There is a ton of competition in today’s shrinking job market, meaning it is more important than ever to stand out among the masses—starting with your resume. We aren’t talking about going out and buying bright flashy paper to print your resume on—it’s about sharpening the content and making your skills and qualifications really stand out at first glance.
Considering recruiters spend an average of six seconds looking at a resume, it’s essential that you capture their attention immediately. What’s more, more and more companies are turning to applicant tracking systems (ATS), also referred to as resume screening software, to screen job candidates. With that in mind, we have compiled a list of tricks to get your resume noticed.
“Employers want a resume that is specifically for the job title/description they are hiring for,” explains coach Marla J Williams. “They expect you to clearly show how and why you fit the position in a specific organization.”
So, target your resume to the company you are applying for. Do your research on both the position and the organization.
“LinkedIn can provide great info on the company. If it is a publicly traded company you are applying to, you will find annual reports at your local library in the business section. Trade publications and directories can also provide valuable info as can publications like Business in Vancouver,” says coach Mary Kruger. “Include your experience that is most relevant to the company you are targeting. That means customizing your resume for each job you apply for. Yes, it is a lot of work, but you want to put quality into each application you send out. It is quality not quantity that will get you the job!”
On the flip side, coach Terry DellaVecchia says you want it to sound natural. “One caveat, don’t force it. Optimizing your resume with job description verbiage should still feel natural, in other words, it has to make sense.”
Use keywords from the job posting in your resume to ensure the ATS doesn’t automatically disregard it.
“Use keywords and list skills from the job posting to stand out to computers reading your resume for the first pass-through and to get through the first quick skim of a human reviewer who is looking for reasons to toss a certain percentage of resumes in order to focus on finalists,” coach Leonard Lang explains.
Take it a step further and use the research you have done on the company to incorporate their language into both your resume and cover.
“You want to talk the talk,” Mary Kruger advises. “Check out company websites, company promotional and marketing information and job postings to glean this information. Get a feel for the company’s values and see if you can weave that into your resume.”
Once you have done your research, figure out what the company is looking for and which language to use, you want your relevant skills and qualifications to appear on your resume in a clear and concise way. Most importantly, place them at the top to ensure they are seen by recruiters.
Ask yourself these questions:
“Take the time to really think about the specific position that you are applying for and write up your qualifications summary accordingly to showcase your relevant skills making it obvious to them how you would bring value to their organization,” explains coach Marla Williams.
When it comes to deciding what experience to include on your resume, Mary Kruger suggests you be selective in what information you provide. “You don’t need to include every job you ever did or every skill you have. A guideline is to go back 10-15 years in your work history,” she says.
“If you are a mature candidate, there are some tricks you can use if you have experience years before so you can use this experience as well without giving away your age. You don’t want to be discriminated against or not selected because of your age.”
“One client of mine had his year of birth in his email address [eg: email@example.com]. It didn’t take much to figure out his age!” Mary recalls. “I advised him to change his email address. Once he did that he began to get more interviews and is now working as a CFO in a construction group.”
You can also trim down the length of your resume by leaving out short-term jobs (unless maybe they were applicable to the position you are applying for), high school credentials (unless you graduated within that last few years) and any mention of references (it is assumed you will provide references upon request, so there is no need to state this).
Even if you match the desired position perfectly, if you don’t grab the recruiter’s attention with the right language, your resume may be overlooked. Coach Mrugank Patel recommends using actions verbs when describing your skills, experience and accomplishments. “For your resumes to get noticed, action verbs are must haves. Action verbs mainly describe skills, jobs and accomplishments. They create powerful and positive impact if used correctly,” he explains.
There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not an objective is necessary on a resume. Depending on the position you are going for, you may choose to write an objective or not. If you do, make sure it counts. While a punchy objective may draw in attention, a lacklustre one may cause the recruiter to toss your resume to the side without another look.
“Give employers something specific, and more importantly, something that focuses on their needs as well as your own,” says coach Marla J Williams.
Good Example: A challenging entry-level marketing position that allows me to contribute my skills and experience in fundraising for nonprofits. (CareerBuilder)
Bad Example: A marketing position. “This example does not tell the employer why you are interested in the position nor why they should hire you,” explains Marla.
If you decide to skip the objective, you may instead use the space for an achievement statement at the end of each job description. This is a way to include your greatest achievement while in that job.
“The achievement statement is placed immediately following each job/position you held,” says coach Reginald Jackson Sr. “Consider it the “crown jewel” of your contribution in that particular job/position. What’s the one thing you got recognized for? Was it a new, innovative process? Maybe you received a promotion, a cash award, or any other reason you were cited for exemplary performance.”
As mentioned, recruiters only take about six seconds to scan your resume, so make it easy to skim in a short time.
“If it can’t be skimmed it won’t be read,” explains coach Leonard Lang. “I have clients come to me with brilliant info in their resumes that even I can barely read through when it’s my job to review them in detail because these resumes are in dense, long, overly detailed paragraphs. The same info can be popped out for key points that are easily skimmed.”
When writing your resume:
“In the case of resumes, appearances do matter. Don’t be afraid of a little white space. Resumes that are filled from top to bottom with text rarely get looked at. Leaving space between your resume categories will help draw the employer’s eye to what you want, and make it easier to read,” coach Mary Kruger says. “When I’ve done hiring I rarely spend more than that time screening resumes.”
If you need help with this, Mary recommends having your resume professionally formatted. “If you aren’t skilled at formatting, leave it to the professionals. It is well worth the money to have a professional format your resume. That will grab the attention of the employer.”
Having a resume with a funky design or printing it on anything other than stock paper may seem like a way to make it stand out, but the opposite is often true.
“Here’s what most hiring managers think when we see a resume with unusual design or use of color: Does this candidate think that their skills and achievements won’t speak for themselves? Do they not understand what employers are looking for? Do they put an inappropriate emphasis on appearances over substance?” according to Ask a Manager writer Alison Green.
And while it may be tempting to use your favorite font, it is best to use one that is easy to read. Besides seeming like another gimmick to get noticed, resume screening software will not be able to decipher the fancy script and may not read it at all.
“In today’s world of social media and the electronic resume it may seem counter intuitive to hand-deliver a hard copy of a resume. However, by doing so you will stand out from the competition,” Mary Kruger explains. “Ideally you would ask to speak to the decision-maker (having researched their name on LinkedIn, Facebook or through your networks). The idea is not to take up a lot of the decision-maker’s time, but to make a first impression. First impressions can be made in less than a minute.”
Mary also says when dropping off your resume, ensure you are dressed professionally. Print your cover letter and resume on good stock paper and put in a full size envelope. Never fold your resume.
Kristen is the editor and community manager at Noomii.com and the Noomii Career Blog. Kristen's desire to ask questions and share information with others led her to pursue journalism. While she has worked at various publications, covering everything from municipal politics to local restaurants, it was her love of self-improvement and sharing inspiration with others that made Noomii the perfect fit. Connect with Kristen on Twitter and LinkedIn.