How to Make Your Resume More Effective
For all the success that some job hunters have found in using Twitter and LinkedIn to research and land jobs, the traditional resume remains a crucial criterion when looking for work in most occupations.
“All the social networking tools are more important now so the resume has lost its place as the centerpiece of the job search, but it’s still a very important piece,” says Charles Purdy, a career expert with Monster.com. “At some point in the hiring process, there is going to be someone who wants to be handed your resume.”
This may come as a bitter truth to many searching for work. It’s nice to believe that the job of your dreams is only a tweet away, but as Purdy points out, part of the reason stories of candidates finding work through Twitter receive so much attention is because they are comparatively rare. Instead, most applicants will be asked to send in their resumes and then hope that it somehow stands out from the hundreds of other resumes the hiring manager has likely received.
The best strategy, then, is to leave as little as possible to chance, especially given the difficult labor market. MainStreet asked several career experts for tips on how to craft a resume that packs a punch and winds up in front of the right pair of eyes.
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Customize Your Resume for the Job
No matter how good your resume is, be prepared to tweak it for every job you apply to.
“Candidates make the mistake of creating one generic resume and blasting it all over the place,” says Alexandra Levit, author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success. “Much of the time, hiring managers are disgusted by this because based on the resume, the candidate doesn't look like a fit for the position at all. You cannot rely on HR people or hiring managers to be creative or have good intuition about you. Do the work, and show them directly why you are suited for this particular job.”
That may sound like a lot more work, but customizing your resume doesn’t always require a major overhaul. In most cases, it just boils down to eliminating details that are unrelated to the particular job and adopting some of the wording used in the posting’s description.
“Make sure you are speaking the same language,” Purdy says. “If you wrote that you ‘supervised’ two people in a previous job, and the posting calls for someone who has ‘managed’ in the past, then change the wording to that.”
The closer you come to hitting the bullet points listed in the job description, the more likely it is that an entry-level HR person will pick up on it and pass your resume along. What’s more, Purdy says, is that some companies rely on software to pick out resumes based on wording, so straying too far from the company’s word choice could cause your application to slip through the cracks.
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Rethink the Top of Your Resume
The unfortunate truth about the hiring process is that no matter how much time you spend crafting your resume, chances are the hiring manager will only glance at it for a few moments before deciding whether to pass it on, so it’s absolutely essential that your resume says what it needs to right away. That’s why Purdy recommends rethinking the top of your resume.
Many choose to put information about their education or career objectives at the very top of the resume, but as Purdy points out, this space is prime real estate since it’s the first thing the reader will see and, if you don’t lead off with something strong, it will also be the last.
“The top of your resume should come up with a strong statement showing what you can do for the employer if hired instead of an objective which just tells the employer what you want for yourself,” Purdy says.
He recommends remodeling your resume so that your name is at the top followed by your specialty (administrative manager, graphic designer, etc.), which will help prevent your resume from ending up in a pile for the wrong job if there are multiple openings at the company. Below this, you should have a short paragraph or list of four to five key pieces of experience from your career to date that relate to the particular job so that the hiring manager knows instantly what you can uniquely contribute to the company.
Then you can describe each of the various jobs you’ve held in the following section, but be careful about how you handle this part of the resume…
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Focus on What You Have Accomplished
The default for many job hunters is to use the bulk of the resume to list out the tasks they handled in each position, but doing so just makes the resume a stiff read that’s easier to pass over.
“Hiring managers are much less interested in what your duties were and much more interested in what you achieved,” says Alison Green, the writer behind the popular Ask A Manager blog. “Talk about what you got done – the outcomes of your work. You'll increase the quality of your resume tenfold.”
Instead of saying you were responsible for processing orders or stocking shelves, talk about how you worked to make these tasks more efficient or saved the company money. Along the same lines, Purdy urges applicants not to waste valuable space on a resume to describe duties that are obvious from the job title. If you worked as a salesperson, everyone already knows you handled sales, so pull out the more unique tidbits from your time on the job.
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Find the Right Person to Send It To
Crafting a good resume is only part of the battle to get noticed – the rest is getting your resume into the right hands. If you just send it to the general contact information listed on the job posting, Levit says the resume might end up in the “black hole of HR – probably never to be seen again.”
To stop this from happening, candidates need to ramp up their networking efforts and take advantage of some of the online tools that are out there. For starters, Levit recommends searching on LinkedIn for employees at the company who work in the department you’re interested in and reaching out to them in the hopes they will pass along your resume on your behalf. But don’t just blindly e-mail them your resume, as they will probably just pass over any application from a complete stranger. Focus on trying to build a relationship.
“Introduce yourself and ask for a 20-minute informational phone interview so they can tell you about their career path,” Levit says. “Use this as a jumping off point to establish one-on-one relationships within the company.”
If this doesn’t work, Purdy says you can consider broadening your networking attempts to include those who work within the industry but at competing companies. Again, express an interest in their line of work and ask for advice and perhaps feedback on your resume.
“This can plant a seed in their mind that you are looking for a job,” Purdy says. “It also gets your resume in front of a person and out of the machine.”
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Make Sure Your Resume is Online
As important as it is to get your resume in front of people offline, it’s also necessary to broadcast it online as much as you can.
“Put the resume on your blog, on professional networking sites – find a way to get it online,” Purdy says. “You need to be able to send someone a link to it if asked, and preferably a link that’s not crazy long.”
The more places you post your resume, the more exposure it can get, and there is certainly no shortage of job sites to post it to. LinkedIn and Facebook may not have replaced the traditional resume just yet, but that doesn’t mean they can’t complement one another.
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