The average employer only spends a few seconds looking at your resume. In this short amount of time, they can either toss your application aside or continue reading it. So how can you make sure your CV doesn’t end up in “no” pile?
While there isn’t a definitive resume formula that guarantees you will get an interview, there are ways you can make your resume stand out amongst the rest. Of course, first and foremost you should be qualified for the job, but here are some other practical tips and tricks for making a good first impression on paper.
1. Apply Early
As soon as you see a relevant posting for your field or position, don’t wait. Send your application immediately even if there is a closing date listed. If you are one of the first to get your CV in the sights of the employer, your chances are that much higher than if you had waited and been put behind several others.
2. Set up Job Alerts
Many websites allow you to set up notifications for certain positions or keywords related to your expertise. Sign up to receive emails every time a new position is posted so you can put tip number one into action.
3. Cast a Wide Search Net
There are plenty of online and offline resources that list jobs regularly. Online sources include job boards, classified sites, company websites, educational institutions, government websites, social media, niche organizations, and more. Offline sources include newspapers, trade magazines, friends, family, bulletin boards, store/retail windows, or employment agencies. Once you put your feelers out, there should be no shortage of available opportunities to pursue.
4. Always Follow Application Instructions
Study every job posting thoroughly. At the bottom of the ad there will be instructions for submitting your CV, including how to send it (email or in person), who to contact, what format your resume should be in (PDF, Word), and other important details, such as if you need to include references, attach a portfolio, or cite a competition number in your application or in the email subject line. If they name a contact person, address your communication to this person directly.
5. Research the Company
No employer is the same, which is why due diligence can pay off in many ways. First you will have insight into who they are, what they do, and how you can make yourself more appealing on paper. Most companies have a website and social media channels. Identify their mission, values, corporate culture, founding story, products, audience, business model, and tone of voice. Take notes of these details to use in your resume and cover letter. Research at this phase in the process can also save you the effort of learning about the company’s culture prior to an interview.
6. Update Your Skills
Review your current CV and make appropriate updates based on past employment, education, volunteer work, and the like. List your employment history in chronological order with the name of the company, your position, and the time you worked there. Once you have included all your most recent information (and eliminated outdated, irrelevant information), you can begin tailoring it.
7. Make it Brief
Everyone will give you different advice for how long a resume should be. The maximum length should be no more than two pages, excluding your cover letter, which should only be one page. Additions, such as portfolio work can be extra. Remember that the employer only needs the facts. If you have a long-winded resume, consider cutting it down.
8. Keep it Relevant
Every potential employer will want to know your work history, but will they want to know all 25 years of it? Probably not, unless it is all relevant to your current application. The time you spent working as a restaurant hostess for 6 months two years ago can be helpful if you are applying for another hospitality role, but for a job as an electrical engineer, it might not be necessary to include. Go through your CV and eliminate extraneous information. Supplement employment gaps with relevant volunteer history or education. Other sections can include publications, interests/hobbies/side projects, references, and more, but be careful about putting in too much information. When it comes to resumes, employers value quality over quantity.
9. Summaries and Profiles
Journalists use a style of writing called the inverted pyramid, where you list an overview of the facts upfront, then delve into the details later on. How does this apply to your resume? Well, given the short attention you get from the employer, you need to present effective information, fast. This is where a summary or profile comes in. At the beginning of your resume, below your contact information, write a short paragraph or bullet point pitch that describes your skills, experience, and temperament. That way, the employer gets front-loaded with your qualifications and can keep reading if you hook them at the start.
10. Make Your Contact Information Visible
You want the employer to contact you and you want to make it easy for them to do so. Put your name, address, phone number, and email in bold or legible font at the top of both your cover letter and CV. It should go without saying that you will want to use a professional email address (preferably your name) and not the personal one you created years ago that references a nickname or inside joke.
11. Represent Traits/Skills from in Your Resume (Show Don’t Tell)
When an employer creates a job posting, sometimes they provide a lot of information on the type of candidate they are looking for. Other times, there’s a short description of duties. Whichever you encounter, use what you can from the posting and put it into your resume. For example, if they are looking for someone with “excellent interpersonal skills”, show how you embody these traits through real examples, such as the time you were especially helpful to a customer or when you solved a problem of theirs, and were commended by your employer for how you handled the situation.
12. List Your Job Accomplishments
In each of your past positions, instead of simply listing your duties, record your accomplishments at each job. This can be persuasive because you are illustrating your successes, rather than just naming your responsibilities. For example, if you helped implement a new program to increase efficiency and lower company overhead, this is valuable and shows the employer that you achieve results. The more specific you can be, the better.
13. Mirror the Company’s Tone and Voice
We’re not all writers, so it can be hard to pinpoint an appropriate tone to use in your resume. However, through your company research, you can look for hints on how to approach your resume/cover letter writing style. If the company has a creative and conversational style that is consistent through their social media, blog, and job posting, you can relax your robotic tone and opt for a friendlier one. Keep in mind that you don’t want to come across as if you are speaking to a buddy, which might hurt your chances, but a little personality can go a long way. If you don’t feel comfortable in your abilities to pull it off, play it safe and keep it professional.
14. Sprinkle Keywords from the Job Posting into Your CV
Don’t copy words from the job post verbatim in your resume and cover letter, but it doesn’t hurt to say what they want back to them in their own words. For instance, if they want a passionate candidate, make sure you include “passionate” in your profile or cover letter. It reinforces who they are looking for by touching on the characteristics they mentioned.
Read your cover letter and resume onscreen, on paper, and out loud—several times. Ask a trusted friend or family member to proofread it as well. Don’t just look for spelling and grammar errors, but also check for repetitive or awkward phrasing, and irrelevant information. You can never be too careful.
16. Organizing and Structuring
Resume templates and generators might be helpful for gathering ideas about how to structure information or for knowing what sections you need, but if you hope to stand out to an employer, some types of information are more important than others. For that reason, you should structure your resume similar to the inverted pyramid by putting the most important and most recent information at the beginning. Remember, your resume demonstrates more than words, it also communicates your organizational abilities.
17. Mind the Aesthetic
Traditionally, resumes were to be plain and typed in Times New Roman. While it is still good practice to make your resume clean, legible, and organized, style restrictions are not as harsh as they once were. From a readability perspective, you still need to ensure information is organized under proper headers, following a hierarchy, with plenty of white space and the use of bullet points instead of paragraphs for easy scanning.
Depending on your industry, there can be a bit more style involved. Creative fields, such as design, might celebrate the use of a custom header. Like tone of voice, ensure it’s appropriate for your audience, and at the very least, make it easy to read before adding any personal touches.
For past jobs and achievements, make sure to write in the past tense. For example, “Prepared monthly sales reports”. If you hold a current position, the tense should be present: “Prepare monthly sales reports”.
18. Reputation Management
Almost everyone has an online identity in some capacity. While employers should not technically base their decisions on a person’s Facebook profile or personal blog, this information is public and could hurt you if you are not careful about what you are putting in cyberspace for anyone to see. You don’t want to lose out on an interview because of something you said on Twitter. Keep your online reputation in check and review your privacy settings if needed.
19. Sign up for LinkedIn
If there is one social channel that employers might check, that would be LinkedIn. Not only is LinkedIn a great way to network but you can also showcase your skills, get endorsements, share your work, and join groups of like-minded individuals. LinkedIn is a professional platform that is reserved for occupational purposes. It is also another great place to find jobs—so don’t miss out on the opportunity to get noticed.
References—do you list them on your resume or not? Today, most employers know to ask you for references if they want them. Therefore it is up to you whether or not to include them. For some industries that rely heavily on being in a past employer’s good graces, such as child care or trades work, you might as well just save yourself the time and include their contact information. Three references is standard. If you do put their contact information on your CV, notify them and for extra courtesy, list their preferred contact times or method of communication.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
No one enjoys updating their resume, but it is a document that can open a lot of doors for you in the future. And although there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to writing them, nor is there a tried and true way to please every employer, if you do your best to sell your skills and customize your document to the company and position you are applying for, it’s quite likely that an employer will keep on reading.