by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
Most job-seekers understand — or should understand — that their resume is often the deciding factor in whether they get invited for a job interview. The resume is the key tool that hiring managers use to categorize job applicants (and virtually the only tool when networking is not involved). Given this information and knowledge, it is still astonishing how many job-seekers are using bad, boring, and weak resumes.
Rather than rehashing the common problems and errors found on resumes — which you can read in some of our other resume articles — this article focuses on seven tips that professional resume writers use when polishing the resume of a client. As one of my favorite job-seekers told me recently (as she was going for her second promotion in less than a year), resume-writing is an easy process once you understand the fundamentals, putting your own spin on the final product, and polishing it like a pro.
Before you lose out on another great job opportunity or give up even trying — and before you decide to spend big bucks on hiring a professional resume writer, try using these simple, but effective tips to polish your resume like a pro.
Resume Polishing Tip #1: Review Resume for Attractiveness, Focus, Marketability
Your resume should be visually attractive, relevant to the job you are seeking, concise, and current. (Text resumes do not need to be attractive, but do need to be relevant, concise, and current.)
A poorly formatted resume will not be the deciding factor in whether you receive an interview, but liken a nicely formatted (and easy-to-read) resume to wearing a professionally tailored outfit to the interview — you should dress your resume for success. Stick to one font (and one color — black), and utilize the white space in the margins and between headings to make your resume more appealing and inviting to read.
A resume that does not tell a story with a laser-sharp focus is practically useless. View your resume as you might a 15-second commercial — it has to have a hook and engage the viewer, or it’s lost. Remember that a resume is not your personal history — nor your employment history — but a document that clearly shows why you are the perfect candidate for the job you are seeking. If you are pursuing more than one type of job, you need a different resume for each job; if you are not sure of the job you are seeking, stop working on your resume and first find your job-search focus.
Concentrate on highlighting the most relevant education, training, and experience from the past 7 to 10 years — beyond that, your experiences are simply background information (and possibly irrelevant or obsolete anyway). De-emphasize anything older than about 15 years of experience — with anything beyond the 10-year mark focused on one or two key bullet points. Because some hiring decision-makers, especially recruiters expect to see your entire job history — and may do so if your candidacy progresses to the background-check stage, it’s best to list experience older than 15 years in bare-bones fashion with no dates or bullet points under a heading such as “Previous Professional Experience.”
Resume Polishing Tip #2: Move Most Important Elements to Beginning of Resume
Many hiring managers confess to not having the time to scan more than the first third (at most) of any resume; thus you may need to add and rearrange elements on your resume.
Start with a headline — just under your name and contact information — that clearly identifies you or the job you seek. One example, “Top Producing Sales Professional.” You can follow the headline with a more detailed branding statement or a qualifications summary. In the preceding example, the follow-up branding statement is: “Positioned to draw on record of achievement and success while delivering exceptional sales results that maximize unequivocal selling strengths.”
A qualifications summary (which goes by many other names, including Career Summary, Summary, Executive Summary, Professional Profile, Strengths, Skills, Key Skills, Skills Summary, Summary of Qualifications, Background Summary, Professional Summary, Highlights of Qualifications), highlights the 3-4 most important elements that demonstrate your fit for the job you seek. Ideally, these points match directly to the job requirements from a job posting. Substantiate each bullet point with specific examples and numbers.
Resume Polishing Tip #3: Modify Job/Work Descriptions to Focus on Specific Accomplishments and Impact
One of the most obvious — and important — fixes for many resumes is adjusting and rewriting work experiences from passive job descriptions to active portrayals of your experiences that focus on accomplishments and positive results.
Explain the work you completed in each relevant job in short bullet points that clearly demonstrate your impact on each job — and with each employer or organization. Current and recent jobs should have more bullet points than older jobs.
Remember to include relevant accomplishments from non-work experiences.
For more information on accomplishments and how to use them on resumes, read For Job-Hunting Success: Track and Leverage Your Accomplishments, and/or use our Accomplishments Worksheet.
Resume Polishing Tip #4: Utilize Keywords Based on Job(s) You Seek
Because most resumes are now dumped into databases from which hiring managers can search for the most qualified candidates, it is vital that your resume contains specific and relevant keywords and keyword phrases.
Keywords relate to the skills and experience the employer is seeking. More specifically, keywords can be precise “hard” skills — job-specific/profession-specific/industry-specific skills, technological terms and descriptions of technical expertise (including hardware and software in which you are proficient), job titles, certifications, names of products and services, industry buzzwords and jargon, types of degrees, and the like.
You can incorporate these keywords throughout your resume or include a keywords (Key Skills, Proficiencies, Competencies) section on your resume.
For more information on keywords and how to use them on your resume, read Tapping the Power of Keywords to Enhance Your Resume’s Effectiveness.
Resume Polishing Tip #5: Rethink Full Disclosure to Most Relevant
Your resume should tell a story — one that conveys your brand and tells the employer the benefits of hiring you. Your resume is not your life story, and should not include all the details of your work life.
Don’t worry so much about resume length as much as resume relevance. Too many job-seekers are focused either on including everything on the resume or struggling with the number of pages. Be as concise as you can (as current trend is toward shorter resumes), but focus on making your resume as long as it needs to be to tell the story of why you are an ideal candidate — and thus should be interviewed for the job.
Finally, remember a cardinal rule of resume-writing: disclose no negative information — or any information that could get you eliminated from contention.
Resume Polishing Tip #6: Fix Grammar, Spelling, Typos
An easy fix for many professional resume writers is catching and fixing the typos and spelling and grammatical errors — which you should easily be able to fix as well. These errors are among the major pet peeves of hiring managers — many of whom will not tolerate even one on your resume.
You can start reviewing your resume with spell-check, of course, but that’s not even the bare minimum. Proof-reading is essential to weed out other misspellings and typos a spell-check program won’t catch (such as spelling “manager” as “manger,” “possess” as “posses,” or “thorough” as “through”).
Especially be careful about company and software names, which are frequently misspelled and can damage your credibility.
Try reading your resume backwards — as well as enlisting a trusted friend or family member to proofread your resume.
Resume Polishing Tip #7: Adjust/Enhance and Brand Your Resume to Specific Job/Employer
Nothing resonates more with a hiring manager than reading a resume that uses phrasing that mirrors language used by the employer. A very simple way to add an extra level of effectiveness to your resume is modifying some of the ways you describe yourself and your experiences using some of the same words and phrases the organization uses to describe itself.
You can accomplish this task by reviewing the organization’s job description, Website, and/or other materials. For example, a job-seeker applying for a position with the Walt Disney Company might include words such as magic, dreams, innovation, excellence (based on how the company describes itself on its Website) in describing yourself.
Another effective method for branding yourself is with the file name of your resume. Instead of saving it as “resume,” use your name and a branding statement — such as “Jane Greene: Sales Professional.”
Final Thoughts on Resume Polishing for Job-Seekers
Perhaps it is not necessary to add this comment, but because the topic comes up regularly, please remember that all the elements of your resume must be truthful. Including a lie or misrepresentation on your resume is the fastest way to not only get booted from consideration but also damage your reputation.
One final tip. Instead of sending your nicely formatted resume as a Word document (which can look very different on different computers), save it as a PDF so that employers and hiring managers view your resume exactly as you formatted it. Remember, though, to check the file and format preference that each of your targeted employers prefer before you submit your resume.
Finally, remember that no matter how much you improve your resume through the polishing tips in this article, you can greatly increase your chances of landing an interview by utilizing a network contact to put in a good word for you with the hiring manager — and even hand-deliver your resume to that manager.
If, after reading this article, you are still hopelessly lost on how to improve your resume — and you are simply not getting job interviews — consider seeking out a professional. Low and no-cost options may be available to you through local job and career centers (as well as your college career center if you attended college). Of course, you could also hire a professional resume writer, but read first this article on our sister site, Choosing a Resume Writing Service: A How-To for Job-Seekers.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Have you taken advantage of all the many free resume tools, articles, samples, and more that we have in the Resume Resources section of Quintessential Careers?
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