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Crafting the Perfect Resume: Dos and Don'ts

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David Hogan is a virtual chief of staff who also provides operational support to RevOps Co-op through his business, Throne Consulting. We asked him how to design a standout resume to help people who are looking for a change and/or impacted by layoffs.

As a person who has dedicated my career to helping businesses scale, it's always tough to hear about companies making the difficult decision to scale back and reduce headcount. It's equally challenging talking with so many people fighting the struggle to get noticed when applying for their next role. Not only are they up against the human element of recruiters like me who are skimming hundreds of resumes per day, but now they have to compete with a hidden obstacle – applicant tracking systems (ATS) – that are pre-screening resumes to put the "best candidates" in front of recruiters and hiring managers. 

But have no fear! There are proven ways to get your resume through the pre-screen gauntlet and land an interview. From showcasing your skills to avoiding common pitfalls, these recommendations will help you stand out (in a good way).

In today's competitive recruiting world, an eye-catching resume is still your first opportunity to make a lasting impression. A well-crafted resume can open doors to exciting career opportunities, while a lackluster one can leave you overlooked. Some of my recommendations may be unorthodox, but as someone who spends hours every week staring at hundreds (if not thousands) of resumes, I assure you they work.

Give the recruiter a reason to talk to you

When I look at resumes, I am looking for you to tell me a story that makes me think you're perfect for the open role you're applying for. If you tell me everything about you in extensive detail, it leaves nowhere for me to go when chatting with you, and I'll want to find someone more interesting to talk with. Tell me just enough to pique my interest, so keep it to one page.

You don't need a summary statement. 

In 26 years of staring at resumes, I have read the summary statement a handful of times. I know why you're applying: you think you'd be a good fit for the role. Deleting this section reduces the word count and focuses my attention on your experience. Instead, focus on re-using the space to highlight your soft skills, like communication, listening, etc. Or better yet, work those into the bullet points for your previous roles.

Put accurate contact information front and center.

You may think it goes without saying, but I could tell you some stories. Recruiting is often a fast-paced job, and if I can't figure out how to reach you or I get the wrong number when calling, I have no choice but to move you to the "not interested" pile and move on. Put your name, phone number, email address, & LinkedIn URL (customize it too – learn how to do that here) at the top.

Fancy fonts don't go over well.

I recommend not using fonts that are difficult to read. Go with the dependable ones, like Arial and Helvetica. Font size should be at least 11, if not bigger.

BONUS TIPS: I always recommend putting no more than five previous roles on your resume, especially if those roles are similar to the one you’re applying for. Also, I encourage people to beef up the roles that they were in for a long period of time, as those are the ones I pay the most attention to. I understand that people sometimes change roles, especially when working for startups. If I see that you were at the same company for 10 years, I’ll pay more attention to what you did during that long stint. Lastly, highlighting the positive impacts you made while in the role is something I pay close attention to.

Visually appealing is nice, but don't go overboard. 

What makes you stop what you're doing and read something? Colors, graphics, and catchy headlines, right? I'm the same way. But the recruiting systems prefer something else. Don't be afraid to change the background to a warm, neutral color. Just be sure to stick to graphics and colors that are easy to read.

Highlight skills specific to the role you're applying for. 

If you take none of my other tips from this article, let THIS TIP be the one you hear me out on. If you see the perfect job online and you're going to apply, take your "everyday" resume, make a copy, and take 30 minutes to align the skills from your previous roles with the bullet points in the job description. Customizing the resume will increase your resume's attractiveness by at least 50 percent!

Systems experience is a hit-or-miss category.

I have a love/hate relationship with this section of any resume. If I am hiring for a role that requires a particular set of skills, like engineering or product, I will always look to see if the systems mentioned by the hiring manager are part of your skillet. If it’s not a technical role, I am trying to get a feel for you as a person, and I skip that section altogether.

Include continuous learning? YES!

Showcase your commitment to staying up-to-date by mentioning relevant certifications, courses, or industry memberships. This is an immediate green flag for me, as it indicates that you're committed to excelling in the role and will bring a lot of knowledge and hands-on experience with you.

A good, descriptive word goes a long way in keeping my attention.

Begin each bullet point with a strong action verb to create a dynamic impression. For example, use words like "implemented," "optimized," or "managed" to describe your accomplishments. When describing your work experience, provide context about the company's size, industry, and any challenges you faced. This helps me understand the scope of your responsibilities.

The ATS affect

One thing that you won't see when submitting your resume online is that it's probably already being reviewed before it ever makes it to me. An ATS - like Greenhouse, Workday, and others - are designed to focus on keywords and eliminate applicants they consider irrelevant, so I may never even know you applied. 

To ensure your resume makes it through ATS screening and reaches human eyes, here are some key tips:

Go light on the jargon.

While industry-specific terminology is essential, don't overload your resume with jargon. Ensure that anyone, even outside your field, can understand your accomplishments.

Don't get too personal. 

Keep your resume focused on your relevant skills and experiences. Information about your hobbies, personal life, or unrelated jobs should be omitted.

Proofread your resume before sending it out. 

ATS systems don’t like misspellings. Even though I know people make mistakes and I won't hold a simple misspelled word against someone, bots will eliminate you from a role in a heartbeat. The nightmare scenario is sending a resume to 100 recruiters and realizing your name is misspelled. Whenever I create a resume, I ask a family member or friend to review and critique it. Did I spell everything correctly? If you didn't know me, would it tell a compelling story about why you want to hire me?

Keep your resume at a page.

While some jobs can be complex, aim to keep your resume within one page. Recruiters often skim resumes, so it's crucial to be concise.

BONUS TIP: Small gaps of time in your resume are perfectly fine because I don’t expect you to list that you drove for Uber for a year while finishing college. Just be prepared to speak to gaps in your resume if the recruiter asks you about them. I’ve never disqualified an applicant for something like this.

Don't use unprofessional email addresses.

I've seen email addresses that have even made ME blush, and that's hard to do. Email addresses are free, and taking a moment to set up a more professional one for job applications can save you a lot of stress. If you have a unique email address and you're not hearing back, it could be a sign to try a more appropriate one.

No headers or footers.

The ATS can sometimes miss information in headers and footers. Ensure that critical data, such as contact information and essential skills, is in the document's main body.

Use Standard Section Headings.

Use standard headings like "Work Experience," "Education," and "Skills." ATS systems are designed to recognize these categories.

Test Your Resume.

Some companies offer tools to test your resume's compatibility with their ATS. If available, use these tools to identify and address potential issues. A simple search for "resume test ATS" on Google should do the trick.

Keep it clear, concise, and short.

ATS systems often prioritize resumes with relevant, concise information. Avoid long paragraphs or excessive details that may overwhelm the system. Bullet points are your best friend here.

BONUS TIP: Try to stay within 3-4 bullet points that really help explain how your experience matches what a company is looking for in a role. When I post a job online, I will list the most critical responsibilities in the job description, and those are what I am looking for when skimming your resume.

By following these tips, you'll increase your chances of getting past the initial ATS screening and getting your resume into the hands of recruiters and hiring managers.

Good luck and happy applying!

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