The time has come to look for a job. You’ve been editing your resume like a maniac, taking in all the advice on what to take out and what verbs to use. And after much tinkering and typo eliminating, you’re finally done — and it looks just like everyone else’s. How are you supposed to stand out now?
Fret not. Here are five ways your resume makes a recruiter’s eyes glaze over and, more importantly, smart ways to fix that.
1. You have a generic “experience” section
If your main resume section is “Work Experience” or the slightly better but equally forgettable “Professional Experience,” you’re missing out on a big opportunity to personalize your resume.
In place of “Work Experience,” consider customizing this section to “Event Planning Experience” or “Editorial Experience” — whatever is most appropriate for your skill set and the position you’re looking for. Having a keyword right in your section heading has a great branding effect on your overall resume.
This is especially useful if you have a diverse range of experiences, but really want to show off your experience in one particular area. You can have all of your relevant experience in one section at the top of your resume where the recruiter will first look and add an “Additional Experience” section for everything else.
2. You focus on responsibilities instead of accomplishments
I’m not even going to go into how facepalm-inducing it is to start a bullet with “Responsibilities include,” so let’s just go ahead and assume you start your bullets withgreat action verbs. Even so, you might still be falling into the trap of describing what you do day to day instead of the projects you’ve completed or the results you’ve contributed to. Here’s an example of how to distinguish between the two:
Bullets on responsibilities
- Coordinated artist press releases
- Managed customer mailing list
- Handled photo and press releases to media outlets
- Assisted in radio copywriting
- Performed various other duties as assigned
Bullets on accomplishments
- Coordinated 8 artist press releases that contributed to an increase in annual sales by 14%
- Compiled and maintained a mailing list of 12,000 customers, the art center’s largest ever
- Organized photo and press releases to CNS Television and Yorkville Daily News
- Collaborated on a team of 3 editors on the copywriting of promotional radio commercials for 16 events
See the difference? The first one shows what you did—while the second details exactly what kind of impact you’re sure to make in the future.
3. You use tons of clichéd buzzwords
Are you a “go-getter” who “thinks outside the box” and is all about creating “synergy” in organizations? That’s great, but recruiters hate seeing these overused buzzwords on your resume.
Instead, think of examples of how you’ve demonstrated these traits in your work. (Need help? Here are a few great cliché-free ways to show off your soft skills. Adding results and accomplishments to your resume is a much more interesting way to show off who you are — and ultimately, makes you much more memorable.
4. You sound like you have no life outside of work
If you are a marketing professional with five years of experience, how are you setting yourself apart from all the other marketing professionals with five years of experience? How do you show your passion for your field or that you have other attributes to bring to your position?
One way to do this is to include a section on your resume for “Community Involvement” or “Leadership.” Alternatively, you could expand your “Skills” section to “Skills & Interests.” Whatever you intend to include, whether it’s the event planning you do for your professional organization or the volunteer math tutoring you do on weekends, make sure to show that you do more than show up at work and do as you’re told.
While you don’t want to take this to an extreme — anything you include should be relevant to the job you’re applying for — it’s a great way to show off who you are as a person.
5. You didn’t include a cover letter
Do you hate writing cover letters? Well, so does everyone else. Which is why few people put in the effort to write a really outstanding one, if they write one at all. Some job applicants think, “Well my experience should speak for itself” or “Everything I have to say about my qualifications is on my resume.”
In some pretty specific cases, that could be true. Even still, in the rigid structure of a resume, your personality just has a much harder time shining through. The cover letter is your chance to really introduce yourself as person and not just as a set of skills.
The next time you have to write a cover letter, try Alexandra Franzen’s approach: imagining that you’re writing to someone who already believes you’re qualified. Take that confidence and go from there.
It’s so important to be open to advice and feedback as you’re creating or updating your resume, but be careful not to take out what makes you special. It could be that extra sparkle that gets your foot in the door!
BY LILY ZHANG for The Muse
This question originally appeared on Quora: What do recruiters look for in a resume at first glance? Answer by Ambra Benjamin, Engineering Recruiter.
I don’t look through stacks of resumes anymore. I hate paper. I do everything online.
There has been for many decades, a mysterious Wizard of Oz-type viewpoint of the recruiting world that I think is somewhat misappropriated. People seem to be truly fascinated by what goes on behind the curtain, when in reality, recruiters aren’t running the covert operation many think. “Does this candidate seem like they stand a chance of being a good match for this role? If yes, proceed to next step. If no, reject.”
I’ll highlight how I personally absorb a resume. I should preface this by saying that currently I primarily recruit for senior-level software engineers. In my past life I recruited for PMs, MBAs, finance, sales, and pretty much all of it. Everything I’m about to say broadly applies to all of these fields. I also was a campus recruiter, and you read resumes of new grads a bit differently since experience is less meaty. So for non-new grads, here’s how it goes in my brain:
- Most recent role. I’m generally trying to figure out what this person’s current status is, and why/if they might even be interested in a new role. Have they only been in their last position for three months? If so, probably not the best time for me to reach out, right? Unless they work for Zynga, or somewhere tragic like that (said with great respect for Farmville, the app that put Facebook apps on the map). If it’s an incoming resume, I’m wondering why the candidate is looking now. Are they laid off? Did they get fired? Have they only been in their role for a few months and they’re possibly hating it? But most importantly, is their most recent experience relevant to the position for which I’m hiring?
- Company recognition. Not even gonna lie. I am a company snob. Now don’t get all Judgy McJudgerson about my judgy-ness. Hear me out. It’s not even that I think certain companies are better than others (although some most certainly are). It’s purely a matter of how quickly can I assign a frame of reference. This is also known as “credibility.” Oh you worked at Amazon? Then you’re probably accustomed to working on projects at scale. You’re at a well known crash-and-burn start-up? You have probably worn many hats and have been running at a sprinter’s pace. There are some pretty blatant if/then associations I can make simply by recognizing a company name. Because recruiters have generally been doing this job for awhile, we notice patterns and trends among candidates from certain companies and we formulate assumptions as a result. There are edge cases and our assumptions can fail us, but again, this is a resume review; we’re talking a less than 20-second analysis. Assigning frame of reference is often more difficult to do when a candidate has only worked for obscure companies I’ve never heard of. When I can’t assign company recognition, it just means I have to read the resume a little deeper, which usually isn’t an issue, unless it’s poorly formatted, poorly written, uninformative, and wrought with spelling errors—in which case, you might have lost my interest.
- Overall experience. Is there a career progression? Does the person have increasing levels of responsibility? Do the titles make sense? (You’re a VP of Marketing for a five-person company? Heck, I would be too.) Do the responsibilities listed therein match what I’m looking for?
- Gaps. I don’t mind gaps so long as there’s a sufficient explanation. Oh you took three years off to raise your children? Fine by me, and might I add: #respect. You tried your hand at starting your own company and failed miserably? Very impressive! Gap sufficiently explained. Whatever it is, just say it. It’s the absence of an explanation that makes me wonder. Still, I understand that sometimes people feel uncomfortable sharing certain things in a professional context. If you had a gap, surely you were busy doing something during that time, right? Get creatively honest and just name that period of your life in a way that shows you acknowledge that it might raise an eyebrow.
- Personal online footprint. This is not required. But if you have an online footprint, and you’ve bothered to include it in your resume, I’m gonna click. This includes personal domains, Quora profiles, Twitter handles, GitHub contributions, Dribbble accounts, or anything a candidate has chosen to list. Two out of three times, I almost always click through to a candidate’s website or Twitter account. It’s one of my favorite parts of recruiting. You never know what you’re gonna get.
For more on what recruiters look for on your resume, please click here
Your job descriptions are one of the most important parts of your resume. They show prospective employers what you have accomplished in the jobs you’ve held. Job descriptions also provide a synopsis of your experience and skills.
How to Write Job Descriptions for Your Resume
Before you start adding job descriptions to your resume, you may want to make a list of accomplishments at each of your jobs. This will prepare you for actually pulling your resume together.
Skills and Achievements
After you have written a job description, look for ways to make your explanation more concise. Make an effort to create effective impact statements. Highlight skills and achievements, providing only enough detail to support your premises. Try to edit out pronouns and articles. Begin phrases or sentences with verbs. Choose strong words — here is a list of resume action words that work well.
If you will be submitting resumes to organizations that scan them into searchable computer databases, include as many industry and job-specific “keywords” as possible.
When searching databases for potential candidates, employers seek resumes with the greatest number of “hits” on keywords. Keywords are most often nouns.
Be selective with the information you include. Determine its relevance by putting yourself in your potential employer’s position: Will this information help convince the employer that you are a worthwhile candidate to interview?
You do not have to include every responsibility you ever had. Group together similar tasks. For instance, rather than listing “Answered phones” and “Responded to customer emails” in two bullet points, you can combine and say “Resolved customer issues through phone, email, and chat conversations.”
Prioritize Job Description Information
Next, think about prioritizing the information you provide in each description. Present details that are of the greatest interest to potential employers first.
For example, consider the candidate seeking a job in interior design. The resume might reflect a retail experience in which 75% of the candidate’s time was spent on the sales floor and 25% was spent designing window and floor displays. Priority, determined by relevance to the employer, dictates that design of window and floor displays should be listed before sales.
Sales Associate, Retail USA, New York, NY October, 20XX – Present
- Designed all large windows using color as primary focus.
- Created engaging point-of-purchase displays for slow moving small items; increased sales of these items by 30%.
- Organized floor displays to maximize space and call attention to latest merchandise.
- Utilized strong interpersonal and communications skills to serve customers; received employee of the month award twice.
Quantify Your Accomplishments
Quantify as much information as you can (numbers, dollar signs, percentages can all help to make your case). A bullet point that reads “Grew traffic 35% year-over-year” is more impressive — and informative — than one that reads simply “Improved traffic.”
Nearly any description, for any job, can be enhanced through the use of numbers. A waitress might start out with the description “Took customer orders and delivered food.” But a quantified description saying, “Served customers in upscale 100-seat restaurant,” provides much more insight.
Bottom line: Employers like numbers. It’s much easier to look at a signs and symbols than it is to read words.
Emphasize Accomplishments Over Responsibilities
It’s important for employees to know you have the necessary experience to do the work required in the position. Still, many candidates will have this relevant experience. To stand out, emphasize how you added value. Focus on accomplishments, rather than responsibilities.
As seen above, numbers can be your friend when it comes to highlighting your accomplishments. As well, provide context. For instance, you might say, “Increased revenue by 5%, after several years of decreasing sales.” Or, rather than saying “Answered phone calls and dealt with customer concerns,” you can say, “Resolved customer concerns, answering approximately 10 calls per hour. Became go-to person on the team for dealing with the toughest phone calls and most challenging complaints.”
While it is important to keep descriptions short, adding details and context can help show employers why you’d be a good match for the position.
by Alison Doyle