The most important thing to remember is: The résumé is not about what you want — it’s what you can offer to an employer. Everything you put in the résumé — or don’t put in the résumé — should relate to the job that you’re seeking, demonstrating to the person with authority to hire you for that job what you can do for the company in that position. When trying to decide whether or not something is relevant, think about the hiring manager.
The primary purpose of the résumé is to get you the opportunity to interview for the job. Everything you do — and include — should focus on this goal.
If you are submitting your résumé online, your résumé may go into an applicant tracking system, which is software that helps to hire managers track applications and select which candidates to interview.
Applicant tracking systems — and the integration of technology into the application process — underscore the importance of tailoring your résumé and cover letter for your seeking role. If there are specific words and phrases used in the job announcement, make sure to include them in your résumé. You can’t merely create a résumé and use it to apply to 100 different jobs. Not only is that inefficient, but it’s ineffective.
Your résumé is a marketing document that should target the job to be effective. If you don’t know what you want, it’s going to be difficult for the reader to understand. The first step is to determine what skills, experience, and education you will need for your target job.
Here are a few tips:
- Have a clear job target in mind. If you’re applying for similar positions within a career field, the body of your résumé won’t change too much. But you will want to customize it with keywords and specific phrases that tie into the position and the culture of the company you are targeting. Don’t have a particular company in mind? Find job postings for 3-5 positions you’d be interested in and use these to inform the content you include.
- Make sure the résumé is visually appealing. The résumé should appeal to a human reader, even if it is initially electronically submitted (and likely will go through applicant tracking system software).
- Focus on accomplishments. “Past performance is the best predictor of future results.” Hiring managers can get a sense of what you can do for them by what you’ve accomplished in your previous jobs. Employers want to hire people who can generate results for them. Outlining the challenges, you tackled, the actions you took to solve the problem, and the results you produced can be a powerful way to attract a hiring manager’s attention. Quantify the results in terms of numbers (money and percentages are particularly powerful).
- Follow the conventional style. Résumés use a unique style of writing that emphasizes brevity. Résumés use the first-person style, but omit the subject (“I,” “me,” and “my”) and most articles (“a,” “an,” “the,” “my” ), except when doing so would negatively impact the readability of the sentence. Use present tense for activities currently being performed, and past tense for past events and achievements. Emphasize action verbs (“direct,” “manage,” “develop”) instead of passive descriptions of your activity (“responsible for”).
- Remember to emphasize what makes you valuable to your next employer, not what you want. Go back to the employer buying motivators list and look for opportunities to showcase how you can be an asset to your employer in one or more areas. The résumé should include everything the hiring manager needs to know about you to decide to interview you. It should ignite the hiring manager’s interest, making you appear desirable and potentially valuable to the organization.
- Experience is experience, even if you didn’t get paid for it. If some of your best accomplishments and most impressive experience comes from volunteer work, include it! Where have you gained experience through projects, internships, leadership roles, and community service?
- Proofread it, then proofread it again. You should print it out, set it aside for at least a day, and then come back and read it with a fresh set of eyes. Look for misspellings, inaccuracies in job titles and dates of employment, and grammatical errors.
- Don’t go it alone. If you are overwhelmed by how to put these principles into action, consult with a professional résumé writer. The time and money you invest in having your résumé professionally prepared may shorten your job search and help you land the interview. It can also give you confidence by arming you with a powerful job search tool that can help guide the interviewer to discover you’re precisely what the company needs!