Robots often scan the documents for keywords, and most hiring managers spend mere seconds reading each resume. Here's how to pass both tests.

By Diane Herbst
April 01, 2020 03:00 PM
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PEOPLE’s Real Tips for Real Life presents practical answers to some of the most commonly asked questions around finance, employment and preparing for the future—even when that future can seem very uncertain.

For job seekers, “a resume is a marketing document” whose primary purpose is to land an interview — a “first impression of you that many employers or recruiters are going to see,” says Amanda Augustine, a career expert for TopResume.

To get a foot in the door for the interview, you need to show employers that you have the qualifications they are looking for, and fast, since hiring managers are said to spend mere seconds scanning each resume. Plus, you need to write a resume that easily passes through the software robots that most companies now use to winnow out applicants.

“A resume is a means to an end,” says Ian Siegel, chief executive and co-founder of ZipRecruiter, the online job-listing and recruiting platform that generates more than 20 million job applications a month. “It’s the start of their introduction to you.”

Following are some tips to write a stellar resume — one that will help make the case that you should be the candidate a hiring manager must get in the door. Additionally, TopResume has provided a free resume worksheet you can download to get you well on your way.

1. The Winning Resume Format

“Less is more,” says Augustine. “You want to stick to a simpler, clean resume design.”

Use a layout that’s easily scannable by both the software weeding out resumes — also called an applicant tracking system — and recruiters. “They’re spending a very short amount of time looking at a resume,” she says, noting the maximum length ought to be two pages.

The resume should be formatted in Microsoft Word or a Google Doc, says Siegel: “You don’t want to be using a PDF or any kind of an image because the robots can’t read those.”

At the top, put in your name, cell phone, email address and your LinkedIn link.

“You want to make sure your email address is professional-looking, not that one from high school or college that you used to giggle about, and now if you showed it to your grandmother, you’d be embarrassed,” says Augustine.

Example of a strong resume

2. Customize Your Resume

Don’t send off the same resume to each job you apply for. Instead, target your resume for each job, highlighting the skills you have that an employer seeks in a job ad, says Siegel, to get your resume past the applicant tracking system and into a human’s hands.

“Ideally you want a perfect match inside your resume,” he says. “If you are a cook, say you are a cook — don’t say you were a food artist. If you went to a search engine to look for work, whatever the keyword is that you typed in to find a job, that should be the way you describe the work you did in your resume.”

Apply for a job even if it lists skills you don’t have. “Most jobs come down to a maximum of two key skills, but in fact the majority of jobs just require one key skill,” says Siegel. “Determine that key skill and lead with that and you’re going to do great.”

Reread the job listing and note the terms and phrases that are repeatedly used throughout the job description — particularly the requirements section. Where possible, “incorporate those terms throughout your resume,” specifically in the key skills section and the work experience section, says Augustine.

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3. Quickly Convey Your Impact

If you have relevant educational credentials, such as a master’s degree or other certifications, put that next to your name up top, since many employers won’t read the resume to the bottom, says Augustine.

“The top third should give them the highlights of what they need to know about you,” she says. “If they don’t pay attention to anything else, the top third of the resume should tell me, who is this person and what type of role are they pursuing? Why are they pursuing it, why should I care about them?”

Include a concise, professional description just a few lines long immediately after your name and contact information to summarize “why you’re interested in and qualified for this type of job,” says Augustine. “Think of it as your elevator pitch. Maybe it’s coming up with your years of experience, the type of achievements you’ve attained, what skills you’ve leveraged.”

4. Create a Skills Section

Start with bullet points of your strongest assets in plain, specific language tailored to the role you are targeting.

“There’s no points for prose — paragraphs don’t help you,” Siegel says.

If you have a license or a degree or a certification, list that and the institution you got it from, and your years of experience, because “many of these robots are getting sophisticated enough to look for that,” he says. “And that can be a game changer.”

And which skills should you include? Note the job requirements that keep popping up, and the skills “continuously being mentioned that either will be used or listed as direct requirements and nice to have,” says Augustine. “That’s what you need to be emphasizing on your resume, assuming you possess those skills or have that experience.”

5. Show Your Worth

When you list the job you’ve had and for how long, clearly note the range of time you’ve worked there and the responsibilities bulleted underneath. Then, in a few lines, show your worth to an employer.

“What were your main responsibilities?” says Augustine. “How do I provide value? How did I contribute? How did I help make customers happy or increase revenue or cut costs?”

If you don’t have a job where it’s easy to show your impact, “think about, ‘When I’m not there, what doesn’t get done?'” says Augustine. “‘What balls get dropped when I’m not there to handle things?'”

You don’t have to list every job you’ve had, and only go back about 15 years, says Augustine: “They want to know, ‘What have you been doing lately?’ And, ‘How does it relate to the role you’re pursuing now?'”