12 Steps To a Smart Resume
On your first job interview in years, you wouldn’t wear a suit that went out of style during the Clinton administration.
But when it comes to resumes, people don’t think twice about presenting themselves to prospective employers in a format that screams “outdated.”
Job hunting has changed, and that includes the type of resume that midlife job seekers should use to put their best foot forward.
Forget creating a one-size-fits-all document stuffed with descriptions of bygone jobs and patterned after something you found online. It won’t set you apart from the dozens — or hundreds — of other applicants for a position, according to professional resume writers and recruiters.
A resume has to summarize your skills, achievements and work history. But it also should look good and impart your personal brand — the approach you take to getting work done that distinguishes you from the crowd, says Laura Smith-Proulx, a corporate recruiter-turned-resume writer whose work has won professional awards. Ask yourself the right questions and “you come up with all kinds of values you wouldn’t normally think of using on a resume,” she says.
Here’s how to create a resume that’s personal, engaging and fresh:
1. Before doing anything, think about what makes you special.
Pinpoint how you’ve made a difference in your previous jobs. To do that, Smith-Proulx suggests asking yourself, “How was my department or company better because I worked there?” Maybe when you train other people they grasp the material the first time, or you saved the company money by being a morale booster. Whatever qualities allow you to achieve better results than your peers, even though you do the same work, that’s what to put in your resume, she says.
Starting a resume with a one-line career objective is passé. Instead, when you’ve come up with your “it” factor, create a headline that captures it, and run it at the top. Follow that with descriptions of your most important career achievements and skills, and summarize everything else.
3. Include social media contact information.
Since so many companies use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to prospect for job candidates, it’s imperative to have an account on at least one of those networks. Then include your user name along with your address, phone number and other contact information. If you’re OK with receiving texts from recruiters or hiring managers, include that number, too.
4. Stick to one page.
A resume is a summary, not a laundry list of every position you’ve ever held. If you’ve been in the work force 15 years or longer, focus on major accomplishments and use bullet points to summarize other positions. If you absolutely cannot be that concise, use the entire second page; a few lines dribbling onto that extra page makes it look like an afterthought, says Keith Feinberg with Robert Half International, a well-known staffing and placement firm.
5. Use keywords, not buzzwords.
Many companies have started using applicant tracking system (ATS) software to parse resumes or LinkedIn profiles to identify potential job candidates. Including specific keywords associated with a job improves the chance your resume will appear high in recruiters’ search results. On the other hand, some resume buzzwords and phrases have become so overused, recruiters don’t even register them. Feinberg recommends skipping “contributed to” and “familiar with,” because, he says, a future employer wants to know you’re an expert at something, and not just contributing to or familiar with it.
6. Write around bad times.
If you didn’t get promoted or were laid off because of the recession — or during previous rocky times — it’s OK to explain. It’s also fine to move older experiences relevant to the position you’re applying for higher up on your resume, Smith-Proulx says. Even though they may be from years ago, they show “you have a record of promotions. It colors your experience and who you are as a candidate,” she says.
7. Don’t include dates.
If you’re concerned you’ll encounter age bias, leave off graduation and other dates.
Tweak each resume to fit the specific position you’re going for. That could mean emphasizing certain skills over others when applying for one position, and for another, going into greater detail about a past job that was similar.
9. Pay attention to design.
Format your resume with the reader in mind. Include white space, with borders and space between sections. If you’re a graphics whiz, include a chart or graph to show off some of your accomplishments — but only if you can make it look good. A resume is no place for amateur hour, experts say.
Don’t undo your good work by submitting a resume with typos or other errors. Even in the age of LOL and IMHO, grammar counts. Put your resume through a spell checker and read it over a second time. If you still don’t trust yourself to catch mistakes, ask someone to review it for you. A friend or relative may see other holes you don’t. “They can say, ‘Do you realize you left off XYZ project or that you’re really good at leading engineering teams?’” Smith-Proulx says. “Take that to heart.”
11. Don’t include a picture.
Unless you work in an industry where looks matter, including a photo isn’t necessary. The exception is if you’re applying for work in certain European or other countries where including a photo is customary, Feinberg says.
12. Include a cover letter.
Always send a resume with a note introducing yourself. Don’t rehash the contents of your resume. Do explain why you’re qualified for a position — specifically what you can do for the company. Mention if you heard about the opening from a friend who works at the company or other connection. That type of “in” can give you a leg up. Close a cover letter by requesting an interview or let the hiring manager know you’ll be in touch.