By: Reesa Staten, Robert Half International
If there’s one essential document in a successful job hunt, it’s the resume. Your resume is your first chance to show potential employers you’re the right person for the job. Poorly organized resumes hold back many job seekers because they fail to effectively sell their strengths. If your resume falls into this category, it may be keeping you from landing that coveted interview.
Resume writing can sometimes feel like more of an art than a science, but there are simple steps you can take to better showcase your strengths when applying for a job.
Review and Research
What’s the first step in writing a good resume? As with most things, the answer is careful preparation. It pays to outline what you want to say before you sit down to write.
Start by reviewing the job ad. What skills and experience does the employer seek, and what parts of your work history match those requirements? You may not have held that exact position in the past, but you likely have transferable skills you can highlight. Are you organized, detail-oriented or good with people? These are attributes that will serve you well in any job.
Also, research the employer by visiting its website, reading news articles that mention the firm (you can find these with a simple Google News search) and contacting people you know who may have firsthand knowledge of the company. Your research will reveal more about the company’s business operations and provide you with insight into what it’s like to work there.
Use this information to determine what to include in your resume, as well as how to word it. For example, if the job posting states the company is looking for someone with advanced knowledge of Microsoft Excel, and this describes you perfectly, include the term “Microsoft Excel” in your resume, not a more generic term like “spreadsheet application.” It’s important to be as specific as possible. Many companies use resume-scanning software and keywords that are in the job description will rank the highest when your resume is entered in the system. Keep this in mind every time you apply for a job: word choice is vital.
Go With What Works
When people think of a resume, they typically envision the chronological type, in which past jobs are presented in descending order, beginning with the most recent. Research we’ve conducted at Robert Half shows most hiring managers prefer this format over resumes that are organized by skills or job function mainly because these resumes are easier to follow. Employers can quickly review the jobs you’ve held, your accomplishments in each one and your career progression.
Occasionally, it may make sense to structure your resume differently. If you’ve been out of work for an extended period, you may need to place the spotlight on your strongest skills and downplay gaps in employment. This is where your transferable skills serve you best. If you’ve been out of the workforce to raise a family, think about the skills you’ve gained in the process, such as organizing the family household or volunteering for your children’s school events.
Tailor Your Content
Perhaps the most common mistake job seekers make is submitting the same resume for every job opening they pursue. Try to tailor your resume for each opportunity, emphasizing those aspects of your background that are the best match for the job.
You can start with a “foundation” resume that includes your full work history, notable career achievements and qualifications that could be of interest to potential employers. Then, when preparing your resume for submission, remove or downplay information that is not relevant to that particular job and instead emphasize the information that is.
For example, if you’re applying for a position as a bookkeeper, you might briefly note your past work as a waitress but avoid describing it in detail, unless part of your job included light bookkeeping. At the same time, you could emphasize your stint as treasurer for the local PTA.
Skip the Laundry List
When working on the section of your resume that describes your work history, don’t simply list your job title and duties. Consider your accomplishments in each role. Ask yourself these questions and if you answer yes to any of them, include this information in your resume when talking about past jobs:
- Did you beat a deadline or finish a project under budget?
- Have you developed an innovative idea or solved a tricky problem for the boss?
- Did you lead a project team?
- Have you trained others?
- Have you earned recognition, such as a promotion or award?
Clear the Clutter
If there’s one word that defines a good resume, it’s concise. Use simple, straightforward language and add bullet points so information is easy to scan. Hiring managers spend just a few minutes reviewing each resume and you want your strengths to jump off the page. The keep-it-simple rule also applies to how your resume looks. Don’t try to spice things up with fancy typefaces or graphics. Let the words themselves do the talking. Use superlatives sparingly, but do include words that describe who you are. Do any of the following describe you? They are all good choices for a resume.
The final step in creating a compelling resume? Proofread. Robert Half often polls employers and they have repeatedly told us that just one or two typographical errors are enough to remove even the most qualified candidates from consideration.
Don’t let a missing letter or misspelled word ruin your chances. Read your document on screen, then print it out and read it again. Finally, ask a friend or family member to perform one last review. Only then should you hit “Send.”
Reesa Staten is senior vice president of Corporate Communications and director of workplace research for Robert Half International (www.roberthalf.us ), the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm. Staten has been writing job search advice for more than 15 years and oversees Robert Half’s extensive workplace research program. Write to her at email@example.com.