So, you’ve figured out what you want from your next career move, and you’ve even learned the secret to networking and applying your way there. But, at the end of the day, we all know there’s a key ingredient needed to land that dream job, and it’s something you either have right—or you don’t.
That’s right: I’m talking about your resume. It’s your entire career summed up in a couple of pages, but is it enough? Will it help you stand out from the crowd, or will it get you thrown on top of the no pile without a second glance? Well listen up job hunters, because once again I’m here to bust myths, share tips, and give you the insider insights I’ve gleaned from behind enemy lines as a long-time recruiter.
Straight off the bat
The number one error people make when writing their resume is not tailoring it to the job they’re applying for. This is why you should never create your resume before you decide what role you’re actually going for. Realistically, this means you’re probably going to end up having about 5-6 versions of your document. That’s Ok!
Introduce yourself—and your value
First impressions count. Your resume introduction, or personal summary, is your first chance to capture a hiring manger’s attention. Needless to say, it should have a strong focus on your target position and what you’ll bring to it. People make the mistake of thinking this is where they should describe their background. But this piece of your resume must actually market your skills, not merely tell your story. So eliminate anything that is “just information.” A list of core competencies works great here.
Re-weight your resume for relevance
Your resume is not a laundry list of everything you’ve ever done or achieved professionally. Far from it. In fact, it should only mention the skills and experiences that are transferable to the position that you’re applying to. Depending on the specifics of your target job, you can slot in and slot out certain job functions from your past experience. This is where sub-headings come in extremely useful.
Top tip: When re-weighting your resume, you must take care to be 100% honest. Use accurate job titles and only take responsibility for things that you actually did. You should only include information that you can easily and comfortably substantiate.
The ideal length for your resume
It really bugs me that some colleges are actually still telling graduates that they should be keeping their resume to one page. That old adage is from the days when we faxed resumes! Nowadays, one page resumes are few and far between—and for good reason. Hopefully you have more to offer your prospective employer than that.
That said, no hiring manger wants to read reams and reams of irrelevant information. It doesn’t speak highly of your ability to be discerning or strategic. So the correct answer to that million dollar question, is that that your resume should be long enough that it includes any information about your career that is actually relevant.
As for how long you should go back with your job experience, a lot of people say ten years. But once again, I actually think that if you’ve got experience that pertains to your target job, you would be wise to include it. It could very well be a tie breaker. This is where re-weighting your resume proves important once again.
Top tip: Formatting your resume is just as important as choosing the right length. A recruiter scans through dozens of resume each day, so you want to make sure that yours is easy on the eyes. That means Times New Roman is not your friend—and neither are excessive bullet points or bold text which when overused, both have the counteractive effect of blending information together.
Get ahead of your competition with keywords
Using the right language in your resume gives you a distinct advantage in the resume-scanning process, which relies heavily on keyword searches. One way to make sure your resume stands out in a search is to mirror the language you see in the job listing. Your sub-headings and resume introduction are great opportunities to include extra keywords.
Also, be sure to use industry-specific language throughout your resume. For example, if your entire career has been in the software consulting sector and you’re now trying to transition into the software product arena, don't talk about client projects and the specifics of your implementation experience. Rather, write about the programming languages you used, the end product you helped build, SDLC processes, and the information that is applicable across both consulting and product development.
Top tip: Since each word on a resume is searchable, listing keywords in your education section is just as effective as having them anywhere else. If you’re a recent graduate and struggling to include keywords when talking about your experience, try including some relevant coursework.
Fill in the gaps
Be ready to address resume gaps, if not in the document itself, then during your first screening. When I share a resume with a hiring manager, one of their most common rebuttals is either 1) why has this person jumped around so much or 2) what happened during this time gap.
Top tip: Be mindful of your online presence. Let’s be real—hiring managers are going to look at your LinkedIn profile. It’s a major red flag when there are discrepancies between your dates of employment on your online profile and your resume.
References—to include or not?
There is definitely no need to include references within your resume. They take up valuable space and it’s a given that they are available upon request. References don’t usually come up until much later when your future employer will perform a background check and verify your employment information.