By: Maria Ward

Stick to the Relevant Facts
Don’t just send out the same run-of-the-mill résumé to every potential employer. If you are one of many who is guilty of this mistake, consider this: In the eyes of the recruiter—who, by the way, can spot a generic one a mile away—if a candidate hasn’t taken the time to tailor their résumé, why should they take the time to read it? But don’t panic. This doesn’t mean you need to start from scratch every time you apply for a new job.

First, create a core résumé that includes every skill, accomplishment, and employee-of-the-month award of your career. Treat this like an outline and then make necessary edits according to the position you’re applying for. Look at the job description, and for each requirement listed, be sure to pair it with a relevant point on your résumé. Once you have identified the professional experience and skills that are significant to the role, remove everything else. When you pad it with unnecessary fluff, the most important content can get buried. Your résumé is notyour life story and should only cover the most recent 10 to 15 years of your career history.

Make It As Long As It Needs to Be

So how long should the final document be? If every line passes the litmus test of relevance, otherwise known as the “So What?” factor, the length is irrelevant as far as experts like Dana Leavy-Detrick, founder of Brooklyn Resume Studio, are concerned. “I always take it on a case-by-case basis, but you don’t want the information crammed on one page,” says Leavy-Detrick. Chances are, your résumé will be read on a computer screen and the number of pages won’t matter as much anyway.

But if one or two lines push the content onto a second page, there are a few simple tweaks that can help you fit it all on one side of an A4. Take off “references available upon request.” If an employer wants to see your references, they’ll ask! Remove your physical address from your contact information, particularly if you aren’t local as this may hurt your chances at getting asked for an interview. Reduce the top and bottom margins to .5 and the left and right to .75. Get rid of orphan words (single words that occupy a line). Put numbers and percentages in numerical form, including numbers that are traditionally spelled out. But resist the urge to rely on acronyms. If your résumé is processed through an applicant tracking system, something as crucial as a certification may not be picked up.

State Your Objective

The tired-old “X-professional seeking Y-position” at the top of a résumé has been revamped and rebranded as a summary section that, when used effectively, will pull the reader in, not put them to sleep. “What the summary section means today is really different than what it meant 15 or 20 years ago,” says Alex Twersky, cofounder of Resume Deli. Placed underneath the header, Twersky suggests approaching this all-important real estate like a distilled version of an elevator pitch, highlighting specific achievements you have made across your career that demonstrate why you are just the sort of professional for the job. “Because we live in such a short attention span universe, it’s critical to have a clearly defined elevator pitch,” says Twersky. “Without that, you are in jeopardy of not capturing the attention of the hiring audience as quickly or effectively as possible.”

In general, brevity is a résumé best practice, but as a rule of thumb, the summary section should be two to three sentences. Studies show you have about six seconds before a recruiter turns to the next prospective candidate in the pile, and the thinking behind the summary section is to steal focus at the first glance. “It’s like a movie trailer—it excites the viewer and tells you if you want to see the film,” explains Twersky. “And if it captures my attention, then I am going to get really excited about reading the rest of your résumé.”

Avoid Too-Trendy Words

Every year, LinkedIn puts out its annual list of most commonly used (read: overused) résumé words, and they make recruiters cringe. The number one offender? Motivated. But before you reach for a thesaurus and replace one lackluster adjective with another, remember this: don’t tell them, show them. Show potential employers just how motivated you really are by providing specific examples of when you went above and beyond. Finally, pinpoint any passive phrases (think: “responsible for”) and swap these out with power verbs and words that convey action, like assisted, managed, presented, created. And maybe do a quick Ctrl + F for LinkedIn’s most overused résumé words of the year before:motivated, passionate, creative, driven, extensive experience, responsible, strategic, track record, organizational, expert.

Sell Your Accomplishments

Arguably the most self-promotional document out there—save for Instagram—the résumé is no place for modesty. According to Leavy-Detrick, the biggest mistake people make is underselling their value. What is it about your accomplishments that makes you unique next to, say, a candidate with a similar background or training? The key is to take a results-focused approach. “A lot of people think that to have an accomplishment, it has to be measurable like increased revenue or site traffic, but it can also be qualitative,” Twersky explains. “Perhaps you created a team-building program that boosted morale and cohesiveness.”

When in doubt, use the STAR model—which stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result—to help you restructure responsibilities as accomplishments. STAR statements describe the context (situation or task) followed by a purpose (action) and the outcome of that action (result). Don’t just say you “created over 50 target communication programs each year.” Expand upon this to include the purpose of the action and the result, such as, “. . . designed to raise product awareness contributing to a 6% increase in market share in fiscal year 2015.” The trick is to show how you added value. “Ultimately, when an employer hires you, they are hiring you to make an impact,” Twersky says. “They aren’t just hiring you to fill a seat.”

Take a Less Is More Approach

The best way to ensure your résumé gets a serious look is to keep it simple. Unless you are hoping to land a gig as a graphic artist, avoid overly flashy or intricate design that may detract from the professional nature of the document, or worse, its readability (more on that later). But that’s not to say it should be devoid of all visual interest. Maybe add a smart monogram to the header that you can incorporate in your cover letter and email signature. This will foster a personal brand and lend a more packaged feel to your application materials. Or change the section headings from black to dark blue. A black-and-white scheme is standard, but a subtle use of color will save your CV from drowning in a sea of eggshell and ecru.

And if you’re still feeling limited, use a QR code that directs readers to an online portfolio where you can showcase all of your best work in a more creative fashion. QR codes have a definite hip factor, and while it will come across as tech savvy, they are relatively simple to create.

Font is also crucial. Times New Roman is the go-to for many. Too many, according to some experts. So opt for something simple and thin such as Georgia, Book Antiqua, or Tahoma. And steer clear of fussy fonts like Comic Sans. When it comes to size, don’t go smaller than 9 points or larger than 12 in the body of your résumé for maximum readability. To make it even more skimmable, increase the line spacing (or leading) to at least 120 percent of the font size. (For example, if the font is 10 point, the leading should be 12 point.) Headings should be 2 points larger than the rest of the text and either bolded or italicized, but avoid setting any type in all caps, it can be harder to read.

Don’t Forget to Proofread Beyond Spell Check

A résumé littered with errors is sure to wind up in the trash. It can be tempting to run your résumé through spell check and call it a day. But there are many common mistakes that your computer might not catch: your vs. you’re, except vs. accept,then vs. than, there vs. their, and so on. Proper tense usage might also fall through the cracks. For example, an accomplishment in a former position should be stated in the past, while those relating to your current role belong in the present.

To sidestep an embarrassing blunder, try putting your résumé away for a night and then give it a thorough inspection with fresh eyes. Print it out and carefully read each line aloud, backward (one word at a time from right to left), then scan it diagonally (like an X) from both sides. Having a hard copy to review will also make it easier to spot any formatting inconsistencies. Better yet, enlist someone you trust to review your résumé. Start by giving them just 30 seconds to read, and then ask them to tell you the three most memorable takeaways. If they can pinpoint the key information at a glance, so will a recruiter.

When to Hire a Résumé Stylist

If you are applying to positions that you think you are qualified for but you’re not getting the right response, you may want to consult an expert. “That’s a clear sign that something with the résumé is not working for you,” advises Leavy-Detrick. A résumé professional can help with anything from a slight revamp to a full rewrite. Light editing can happen in as little as a few days, but crafting a new résumé will require the experts to dig more deeply into your professional history. “It’s almost like a life interview,” explains Twersky. “A rewrite is tailored to clients whose original résumés are really missing a level of detail that would not allow us to work with them on a purely virtual basis.” And don’t be nervous about going back with questions or changes, that’s part of the process.

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