Resumes are a dime a dozen, so making yours stand out is critical. You may think that a resume filled with graphics, colorful language and your headshot will capture the attention of the hiring manager, but more likely it will result in your resume ending up on the bottom of the heap. Employers care about what’s in your resume, not how it looks. “It’s really all about content as opposed to style,” says Pamela Skillings, co-founder of job coaching firm Skillful Communications. “Substance comes over style.”
When it comes to substance the number one way to ensure your resume gets looked at is to use the same terms in your resume that’s in the job description. Often, companies use automated software to scan resumes before an actual person looks at them, which is why using keywords is so important.
“You need to make sure you address all the requirements for the job in the resume,” says Robin Schlinger, a career expert and founder of Robin’s Resumes. “Applicant tracking systems check for the relevant keywords so if you don’t put the phrases in your resume, yours may not be selected.”
Equally important is the way you describe your experience in your resume. Conventional wisdom says a resume is a marketing tool and thus should have lots of adjectives and colorful descriptions, but hiring managers are trained to look beyond the fluff. “Everybody is a hands on executive and results driven,” says Mark Jaffe, president of Wyatt & Jaffe, the executive search firm. “Tell me what you’ve been responsible for, tell me what you accomplished and leave off the poetry.”
Many people make the mistake of listing all their skills, but don’t explain what they were able to do with them. Listing your accomplishments instead of a bunch of fluff will help your resume stand out because it lets the person know you have a proven track record, and not only possess the skills needed for the job. If you’ve managed 100 people or boosted sales by 25% in a year, make sure that’s in the resume, says Schlinger.
Given the current state of the job market, employers are inundated with thousands of resumes, so another way to have your resume stand out is to keep it short, simple and easy to read. “The whole world has a bad case of ADD. Attention spans are down to two or three seconds,” says Jaffe. “The way to stand out is to be elegant and concise and keep things very simple and clean.”
According to Skillings, since employers are known to quickly scan resumes having a summary section on the top of your resume is a great way to capture the hiring manager’s attention. Skillings says the summary should pull the “greatest hits” of the resume and put them up top in a bullet format or in short paragraphs. You can have an introductory sentence telling a little bit about your experience and then bullet points of your greatest achievements and accomplishments. “People are lazy and have a short attention span,” says Skillings. “They are going to look at the first few sentences and if they don’t see what they want they are going to move on.”
One area of the resume that is hotly debated is the cover letter. Proponents think it’s a must while skeptics say it’s unnecessary in this day and age. One thing they agree on is that if you are sending a cover letter, keep it short. According to career coach Dorothy Tannahill Moran, use the cover letter to whet the appetite as to what the person will see in the resume. Refrain from writing a book about yourself and why you make a great fit. Your resume should speak for itself and the cover letter should inform the person of what job you are applying for. “Don’t spend too much time on it,” says Tannahill Moran. “A lot of companies simply ignore them while other companies may electronically store them but not access them,” she says.