Making Your Résumé “Work” for You: Tips for Standing out Amongst the Competition
It is no secret that we are facing the most challenging economy in decades. Several professionals, who not long ago had reliable and gainful employment, are now coping with furloughs, pay-cuts, and layoffs. This has left our job market flooded with individuals seeking employment and hiring managers staring at abnormally high stacks of résumé submissions.
Even is a solid economy, a quality résumé is a necessity for securing a job interview. Today, this necessity has risen to an entirely different level. Hiring managers simply do not have the time to read each résumé submission that they receive. They need to look at a résumé and glean the information they need about the candidate immediately.
So, how does this saturated job market bode for job seekers? In plain terms, it means that job seekers have to work that much harder to make their résumé “work” for them. The résumé must act as the job seeker’s Personal Marketing Assistant, selling their skills, value, and personal brand to the hiring manager. But, to develop a résumé that does this work effectively, the job seeker must also do some work. The following tips offer a guide to the job seeker for doing the work of creating a résumé that stands out amongst the competition.
Tip #1: Aesthetics Make a Difference
Don’t get stuck in the standard, dull format of the traditional résumé. Allow yourself to be creative by experimenting with borders, text boxes, shading, and bullet styles, as well as fonts other than Arial and Times New Roman. Fonts like Garamond, Goudy Old Style, and Sylfaen are classy and professional, but have more personality than Arial and Times. Keep your text clean and neat in appearance by justifying it (rather than left-justifying it) and not allowing one-three words of a sentence or bullet straggle onto another line.
Tip #2: Make Sure They Remember Your Name
While your name will be the first thing the employer sees on your resume, if you don’t do something with it to make it jump out, it may not be remembered. Some ways you can make your name stand out include bolding it and using a larger font, like a 16, and making the first letter of your first and last name slightly larger, such as in a 22 font. Consider using small capitals, rather than standard capitalizing. Small capitals have a more unique flavor than the standard capitals, and provide an attractive look. You can also use the character spacing feature to expand the letters of your name by 3 or 4 spaces. You can use the same techniques to make your section headings stand out as well. After your name, you should list your contact information (address, phone, and email) and let this set up for your name and contact information serve as your own, personal letterhead for all of your career documents (Cover Letter, Professional Reference List, Post-Interview Thank You Letter).
Tip #3: Trade in the “Objective” Statement for a Cover Letter
Objective statements are generally too vague and brief to be very useful in adequately explaining to the employer what kind of opportunity you are seeking. Instead, tell the employer why you are applying for the position, what you have to offer, and why you are the right candidate for the position in a Cover Letter.
Tip #4: Do Your Research
Writing an impressive résumé requires a little homework. Look on the major internet job boards to find out what employers in your field of interest are looking for in a candidate. Find out what kinds of soft and hard skills they are seeking, how many years of experience they want, and what kind of educational background they are seeking. If you possess any or all of the qualities the employer is seeking, you can be sure to include them on your résumé.
Tip #5: Sell Your Skills, Experience, and Personal Brand Quickly
Many individuals are uncomfortable “bragging” about themselves, and their résumés suffer for it. Save your modesty for a rainy day. In most traditional résumés, the hiring manager must read for a minute or two before digging up the skills and experience the candidate has to offer. But, most hiring mangers will only take 15 to 30 seconds to make a quick decision about whether to bring you in for an interview. Giving yourself a strong, specific “title” that describes you as a professional (such as Project Manager or Elementary Educator), providing a list of four to eight of your relevant hard skills, and writing a solid introductory paragraph that highlights what you bring to the table will go a long way! These things will allow the employer to glean the information he or she needs immediately to determine if you are a good fit for their needs.
Tip #6: Delineate Your Tasks from Your Accomplishments
Most résumés simply list each position the candidate has held and focus more on the tasks the candidate was hired to handle, rather than the ways he or she went above-and-beyond those tasks. We all initiative something new in our jobs, so why not take the time to tell your future employer about it? The hiring manager is less concerned that you did your job, and more interested in the things you initiated that went beyond your job description, resulting in value offered to the company. This means you’ll do the same for them and their company. You can delineate your tasks from your accomplishments either by having a section for career accomplishments right underneath your introductory statement, or by listing these accomplishments separately from your general tasks within your overall professional experience section.
Tip #7: Ensure That Everything You Say has an Impact
Often, the bullets we list to discuss what we did on the job are not clear and specific enough. If the reader has to read the bullet a few times to attempt to understand what you actually did, there’s a problem. If you use this simple formula, you should have a clear and comprehensive bullet description—tell them what you did, how you did it, and why you did it/what the result was.
Tip #8: Don’t Offer Too Many Clues into Your Age
Age discrimination exists in both directions. You can be considered too young for the upper level position you are applying for or too close to retirement to hire. Employers might try to play the “what’s their age” guessing game—it’s human nature. So, don’t make it easy to rule you out for silly reasons before you even get in the door for your interview. If it is 2009, and you received your Bachelors degree in 2004, you can leave off your college graduation date when you apply for that upper-level position that your education, experience, skills, and work ethic qualify you for. And, if its 2009 and you received your Bachelors degree in 1984, you can do the same. Also, for experienced professionals, always use the rule of thumb to go back no more than 15-20 years into your work history.
Tip #9: Make the Length of Your Résumé Appropriate for Your Experiential Level
If you are a soon-to-be college graduate or have only a few years of work experience, your résumé should not be more than one page, in most cases. If you have 20 years of work experience, your résumé should be more than one-page. In most cases, your résumé should not be more than two-pages. Some exceptions to this rule include federal resumes, curriculum vitas, and if the employer or specific career field dictates otherwise. If you are trying to save space, you can bump your top and bottom margins out further, but to no less than a .5. You can also decrease the white space font size in between résumé sections, and depending on the font, you can condense your font by .5 without it becoming unclear.
Tip #10: Scratch the “References Available Upon Request” Statement
This is one of those statements that almost should go without saying. Employers expect that you can provide them with at least three professional references that can vouch for your experience and work ethic. But, if you would like to specifically mention this, you can say that you would be happy to provide a list of professional references in your cover letter. And, when you get that desired interview, you can (and should) bring a list of at least three professional references along with you to give to the interviewer.
The Bonus Tip
Believe in yourself, your worth, and what you have to offer. Showcasing yourself and your confidence on your new résumé is the first step in achieving your desired career future. Enjoy the process of creating your résumé—your Personal Marketing Assistant who will go out there on the job market and boast about you to employers—you deserve it!
Dr. Colleen Georges is a Certified Professional Career Coach, NJ Licensed Professional Counselor, and owner of Colleen’s Career Creations (www.colleenscareercreations.com), a résumé writing and career coaching business that serves clients nationwide. Colleen received her Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral degrees in Psychology from Rutgers University and is a member of the Professional Association of Résumé Writers & Career Coaches (PARW/CC). Colleen has 11 years of experience in résumé writing and career coaching and has helped countless individuals achieve the careers of their dreams.