctly spelled and grammatically correct. However, taking the time to proofread will ensure that potential employers see a polished and professional document. Our mind often tricks us into seeing what we want or expect to be there, rather than what is present. To avoid this, take time to review your resume carefully. One helpful tip is to read the resume in reverse order; start from the bottom and work your way up, or read each sentence backward. It may feel strange at first, but it will help your brain from making assumptions about the content.

8. Be You and Shine Through.

A resume gives readers a glimpse into who you are as a person, in the same way, that they would form a mental image of a character while reading a book. By simply reading resumes, I can tell if the author hated previous jobs, is trying to fluff up unimportant positions or was genuinely engaged and made significant contributions.

If you prefer to stay behind the scenes, avoid words that make you sound like a bossy leader. Be genuine and create an image that represents who you are as a person. If the image you present to readers in person matches the persona they’ve already built for you, it increases their confidence in what you’re saying. To prevent confusing your reader, it is important to be consistent and truthful in your writing. Many resumes are overstated or contain false information, so consistently being honest will help build credibility with the reader.

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