1. Clear Out the Clutter
Instead of a laundry list of job responsibilities and daily tasks, focus your resume on how you’ve solved problems for employers, says Donald Burns, executive career coach at Executive Promotions, LLC. “These success stories are one of the most important elements of a resume. You not only need to show results you’ve accomplished for employers, but be sure to show the context, especially if these results were achieved under less-than-ideal conditions. It’s not about the quantity of information you present, it’s about telling your career story through your achievements and results, says Burns.
2. Know Your Audience
One of the keys to good writing, even resume writing, is tailoring the message to your audience, according to Stephen Van Vreede, executive solutions architect at IT Tech Exec, a career management, resume and job search firm, but when the subject is you, and you’re writing your own resume, even professional writers can get stymied. “The most important element in a resume, to me, is considering your audience. Even with an impressive list of employers, contract projects and successful consulting work, not to mention glowing references and testimonials, there’s no way you’ll be considered if your audience isn’t getting the message,” says Van Vreede.
Van Vreede advises candidates to ask themselves, “Who is going to read this resume, and what do they expect to see? Is the message you’re conveying resonating with the intended audience? If the answer is ‘not quite,’ it can signal that your resume needs a revision that will resonate with recruiters, hiring managers and HR professionals,” Van Vreede says.
3. Tell a Compelling Personal Story
Developing a personal brand based on your own career story is critical to avoid what career expert, Donald Burns calls “all bland and no brand.”
“I see this type of resume so often that I had to invent a shorthand description for it; with these resumes, I have no idea on first glance what candidates are looking for or what they’re really good at,” Burns says.
He advises candidates to dig deeper and to find a story within their work history and experience that will make their career narrative more interesting and engaging for potential employers.
4. Use Sales Tactics to Sell Yourself
The most important element in a sales resume are metrics like sales figures, number of deals closed, revenue targets achieved and so on. “What’s needed is clarification on important details; metrics regarding performance. If you’re in sales, and your performance measured on sales results, you need to include some numbers,” says Ross Macpherson, president of Career Quest and an expert in advanced career strategies.
Without these metrics, Macpherson says, there isn’t a way to differentiate youself from other candidates with similar backgrounds and experience. “If the content included under each position only focuses on your responsibilities, you’re missing the chance to ‘sell’ not just what you’ve done, but how well you did it – that’s critical in sales,” Macpherson says.
5. Keep Your Resume Fresh and Updated
At least once a year, make time to review and refresh your resume, says Caitlin Sampson, CHRP, CPRW, CEIP and Career Consultant with Regal Resumes. You should revisit the document’s formatting, make sure all information about current and past employers and responsibilities is correct and add any new skills, experience or knowledge you’ve gained over the last twelve months.
You also should remove any work experience that’s more than 10 to 15 years old and toss any work experience that’s not relevant to the positions for which you’re currently applying. “If you worked at a grocery store for three months 22 years ago, you don’t need to include that information,” says Sampson. And don’t forget to proofread. A few missed commas or misspelled words may not seem like a big deal, Sampson says. To a hiring manager or employer, however, these details can make a huge difference. If you’re not certain, have a friend or colleagues take a peek and make sure to accept and incorporate their feedback.
6. Don’t Sell Yourself Short
There’s a time and a place for modesty and humility — your resume isn’t one of them, according to Cheryl Lynch-Simpson, executive career coach and resume expert with Executive Resume Rescue. “If your resume is too generic, it’s going to get lost in a sea of almost identical content that could be true of any candidate seeking similar roles,” Lynch-Simpson says.
Making sure to hone in on unique achievements, successes, skills and knowledge is key, she says, especially for a candidate who, while experienced, doesn’t have decades of work history behind them.
7. Don’t Lie
As the old saying goes, a lie may take care of the present, but it has no future. Nowhere is this truer than when conducting a job search. In a hyper-competitive talent market, it can be tempting to embellish your work history, exaggerate your IT skills or even claim to hold advanced degrees if it’ll give you an edge over other job seekers. Unfortunately however, even if these lies manage to go unnoticed at first, they’ll many times catch up with you; potentially landing you back among the ranks of the unemployed and with a bad reputation, according to Tracy Cashman, senior vice president and partner of Information Technology Search at WinterWyman.
“The unemployment rates have been the lowest since 2008, but the job market is still competitive enough to make some job seekers feel like they need to embellish their resumes. In some cases, for the long-term unemployed, they can feel desperate and they’re only thinking in the short-term, not the long-term impact of what’ll happen if they’re found out,” says Cashman.
8. Avoid Information Overload
Most employers want to quickly see dates, the scope of an applicant’s responsibility, the types of projects managed and other pertinent details, but there’s a fine line between including just enough detail to intrigue a hiring manager or recruiter and using too much detail, which can become overwhelming to a reader, says Laura Smith-Proulx, certified professional resume writer and career management coach with An Expert Resume.
“Stick to the highlights — identify the most important elements of your career and incorporate project budgets, technology skills, time and money savings, and the volume of team members you’ve managed to better focus the resume,” Smith-Proulx says.
“Recruiters often look for quantifiable figures and results in a resume, as these metrics speak volumes about achievement and ROI to an employer,” Smith-Proulx says.
9. Avoid Buzzword Burnout
If your resume is crammed with buzzwords, jargon and what Executive Promotions, LLC’s Donald Burns calls “techno-gibberish,” you may be dooming your resume to the No pile, Burns says.
Sometimes, Burns says, in an attempt to outline quantifiable results, numbers and percentages, candidates succeed only in confusing potential readers with buzzwords and nonsensical phrases, he says.
“If you’re using too many buzzwords, or your resume’s crowded with numbers and percentages but lacking a context for those, it can be very difficult to read – that’s a common problem with most of the resumes I see, but especially IT resumes,” Burns says. Make sure your language is clear and plain to better appeal to and be understood by readers, he says.
10. How (And When) To Break the Rules
In some cases, resume rules are made to be broken. Executive Promotions, LLC’s Donald Burns says in some cases it’s necessary to completely subvert the traditional chronological order of a resume in order to present a candidate’s career in the best light.
“If you’ve created something very big at the beginning of your career and spend the rest of their professional lives building on that initial success, you must completely turn the traditional resume on its head to showcase that accomplishment,” Burns says.
“As a resume writer I must condense a typical two-hour career story into a document that can be read and understood in about six seconds,” says Burns. “The vast majority of successful people break through midway through their careers, or towards the end of their careers, but if that’s not the case, you can break the rules” and create an impressive, high-impact resume that highlights skills and experience and tells the right story, Burns says.
11. Position Your Accomplishments for Maximum Impact
Typically, a resume has between 10 and 15 seconds to make an impact on a recruiter, hiring manager or HR professional, says Regal Resumes’ Caitlin Sampson. That’s why it’s crucial that attention-grabbing achievements and information be positioned correctly for maximum effect.
“To make a resume more impactful at first glance, you have to position that information so it can be read and understood within a 10-to-15-second first glance,” she says. “Experience and expertise — if focused, effectively communicated and displayed – can easily capture the reader’s attention and create a favorable impression,” Sampson says.