How to Make Your Résumé Stand Out
"The experience from start to finish demonstrated his complete proficiency and professionalism. Jeff offered creative ideas that literally gave my resume a "personality" that not only reflects my career accomplishments but conceptualizes them."
-Maureen via LinkedIn
The #1 request I get from clients is that they want their résumés to stand out from the crowd. I've read tons of résumés as both a hiring manager and as a consultant. Many résumés do tend to sound the same and this can make a hiring manager's job of finding the best candidate a very difficult task.
According to various articles, most hiring managers and recruiters spend less than a minute (in some cases, only a few seconds) reviewing a résumé. While this is unfortunate, considering how much value both they and job seekers place on this document, knowing this information illustrates why it’s critically important for your résumé to stand out enough for someone to want to read it for more than simply a few seconds.
I. Before updating your résumé, consider these points:
A. The end goal of the résumé is to get the interview, not the job. The résumé needs to be written so that people WANT to get to know YOU better. You still need to interview before a hiring decision is made, therefore don’t worry about loading up your résumé with unnecessary details (more on that below).
B. Hiring managers and HR folks are busy people (and typically get a stack of résumés to review at one time); therefore, your résumé needs to be clear, compelling, and easy to follow – whether someone is skimming the document quickly or reading it through more carefully.
C. The résumé needs a 3-4 sentence Summary at the top that clearly communicates who you are, why you're awesome, and what you’re looking to do next. Do not assume that a hiring manager (or anyone else) is going to take the time to piece together your experience to determine if you’re a good fit for a role. You've already determined that the role you're interested in could be a good fit. Use this section (and a cover letter, part D.) to make it easy for the hiring manager to see it too.
D. In addition to the Summary, a job and company specific cover letter can go a long way. I know most of you dread the thought of writing these things, but this is yet another way to stand out because so many job seekers do not take full advantage of these cover letters. These letters are especially important for people who want to branch out into something new or different from their current roles.
E. Realize that simply sending your résumés only through on-line portals is pretty much an exercise in futility. I know it’s easy but your name literally just sits in a queue with dozens (sometimes hundreds) of other names. Also, regarding the recruiting software that some companies use, it's all but impossible to really know what those bots are "looking" for. Instead, find the hiring manager on LinkedIn and mail your résumé directly to him or her. Give yourself a chance by having the decision maker (not a computer) see your résumé.
Note: You can do this last part whether there is a specific job posted or not.
II. Below are some issues that impact many résumés today and what you can do to fix them.
Issue: A heavy focus on keywords: Again, many job seekers are either trying to guess what the recruiting software that many companies use as initial filters are looking for and/or are simply restating the job description in their own résumés. Keep in mind that if you and several other candidates are simply rewriting the job description, then guess what? All of those résumés will sound very similar and you will actually be doing yourself a disservice.
Solution: Use keywords sparingly. If you see that several different job descriptions for similar jobs keep stating certain words, then sprinkle some of those in, otherwise focus on YOUR information using YOUR voice.
Issue: Similar, tired, overused terms: Phrases like "results driven", "solutions oriented", etc., are meaningless. Those phrases can apply to literally ANY job function in ANY industry.
Solution: Talk about your accomplishments and BE SPECIFIC. What solutions did you come up with? What were the results of the big project that you led? Did you help exceed the company’s sales targets in some way? Paint a picture for the reader by telling short stories.
Issue: Listing tasks instead of achievements: I know the day-to-day is important however your résumé is, most likely, the first interaction that an organization or an individual will have with you. You can talk about the day-to-day tasks during an interview. Leave it off your résumé.
Solution: The résumé needs to be a highlight reel of what you have accomplished in your career. These don't have to be monumental, company-changing projects, but if you made the company better in some way, talk about it!
Issue: Writing only sentence fragments that begin with verbs: I was originally taught to write a résumé this way and so were you. The problem is that nowhere else in the English language do we speak, read, or write this way. Therefore, why are we writing these important documents in such a choppy way?
Solution: Write your résumé in normal sentences. Use "I" and "We" and "the" and don't be afraid that you're adding too much clutter (or personality!). You're not. If you eliminate the meaningless words and information (listed above), the full sentences will fit perfectly and the whole document will read so much easier.
Issue: The résumé is visually exhausting: Embrace the white space. EVERYONE has an initial reaction when they open a book or look at any other type of document for the first time. If the page is loaded with copy from end to end and top to bottom, and it looks like it's going to be a slog to get through, you're already at a disadvantage. Alternatively, too much white space and the résumé could come off as weak.
Solution: Find the balance. As a test, show your résumé to some friends and simply ask them for their initial reactions before they even read a word. Their reactions will tell you if you have a balance. Generally speaking, if you've been working for less than 10 years, your résumé really should be one-page max. Otherwise, try and keep it to 1.5-2 pages max. Bear in mind that you don’t need to list jobs that are no longer applicable.
So, there you have it. This list is certainly not exhaustive but it's a start. A résumé (and a cover letter) are platforms to tell YOUR story in a compelling and relevant way to hiring managers who are looking to fill positions.
Try an approach that most job seekers are not doing and make your résumé and personality stand out to get the interview for the job that you want.