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June 16, 2015
Why Your Résumé Isn’t Working
Are you just a data point in the job search statistics?

Whether you are one of the five million people who reportedly sent a résumé to Walmart in 2014, or one of the 250 people who applied for a typical corporate opening, why would you expect your résumé to get more than the six seconds the average recruiter spends on them?

If this sounds familiar, odds are your résumé is the culprit. Despite their limitations, résumés are still the currency of the job hunting realm. And while it’s just one arrow in your quiver, if it’s dull or out of shape, you’re less likely to hit your target.

Three Résumé Rules
For your résumé to stand out on a recruiter’s crowded desk, it needs three characteristics:

1. Personality: This applies to both the content and the layout. Hiring managers look for the one document out of ten that sizzles with personality. This means crisp formatting, targeted words, and a must-call impact wrapped up in one striking package.

Many résumé gurus suggest that a career document should be nothing more than a list of keywords to help it pass through applicant tracking systems that employers use for screening. While keywords are vital, the fact is that a real human being will be giving your document the final review. It’s important that yours sings to them.

2. A clear vision: Too many résumés are unfocused and underdeveloped. You only have one or two pages to convey your career progression, where you would like to take it next, and what you can offer the employer. These have to be explicitly clear in all the bullet points and words.

Hiring managers need to immediately see that your skills and experience match what they need. If your résumé fails to do this, your job-hunting strategy may be to blame. Are you sending out the same résumé for every job you apply for, no matter the industry? Hiring managers will sniff this out every time and sense that you’re not completely enthusiastic.

3. A strong top third: The space “above the fold” on the first page is résumé gold. Without an ultra-focused opening third, your résumé will disappear among the 100 other competitors with the same claims of being “results-driven” and “highly motivated.” Ditch those outdated clichés for industry-specific keywords that will help you break through the clutter.

Less Is More
One easy way to improve the effectiveness of your résumé is to ditch the predictable items that don’t advance your case, including:
  • References. Drop the line “References available upon request.” Hiring managers already assume that you’ll be able to provide three to five references if prompted, so listing references does nothing but take away valuable real estate that could be used for more essential information.
  • Hobbies. Recruiters are trained to sift through résumés for valuable, what-can-this-candidate-do-for-me information. Hobbies are best left for an informal end to your LinkedIn profile.
  • Dated work history. Although this isn’t always cut-and-dry, hiring managers are focused on the past 10 to 15 years. Many professionals boast high-profile jobs from the 1980s. For these cases, I like to incorporate an “Early Career” section that highlights the job title, company name, and a few lines of achievements — without listing the years. Hiring managers appreciate this brief synopsis and may reach out with questions on specifics.
Say It Powerfully
The way you craft your sentences can make all the difference in their effect. Be mindful of how you address these four things:
  • Frontloaded achievements: Many achievements are written like this: 
“Implemented documentation process that resulted in company saving $50,000.”

For more power, frontload the information like this:

“Captured $50,000 in savings through a new documentation process.”
  • Task-achievement balance: It’s important to have a nice balance of tasks and achievements. List your main responsibilities in paragraph form and your achievements in bullets to highlight them.
  • Industry-specific language: Read job descriptions in your field to discover trends or keywords that you should emphasize.
If you’re a software developer, for example, you should include references to experience within the various life cycles of software. A business development executive, on the other hand, should focus on how he builds relationships, cultivates customer trust, and develops account pipelines.
  • Areas of expertise: The area directly beneath your career summary is the perfect spot for an “Areas of Expertise” section. This is a collection of 10 to 12 keywords that supplement your summary to sell your story.
Take out your résumé, and place it beside this article. Check to see whether you’re following each of these guidelines. Then, compare your résumé to the job description.

Are you addressing each of the company’s concerns? Finally, ask friends and colleagues to read it for substance and spelling errors. The more eyeballs, the better. All too often, a job search becomes a numbers game instead of a thoughtful career transition. The key is using your creativity and attention to detail to keep you from becoming just another data point.

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Melissa Cooper is the executive vice president of the writer network at Top Résumé, a Talent Inc. company. A triple-certified résumé writer and dual-certified HR professional holding both the SPHR and PHR designations, Melissa has eight years of executive recruiting experience and over six years of professional résumé-writing experience.

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