Any savvy job-seeker knows that resumes are not the golden ticket to your next position. Hands down, the majority of jobs are obtained by way of networking. Nevertheless your resume does play a critical role in the selection process. It acts as a substantiating document that underscores your fit for the job, the accomplishments you are capable of achieving and how current (or not) your skill set is. If you fail to make these points readily apparent to your reader, even the best networking lead is liable to fall flat.
It is vital, moreover, that the resume you submit is targeted to the position for which you are applying. Most organizations today use applicant tracking systems. These are programmed to allow only those resumes that match the search criteria (i.e. skills/keywords) to make it through the screening process. So, if you don't take the effort to focus your resume to the requirements of the position, you have wasted your time and lost your opportunity to appear as a strong candidate.
Even if your resume is passed through to a human reviewer, however, it is far too likely that it will land in the "round file." The reviewer's job is to eliminate as many submissions as possible so that the interview process is winnowed to a chosen few. To ensure your own resume avoids this fate, you need to do the following:
1) Capture the reviewer's attention immediately
Most resume reviewers claim to spend 30-seconds or less determining whether or not your resume is worthy of further attention. Therefore your key skills and experience need to be readily visible and literally leap out at the reader. This means that you will not only need to match the skills/keywords in the posting but also place them at the top of your resume. And, whatever you do, do not bury these keywords in long lists or dense blocks of text.
Depending on your line of work, it is generally best to provide a skills grid just underneath your contact information. Highlight your significant selling points by surrounding them with plenty of white space and use bullet points to further catch the eye of the reader. Your most important skills should appear towards the top and to the left of your resume since this is the order in which they will be scanned.
2) Eliminate fluff words that turn off recruiters and hiring managers
Too many resumes are filled with words and phrases that hold little meaning to the reviewer. Worse yet, if you use too many of these filler terms, you are likely to either bore or even annoy your reader.
Terms like self-motivated, go-getter, results-driven and hard worker can be viewed as nothing more than self-promotional claims. A national survey of 2,201 hiring managers and human resources professionals (conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder) actually ranked these words under "Worst Resume Terms." Instead of making claims about what you can do, reviewers want to see specific challenges you faced and the positive results you were able to achieve.
3) Provide a sufficient number of measurable accomplishments
In addition to the use of too many unsubstantiated claims, recruiters complain that many resumes do not include enough targeted, measurable achievements. To make this easier, it can be useful for job-seekers to create an ample list of example statements that display your various areas of expertise. Then you can cherry-pick and "plug in" accomplishments as needed for each resume you submit.
Do not forget that placement is important. You want the bulleted statements that are most critical to the particular position placed towards the top. You can readily achieve this by creating a special section just underneath your skills' grid. Entitle it "Career Highlights" or "Highlights of Qualifications." Then list your selected statements that will best reflect your suitability for that specific position.
This special section works especially well for older job-seekers. If you have significant work experience, some of your most relevant accomplishments may have taken place several years ago. Using a chronological format, these could easily fall on page two of your resume. However, with a Special Highlights section at the top of page one, you can draw from your entire work experience, showcase your most significant achievements and place them where they are likely to be viewed and noted.
And do not forget that, whenever possible, your achievements should be further validated by quantifying your results. Both bottom-line numbers and percentages will help the reviewer understand the scope of your accomplishment. Phrases like, "reduced time to market by 20 percent" or "increased sales 15 percent within a six-month period" go a long way to illustrating what you are capable of achieving.
Remember that the main goal of your resume is to highlight your achievements so that potential employers are made aware of what you are capable of producing and your fit for the position. Therefore, make this all-important document both compelling and clear. Present your skills and accomplishments in an eye-friendly manner and customize your resume to meet the qualifications of each position. (For additional help on how to write a resume that will serve you well in today's job market, please check out my earlier post: Words to Use and Words to Lose On Your Resume.)
With a nod from your networking partner and a clearly written document that underscores your skills and experience, you are well positioned to become THE candidate of choice. So learn to articulate your abilities, network like crazy and present yourself with confidence. Due to the hiring spikes in early fall, you just might be landing your next job before you know it!
Mary Eileen Williams is a Nationally Board Certified Career Counselor with a Master's Degree in Career Development and twenty years' experience assisting midlife jobseekers to achieve satisfying careers. Her book, Land the Job You Love: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50, is a step-by-step guide that shows you how you can turn your age into an advantage and brand yourself for success. Updated in 2014, it's packed with even more critical information aimed at providing mature applicants with the tools they need to gain the edge over the competition and successfully navigate the modern job market. Visit her website at Feisty Side of Fifty.com and celebrate your sassy side!