...or how to avoid the first cull.
Think about it. You apply for a job you see advertised and send in your resume. Say you are one of 300 people to do so. The hiring company really want to fill the position with the best possible candidate; they are going to hire just one person. They will want to short-list and seriously consider 3 to 5 people for final interview. That will mean an initial selection of, say, 15 people for first interview, and to do that they may look in detail at up to 30 applicants. What is the first thing that happens? A quick speed-scan of the applicants. 270 of them will fail at the first hurdle and end up in the trash. What can you do to avoid that first cull?
Your resume needs to stand out, or you won’t have a chance. There are two things to consider when resume writing; what your resume looks like and what it contains. Both are very, and equally, important.
How your resume looks.
- Think of your audience, your reader. With hundreds of resumes to wade through, what you want them to see is yours. How do you make it stand out?
- Assuming you are a professional person applying for a professional position, you need a professional resume. That means no overdone graphics, silly borders or a kaleidoscope of colours. That might make it stand out, but for all the wrong reasons.
- Conversely, an uninteresting layout all in the same font and colour will look pretty dull.
- Colour is a good idea, but keep it under control. Think of some effective brochures or advertisements you have seen. What does the use of colour say about them? A good start is to stick to a muted colour for the headings and keep all the text in black.
- Use an easy to read font. Viewed on a computer screen, modern sans-serif fonts look best. Printed, serif fonts can be better. Either way, avoid informal fonts and keep the point size above 10 and preferably 12 to make it easy to read. Bear in mind that your resume will probably only be printed after it has been selected - so sans-serif is best.
- Keep it short. Two to three pages at the most. You can get all the relevant information into that space if you try hard. You may feel the need to list everything you have ever done even if it extends to 5 + pages. Empathise with the reader who may have 200 – 300 resumes to wade though. If you were them what would you prefer to read?
- Lay the pages out logically, using the breadth of the page. Ensure sections and headings progress as they should and keep it as simple as you can.
- Identify the sections clearly so that the reader can find them quickly.
What your resume contains.
From an intellectual standpoint, this is much harder to get right, but do ensure you have the appearance sorted out first, otherwise nobody is going to read it. The main point to keep in mind throughout is to keep it relevant to the reader. That ultimately means you need to customise your resume for every application - or at least those that you want to take seriously.
There are several main types of resume (that I will go into elsewhere) but in any case, you should address the following:
- First things first. Name, address and contact information should be on the top of the first page. Put your name and contact phone number on every subsequent page. The aim is to make it easy for the reader to contact you.
- Summary up front. Foreground your greatest and most relevant achievements. Get this up front as your resume will be scanned from the top and this will help to make an immediate strong impression and keep them reading. No more than a few sentences, and make sure they directly ‘sell’ to the needs of the job you are applying for.
- Achievements not history. Next move on your career history, with job titles, past employers’ names, locations and dates of employment. Focus on your main achievements in each role and not the nuts and bolts of every day on the job. Hirers are looking for how you have made a difference and how you stood out from the crowd, not the day-to-day activities of your job.
- Complete History. Gaps in your resume stand out to an experienced reader and will raise the wrong questions. If you were unemployed for a while, own up to it.
- Relevant Education & Training. After employment achievements summarise the source and type of your highest educational achievements. Don’t bother with short courses unless absolutely relevant to the role. If you have other relevant professional qualifications, put them in too.
- Omit unnecessary information. There is no need to list your hobbies or pastimes. At best they are irrelevant and at worst will say something negative about you.
- Be honest & believable. Exaggerating and lying are dangerous. Your information will be checked up on in references so make sure it holds water.
- Use perfect grammar and spelling. Nothing is a greater turn-off than a misspelt or poorly constructed resume. Run your resume through spell & grammar checks but also get it proof read to be sure you haven’t made basic errors.
In my years assessing job applicants, the one area of a resume most people do not get right is the career history/achievements section. If you have a known role you are applying for, you will have some information from the advertisement or job description detailing what the employer is looking for. Use it carefully and focus your job achievements to suit. This is not lying or misrepresentation - just putting the right information up front so it can work for you. Remember that your crowning achievement in a particular job may not suit this particular application.
There are other ways to enhance your chances that I will go into in future articles. A great cover letter can make a huge difference, as can getting on the phone and talking to the hirer.
Of course, you also have to actually be the right candidate with the right background for this to work for you.