Did you know recruiters typically spend only 4-6 seconds looking at a resume? And when your resume is uploaded into a system to match keywords first, it has even less opportunity to impress real people. With such a short time to sell yourself to a potential employer, you must convert your resume into a storytelling powerhouse.
Consider your resume as the first impression you make on recruiters and hiring managers. You want it to be a good one. Remember Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People: “To be interesting, be interested.” Now, think about meeting someone for the first time. Are you impressed if the person goes on and on, never asking you any questions, and turning the opportunity for a conversation into a one-way ticket a snooze train?
You don’t want your resume to picture you as that guy or gal. To convince a potential employer that you are the best fit for the job, you need to frame your experience and skills to fit what they view as essential in a way that tells a high-impact story
Build a Complete Story (But Don’t Include the Kitchen Sink)
You don’t need to include every activity that remotely resembles work, like jobs, volunteer experiences, or internships, in your resume. (Except if you’re just out of school, or when you switch careers, and thus have little direct experience.) But if you’ve held a few positions even loosely related to your degree/field, you should concisely describe how you’ve positively impacted the most recent and relevant organizations, while also condensing or eliminating the “extras.” If you have too many old items, your resume can get unnecessarily or seem totally outdated, both of which frustrate recruiters and hiring managers.
Whether paid or unpaid, internships provide valuable experience. But unless you held a leadership position that aligns with what recruiters ask for, or you’re looking for your first post-college job, it’s time to remove the college internships.
Listing courses you’ve completed is rarely useful, and serve to clutter up your resume. Two exceptions worth mentioning: 1) you’re taking courses right now and want to show your interest in continuing education; or 2) you need to show a baseline understanding of a particular industry or skill (possibly useful with a shift in industries).
GPA or Test Scores
In highly competitive fields, where there may be some rank based on your grade point averages or your test scores (e.g., GMAT, GRE, LSAT), it can be prudent to list scores. But otherwise, once you hit the workforce playing field, most people no longer care about grades or tests. More impressive will be how you use that knowledge to produce results and show an interest in continuing to learn.
It’s not that you should remove any reference. In fact, it’s good to include the name of the organization, how long you’ve volunteered, and any special positions you held. But unless the additional task details are directly relevant to the job role you apply for, keep this section brief.
When I was first out of grad school, I applied for roles as an instructional designer. But that wasn’t in my degree title. I had experience with what the hiring managers were looking for, but I needed to show it, so I included teaching info from Miami University. Now that I’ve been in the workforce for 10 years, those first few jobs aren’t impactful anymore. If someone happens to ask me if I’ve ever taught before, I can say “yes” and that it was one of my favorite roles. But I don’t need it to take up space on my resume.
Make Sure the Details Are Relevant and Appropriate
When I was in grad school as a teaching assistant, I was eager to grade my first set of resumes. Most were ok, but also didn’t stand out. However, one did stand out, and not in the “all press is good press” sort of way.
In the summary area, the guy who submitted this questionable resume droned on about his personal interests, which included Bombay Sapphire martinis, cigars, watching classic movies, and playing golf. There are at least two major things wrong with this approach. First, at 23 years old, focusing on all the “adult” sort of things he thought he was supposed to like made him sound like he was trying too hard. Two, even if those were his major interests, unless he was applying to Bombay or another company selling alcohol or tobacco products, his weekend life failed to sell him as a productive worker.
If plan to include details about personal interests, be prepared to talk to them in case you run into a fellow runner or baker, for example. I’m still in the camp that the personal interests don’t belong on the resume unless they directly relate to something that can benefit the organization and role you’re applying to. If you want the recruiters to glean more about your personality, they have all sorts of chances in the interview, or when they check out your LinkedIn or Facebook profiles (and rest assured they will check them both).
Always Proofread Before It Leaves Your Hands
If you realize you’ve made an error on the resume, fix it in as many areas as you can. If a hiring manager already has it in his or her hands, there’s not much you can do for that resume customization. But you’ve either already uploaded it to online job boards or plan to shortly. Now’s the time to improve your resume by editing away the errors.
Read it yourself. Twice.
Follow good practice of editors: read the resume all the way through at least twice.
The first time, run spell and grammar check, but remember they don’t catch words that are spelled correctly but written out of context. Review to catch and fix typos, such as inconsistent punctuation, wrong spelling of words such as “there” when you meant “their.”
The second time, read it like you’re the hiring manager. Are all the details clear to someone who doesn’t have the intimate knowledge of the exact experience you had on the job? Have you answered the job ad to show how your skills can positively impact the organization?
Read it backwards.
Our brains have trained us to skip past mistakes when we know what we’re supposed to be reading, so take a peek reading your resume backwards. You might just catch that you’ve missed the “l” in “public speaker.”
Have someone else read it.
Call in a favor and have your significant other, parent, teacher or friend read through the resume. Have them ask questions when they don’t get what you’re talking about. It may seem obvious to you, and you may think you don’t have to spell out acronyms when you’re applying for a role in your industry, but guess what? A lot of hiring managers aren’t experts in each field in which they’re recruiting, so you do need to convince them you’re the best fit–that happens by being specific, but also keeping it simple.
Make Sure All Pages Are Connected
When all resumes were handed out as paper copies, you made sure you had your name and page numbers listed on every page. Nowadays, your resume may be uploaded into a system that removes your formatting and doesn’t include standard pages/page breaks, but you still want to keep all “pages” connected with your name and page number of number. A recruiter may ask about a detail on page 2, and you can then find it quickly as you scan through your own copy.
There are a lot of moving parts when you’re actively searching for jobs and customizing your resume. Your story needs to be complete, but not long-winded. You need to include enough information to make sense and be clear, but before you start publishing and uploading your resume for potential jobs, you need to cull it to remove outdated or irrelevant information.