If you’re still writing your resume the way your mama did, you may want to rethink your career strategy. Employers now demand more out of job candidates, and having a resume that stands out can make the difference between getting the job and getting a form letter.
“In recent years, competition has become more stiff for jobs, requiring applicants to be as concise and to the point as possible,” says Holly Rodriguez, a resume writer.
More specifically, keywords are playing a role—especially since most employers are using technology to organize them. “Resumes need to be written to include keywords which are relevant to the industry to which the candidate is applying. Most resumes are put through an online system (either from a job board or company website) and are searched by keywords in candidate database systems,” warns Kathy Sweeney, a resume writer with more than 20 years of experience.
So while you may have been taught how to write a “killer” resume when you were in school, but that same document may not be cutting it in the current job market. Here are some must-haves to make sure your resume is up to par.
Think objectively. If you’re still using that old objective that goes something like, “To find a job that enables me to utilize my talents and educational background,” it’s time to rethink your objective. In fact, you may not want one at all. Instead of stating your objective under a title of “Objective,” you can instead state the position you want as a title under your contact information and include a profile below. In the profile, describe your strengths and skill set in about three to four sentences. Start each with an adjective, such as “dynamic leader” or “creative director.”
Sweeney, who is a past president of the National Resume Writers’ Association, says she doesn’t use objectives unless it’s for a recent grad with no work experience. “There is a big difference between objectives and profiles,” she says. “Objectives say “’This is what I want,’ while profiles say, ‘This is what I have to offer.’ I use profiles for 99% of my clients.”
She adds that profiles should include keywords that are relevant to the position the job seeker is targeting. For example, an accountant may use terms like accounts payable, accounts receivable, general ledger entries, or financial statement preparation.
Take action. Older resumes simply highlight your job responsibilities. New ones do that in a more effective way by starting each phrase with an action verb. You should not only list your duties by beginning each sentence with words like spearheaded, coordinated and directed—you should list accomplishments (these can be bulleted) in the same manner. Even if you did something as simple as answering phones, you can phrase that into something like, “Respond to customer inquiries.”
“When you remove words such as I, the, and, for, you have much more space to describe successes,” says Christine Richardson, Director of Career Services at Cazenovia College in New York. She uses the following sentence as an example:
I was in charge of the whole department during the evening shifts.
This can be more succinctly written by saying:
Managed department’s evening shift.
“There are fewer words, more descriptive words and the tone is more professional,” she notes.
Toot your own horn. Speaking of your accomplishments, it’s important to note them. Once you list your job responsibilities, note some accomplishments using bullets. Did you raise sales or boost employee communication? List it! Employers want to know what you did in your job and how you went above and beyond to better the organization as a whole. While you may not have measurable accomplishments like those in sales, who can list the percentage of business wins, think about anything you did and make it stand out.
Sweeney says it’s better to list accomplishments under each position, rather than noting them in another section that sums up your career-span perks. “Employers want to know ‘where’ the achievement happened in the candidate’s job history. An individual should have more accomplishments in recent positions than in positions several years back,” she adds. “The reason? It shows progression in responsibility and growth in each job.”
Keep it short. Old resumes used double spacing and large margins to fill up the page—or pages. Today’s resumes are short and succinct, and only career veterans generally require two pages.
“A new professional is usually able to put all pertinent information on a one page resume,” says Richardson. “I warn job seekers not to confuse the length of their resumes with perceived experience.”
Sweeney says it’s okay to go to two pages if you have more than five years of professional experience. “Anything over two pages is overkill, unless someone is requiring a curriculum vitae for higher education, research, etc.; in that case, the more information, the better,” she says.
You should also keep it short when listing your duties and accomplishments by using short, punchy sentences. And keep each position’s text to a similar size. If you’ve done more in your current position, make sure less significant jobs in the past still express your skill set. You can even convey your skills with a short list of core competencies such as Direct Mail Marketing, Business Development or Benefits Administration. These would be areas within your career or industry that you specialize in.
Stay relevant. While it’s great that you got that 4.0 GPA, it may not be so applicable if you’re a mid- to senior-level professional. That’s why I always advise clients to keep their extracurricular activities and educational information to the point. New grads will want to note if they graduated summa cum laude, while it’s not so vital for the VP of Operations to list. Coached the little league team? Unless you’re applying for a career in the baseball industry, it will carry little weight on your resume. Instead list professional affiliations and any career-related training you’ve had. It’s okay to list your technical expertise, too, but do keep in mind that knowing how to use Microsoft Word is pretty much a given.
You can highlight some extracurricular activities in your cover letter, but be sure to keep it in tone with the job you’re looking for.
“The point is not to overwhelm the resume reader, and provide enough information to draw the reader’s attention,” Richardson adds. “Remember, the goal of a resume is to obtain an interview.”