Why do we all put off updating our resumes? They act as the bridge between us and our next dream job, yet, most of us dread the idea of having to update them. Depending on where you are in your career, the thought of having to either fit your many accomplishments and experiences on one page or somehow fill one page with the limited work experience you’ve had seems difficult to everyone.
The expectations of the resume have evolved over the years as the job market moved online and Applicant Tracking Systems have become more commonplace. We can also use these new systems to our advantage, once we understand how they work. We reached out to dozens of recruiters and HR professionals to find out what they are looking for in the perfect resume this year. Let’s run through their top tips for landing your dream job this year.
Tip 1: Take a step back before jumping in.
You’ve accomplished a lot in your life, why rush to condense it to just a few pages? Resumes are not just a rundown of what you’ve done, but how you will fit into the specific role that you’re applying to.
We reached out to Kenneth L. Johnson, the President of East Coast Executives for his take on this concept. He said, “Don’t make your resume about you. Yes, it should be skill-set and accomplishment based but it needs to also create a picture of your unique value as it relates to the company and position you are seeking. Focus in on the problem you seek to solve.”
It’s commonplace to start the job search by first crafting a resume, rather than taking the time to decide exactly what it is that you’re looking for in your next role, and how that compares with what the recruiter is looking for. Mike Cox (author of the book, Living Your Best Career) suggested, “Don’t look for the resume to set your direction. Figure out what you want from a job before finding openings or writing a resume”.
Before you start writing your resume, create a document with at least three lists: one detailing your accomplishments and experience, another which outlines everything you’re looking for in your next job, and a third with all of the requirements for the job you’re applying for. Continuously update this list based on the descriptions of each application.
Tip 2: Customize every resume you send to work with Applicant Tracking Systems.
I know, this is the exact opposite of what you want to do. However, the chances of getting an interview are much higher if you send out 10 customized resumes rather than 100 generic ones. This is important to remember because it impacts every step of the process that follows.
In 2019, the majority of mid to large-sized companies are using Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to simplify and condense the hiring process. These systems assess resumes based on keywords and how much they directly relate to the job description. This is why if you’re sending out the same generic resumes to various jobs (all with different descriptions, obviously) your resume will never see human eyes. Although it can seem redundant writing to please these bots, ignoring them will also lead you to enter the infinite rejection loop.
Every recruiter and HR manager we reached out to stressed the importance of writing to please these systems - this is just how important they are.
Mollie Moric from Resume Genius shared some surprising findings on the importance of writing for these bots with us, “Research suggests that as many as 75% of candidates do not make it past the ATS screening stage. Therefore, it’s critical that job seekers in 2019 learn how to optimize their resumes for applicant tracking systems.”
Think of working towards pleasing these bots like how you would optimize a website or blog for search, or the practice of SEO. Although it doesn’t always produce the most eloquent writing, it ensures your work will actually be seen.
Here are the top 3 tips to ensure that your resume ends up with the 25% of candidates that make it into the pile that beat the ATS.
1. In most cases, leave the fancy formatting for after you get the job: “Applicant Tracking Systems are fussy, and those fancy resumes are often unrecognizable after being scanned by the software. The rule of thumb for applying online is to submit a “safe” ATS-friendly resume with simple formatting and no tables.” - Jamie Chapman, Begin Within
2. Use the right keywords: “Without a doubt, using the right keywords will help an applicant’s resume survive the screening process. However, this needs to be a mix of both smart and stupid keywords. Smart keywords are anything that relates to the actual job, such as project management, negotiations, or specific computer program proficiencies. The stupid keywords are things like “excellent communication skills” or “team player.” We all know that clichés like this are boring and really don’t tell us much about the applicant, however, if HR uses those phrases in the job description, they must appear in the resume. Overall, computers are looking for a 50%-80% match on the keywords alone.” - Donna Shannon - Personal Touch Career Services
3. The system sorts the information resumes contain based on the headings, so stick with the standard: “If you are using a heading such as “Related Corporate Experience” instead of “Work Experience” the ATS may not be able to accurately process the information. Instead, stick to standard headings such as “Skills” and “Education.” This will allow you to avoid the possibility of the ATS placing your carefully crafted experience in the wrong category or being unable to process it all together.” - Mollie Moric, Resume Genius
Not only do ATS systems favor customization of resumes based on the job description, but recruiters do too. Let’s talk about how to make the most of the little space you have and make a strong first impression.
Tip 3: Think of your resume as a marketing tool.
You’re not going to land a job solely based on your resume. But, it will help you land an interview. Just as all marketers work to tell their brand’s story, you need to create and articulate your personal story through this resume. The goal of the resume is to bypass the bots, get reviewed by the hiring manager, and then get called in for an interview.
Your resume is a marketing document. Its purpose is to get you an interview - not land the job. This leaves you with the freedom to decide how you want to tell your story to best align with the role. Keep in mind when telling your story that recruiters are busy - they don’t have time to read each resume under a microscope. Tell your story in a way that is fast to read through and easy to understand.
“Six seconds isn’t enough time to read a life story. If your experience is solid, you shouldn’t need to explain yourself; get right to the point and let your credentials do the talking. You never need more than four bullet points per job title or role, and your entire resume should fit on a single page. When it comes to resumes, less is more.” - James Meincke, Closer IQ
Keep the resume short and sweet, like a preview for the main event - the interview.
Tip 4: Offer the recruiter the option to learn more.
Since our lives are so interconnected with the digital world, especially if you’re a designer or content producer, it’s beneficial to include a link to your portfolio, website, or LinkedIn profile on your resume. This link would typically be located in the top third part of your CV, in line with your email address and contact information.
Greg Kuchcik from Zeeto.io suggests to “Include links, portfolios, or work samples. The rules of the current hiring norm say that we look at your resume but really I'd rather see how you actually work if I can. If you are applying as a designer I'd rather see your designs as soon as possible.”
Debra Boggs, the founder of D&S Professional Coaching also added that adding a link to your LinkedIn profile (just making sure that your profile is up to date) is a great way to give more context and color to your resume. Especially if you add videos, images, and other examples of your work to your profile for hiring managers to review.”
When you’re adding links to your resume, ensure they look neat, contain a relevant keyword (even your name or field will work) and are easy to find on the document. Katherine Espinoza, Head of Human Resources at Rebrandly suggests “That applicants use branded links when sharing links to their portfolios and LinkedIn pages on resumes. It looks much neater and ensures I’m not clicking on a link that could lead to spam.” A branded link could look like this, for example, “Hannah.marketing/Portfolio”
You can also edit where the link goes in the link management platform if you end up updating the link to your portfolio for a different role. Since these links are trackable, they are even more beneficial to the applicant because it’s easy to track clicks and interactions.
For more information on Rebrandly and branded links, check out this video comparing the difference between generic short links and branded links.
Tip 5: Be honest, and be you.
This sounds counterintuitive because yes, you’re trying to impress bots, but it’s also important to showcase your personality a bit, as well as to stay genuine. Let's first talk about being honest. Recruiters know if you’re 21, you aren’t going to have that much work experience. But, by reading about your hobbies and interests, or seeing which clubs and societies you might have been part of, they’ll be able to gauge how good a cultural fit you might be for their company. This also goes for those of us later in our careers. Talk about your hobbies, even if it’s Monday night pick-up basketball with your colleagues.
Claire Pearson from Core Coaches noted that “It's refreshing to see a resume that is honest and authentic. Tell me exactly what type of position you are looking for. Tell me exactly what your best strengths and skills are. Don't water it down with a vague statement that would fit any number of jobs and doesn't tell me you are an expert in 13 different competencies. Even if it is true, I don't believe it. Keep it short, simple and as direct as possible.” Be honest, and showcase the strengths you have, rather than making ones up to “please” recruiters.
Greg Kuchcik from Zeeto.io continued on to say, “Show some personality. From your resume, all we know right now is that you are a name. Even though it might seem silly, list some hobbies, tech skills, certificates or achievements. HR preaches against hiring bias but we do it too. If your sports team is the same as mine you bet I'm going to give you a few extra minutes on the review. None of this will land you the job, but it may get you past the ATS.”
Over to you
Writing a resume can seem daunting to anyone, no matter what stage you’re at in your career. The key is to apply your strengths and accomplishments to the exact role you’re applying to. Don’t try to include everything you’ve ever done in your professional life, just include the things that matter to this role, and this company. It takes time, but your efforts will pay off in 2019!