Career Change is a fact of life in today’s economy. In the case of many of us, it is about being proactive and expanding one’s repertoire of skills. For several others, the change is forced on them because of rightsizing or layoffs in a tough economy.
Even with the popularity of networking sites like LinkedIn, increasing awareness of “hidden jobs” concepts, video resumes, job boards, AI based recruitment etc, the fact remains that the traditional resume isn’t going anywhere. It may be repurposed into different formats, but it still remains the baseline document for selling yourself.
As applicant to job ratios and the effort to uncover “hidden jobs” increase, so has the complexity of the job seeking and resume writing advice. When it comes to resume, gone are the days when just jotting down some points in a standard reverse chronological method (last job first) would work. The diversity in resume formats itself is mind-boggling. Having partnered with many clients in their resume and job search process, I am sharing my top 10 tips to modernize your resume.
#1. Tailor the resume to the target job: At first glance, the resume should tell the reader how you are a good fit for the role. This starts from the headline – use tag phrases with keywords just below your name or in the title of the resume. Your summary needs to highlight your experience and attributes which make you a good fit for the role. Statements like “seeking a fulfilling career where I can meet organization goals,” are passé. If the job is for marketing, then highlight your marketing expertise or transferable skills in case you are seeking to change career tracks. If it is a startup and you are seeking a break, then mention any experiences where you built something ground up or with minimal supervision. Highlight examples throughout your resume which target the job competencies.
#2. Reach out to the reader: This point may seem like a repetition of point 1. I want to tell you a pro tip for reaching out to the actual recruiter/interviewing manager. This should help you with both goals – mastering the ATS and appealing to the reader. Take the job description or a couple of sample job descriptions for your target role. Highlight all the hard and soft skills in the description. Now check whether those are covered in your resume. Showcase with hard data and examples of your achievements for these skills. The next level is to carefully analyze these job descriptions in tandem with industry trends and information from other sources to arrive at what are the pain points the role seeks to solve. Try and ensure that your resume examples showcase how you can hit the ground running and immediately solve these problems.
#3. Showcase your USP: As you work on your resume, focus on getting your Unique Selling Point or USP out there. This means that you need to think through 3 areas:
a) Your unique skills or personality.
b) Your personality or what drives you or what are you passionate about?
c) Needs of the job or industry that you are targeting.
This helps you build your personal brand. For example: if you have a record of successes in improving processes and leading change efforts, then you need to showcase that with the right examples. Use LinkedIn to seek recommendations that further amplify your personal brand.
#4. Be Concise – Apply the 6 second rule: We live in an age of information overload. Most smartphones have a feature that tells us how many hours we spent on the phone. The average is usually between 20-25%. Add this to the time on a tablet/computer, this goes up exponentially. A recent study by Microsoft reveals that the average attention span of humans has gone down to 8 seconds, which is lesser than a goldfish at 9 seconds. It is often quoted that recruiters spend only 6 seconds per resume at first instance. This means that you need to make every word count. Use the modern technique of summarizing key highlights. The editing scissor is your best friend. Get it read by someone else also to check for impact. A two-pager is typically the norm unless your educational credentials are substantial.
#5. Give Proof – Understand your future employer is seeking to make an investment. Give them specifics of what you have done to increase revenue, deliver cost savings, strengthen profits, streamline processes, improve customer satisfaction, secure productivity gains etc. Provide quantified examples and avoid generalities. Examples:
- Achieved 55% improvement in response time by automating controls.
- Generated 125% increase in sales by focusing on the top 3 channels.
- Delivered $ 3 million savings by negotiating new vendor agreements for spare parts.
#6. Provide Context – A resume runs the risk of becoming a list of power-packed action verbs and accomplishments. A great technique to grab the attention of the reader is to provide the reader with a compelling narrative on the challenges. This could be done by highlighting a small paragraph for each role that provides the reader with the context. Example: “Recruited to revitalize the sales function of the boutique project management consulting firm, which specialized in turnkey projects for complex civil engineering projects.”
#7. Use Action Verbs – Strong verbs which immediately paint a picture in our mind of the achievement and its magnitude are a must in a resume. “Stabilized IT infrastructure and ensured average downtime went to 0% from 15% in 12 months,” is more impactful than merely saying that one is responsible for IT infrastructure. Effective verbs tell us how we transformed a challenge into an achievement. Alert – avoid clichés, the most common ones are “dynamic, out-of-box thinker, visionary, people-person.”
#8. Use Keywords/Understand the ATS – The ATS or Applicant Tracking System is not as scary as it is made out to be. It reads almost all fonts. It does turn the bullet symbols into junk. Putting your entire resume in a table is not a good idea as it will almost always jumble the data for ATS. Having just a single small section in a table is fine. The ATS is blind to almost all graphics – so remember the data you put in text boxes, graphs etc may not be read by ATS. A simple way to check what the ATS would see – just save your word resume as a simple text file. It may not look pretty, but that’s what the system reads.
#9. Design the resume well – Make it easy for a skimmable read. Use formatting and design elements strategically so that they emphasize key points, but don’t distract. Ensure your resume has adequate white space. Restrict paragraphs to 5 lines – less is better. Restrict bullet line statements to 2 lines – 1 line is preferred. Create some movement within bullets with good use of sub-bullets. Put yourself in the shoes of the reader. Do get your resume read by someone for first-hand feedback on impact.
#10. Use color, graphs, pictures to enhance your resume: Remember at the core, the resume is a marketing document. You can and should use some colour to highlight or frame some key highlights. Again, restrict to one colour or a couple of shades of it in the resume and avoid using multiple colours which runs the risk of becoming an eyesore. Microsoft word has so many smart art, graphs and picture formats that can also be cleverly used either once or twice in the resume to give some visual relief. At the bare minimum, you can use text boxes on either side of the page or highlight a paragraph. You can depict sales growth in different countries with the country map as a background. Caution – don’t go overboard.
Congrats!! You made it through the top 10 tips to modernize your resume.
Now, don’t forget to proofread your resume at least thrice for any errors. You don’t want punctuation, grammar, tense mistakes to diminish the impact. You would want the right amount of white space in your resume – don’t make the mistake of too much or too little.
So many people struggle through a stressful job search process and often land jobs that are below their potential. The time to pull out all stops to make an impactful 1st impression with your resume is NOW. Don’t lose this time.
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