While not quite an urban legend, the fate of online job applications is a well-known tale. How familiar does this sound? Unless a resume uses precise, formulaic keywords, it’s sucked into an applicant tracking system black hole and is never seen by an actual human. The remedy, the story goes, is to buzzword-vomit all over your resume and use overly formal language that, uttered out loud, would be about as riveting as the last prospectus you received in the mail.
The keyword part may have some notes of truth at the largest of large companies, but more commonly, resumes land directly in the laps of people who are real (and often delightful!) people, decision-makers, and eagerly waiting for the right candidate to apply.
How do you communicate that you’re the one they’ve been waiting for? By creating and submitting a lively, high quality resume that visually, succinctly, and intelligently describes what you’ve accomplished.
Let’s start with the visual component. While the formula certainly varies based on profession and industry, one effective sequence - in the order described - is: contact info; objective (optional); summary; tools/applications; work history; project/volunteer history (optional); education; professional development; publications or portfolio (optional); and awards (optional).
Unless you just earned an undergraduate degree, your education section should never be at the top of your resume. Classes you’ve taken to further your professional goals should be noted in a professional development section, alongside attended conferences, meetups, etc.
In your work history section, I implore you to mention what you did in bulleted lists. This is the “meat and potatoes” of your resume and should be as accessible and digestible as possible. Bulleted lists that start with a past tense verb are easy to read and tell a succinct story.
Spell out what you did and your achievements. As much as possible, describe the outcomes in measurable units. For example:
- Reduced spending in my department by 30% over the course of two quarters.
Next, lose the corporate jargon and buzzwords, which only make resumes noisy, drowning out and obfuscating the content that plays in your favor. If you must use a buzzword, use it strategically. If you truly did synergize something, explain what that something was and the outcome.
Now that you’ve freed up some space in your resume, pepper it with adjectives and adverbs that show your personality. Making your resume fun to read will score points with the hiring manager or recruiter and help you stand out.
Put yourself in the hiring manager or recruiter's shoes. You have one remaining interview slot for your accountant position. Would you rather speak to the candidate who "wrote financial reports," or the one who "let my inner geek shine by carefully and diligently preparing monthly financial reports?"
On a final note, please keep the length of your resume reasonable. I don’t ascribe to any page number rules. We’re all adults here and if you’re honest with yourself, you should know how much room you need to adequately describe your accomplishments. Generally speaking, less is more. Those reviewing resumes have a finite amount of time so make sure their attention lands on the right things first.
Flying in the face of the aforementioned not-quite-horror story many of us have been sold, please remind yourself while writing your resume that there is a real person reading it. By breathing life into your resume, you may just find yourself starting a new chapter in your career.