One of the first steps to landing your next job is producing a resume that effectively showcases you to a potential employer. Your resume, along with your cover letter, often serves as the first impression a hiring manager has of you. And just as you would wear a sharply pressed suit to a job fair to make a favorable first impression, you should take similar care to craft a resume that is polished and professional to maximize your chances of landing an interview and securing a job.
Most resumes consist of your contact information, followed by sections that detail your experience, skills, education, and relevant interests (usually in that order). There are numerous resume templates online that you can download and swap out boilerplate language with your own information. But you’ll need to put in a little more elbow grease to craft a resume that really stands out.
Formatting Your Resume
In most cases, it’s best to keep your resume formatting fairly simple. Use a conventional font, such as Garamond or Times New Roman, one-inch margins, and 11-point or 12-point font. If you’re sending your resume as an email attachment or uploading it to the potential employer’s website, save it as a PDF document first.
Not only can using fancy fonts or underused file formats make it hard for the employer to read or even access your resume, doing so can make your resume inaccessible by Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS systems). ATS systems are software programs that hiring managers use to manage the interview process. Often, when you upload your resume to a potential employer’s website, you are sending your resume to their ATS system. If the ATS system cannot open your file or recognize its fonts, it’s unlikely a hiring manager will invite you to interview.
Listing Your Education and Experience
Unless you just graduated from college, list your educational experience last. Let your work experience precede it. The further out from your graduation date, the less necessary it is to include items under education, such as the courses you took or extracurricular activities in which you participated.
Avoid describing your previous roles by listing the duties for which you were responsible. Instead, list the impact your work had on the organization in concrete terms. For example, if your responsibilities included marketing support for the sales department, you might want to describe yourself as part of a team that helped increase revenue by X dollars. Not only are you showing your potential employer the value your work added, but you are also signaling that you will focus on adding tangible value to the role to which you are applying if hired.
Many ATS systems rank the resumes they receive sorting them by keywords and phrases the hiring manager has chosen. For example, say you’re applying for a sales job and the job description notes the employer wants their next employee to be proficient in Salesforce, SaaS, and proposal writing. The ATS system will sort all the resumes by those keywords, so when the hiring manager logs in to see who’s applied for the job, the first resumes they see are the ones with the highest number of matching keywords. And most hiring managers are not going to go through every resume to determine whether some candidates do, in fact, have the skills they need but have not communicated them clearly.
How do you know what keywords to incorporate? Start by looking at the skills and qualifications that are listed on the job description. Also, look for job descriptions for similar positions at different firms and see what kinds of skills and qualifications are emphasized in them. Use the “Skills” section of your resume to highlight them prominently. Also, fold them into your descriptions of your prior work experience.
Choosing the Right Resume Type
You may wonder whether you should draft a traditional resume that clearly lists your job experiences in chronological order or a functional resume — one which is formatted to highlight and emphasize your skills first before your experience and education. If you’re applying for a role in which you have no direct experience but for which you have plenty of transferable skills, you should use a functional resume to highlight those skills. If you’re considering a job opening similar to a position you held previously, a traditional, chronological resume would be the better option. Of course, to maximize your options, you’ll want to draft a couple of different functional resumes that you can further tailor in short order to apply for specific job opportunities.
Go over your resume with a fine-toothed comb for grammatical errors, then have someone else with a good eye for grammar do the same. Read it aloud as well to check for any awkward sentences or phrases. Hiring managers may receive hundreds of resumes for any given position, and a single typo can land your resume in the discard pile.
Make sure that your resume is consistent with information that is publicly visible on your social media pages as well. If your LinkedIn page is three years out-of-date, update it. Hiring managers often glance at candidates’ social media profiles; a seriously outdated or inaccurate profile can undermine your chances of landing an interview.