At Harrison Careers, I get asked almost daily by clients and prospective clients how to make their resumes stand out from all the other thousands of applications that employers receive. I have looked at tens of thousands of resumes in my time – for my clients at Harrison Careers, and before that in my capacity as a recruiter for the Goldman Sachs Equities Division. Believe me – I have seen some fantastic resumes … and some not-so-fantastic ones.
You’ll likely have heard the shocking statistic that a recruiter or potential employer will spend about 6-8 seconds looking over your resumes and making a “yes or no” decision – after all that work you put into it, they will barely glance at it!! So how do you make sure that your resume is one of the ones filed in the “yes” pile?
At Harrison Careers, our clients have access to resume writers who are professionals who have landed the job offers you are trying to get (see our Rebranding page for details), but in the meantime, here are some tips to help your resume stand out from the hundreds of others that an employer receives:
1. Résumé Length
Traditionally, the optimal length for a resume has been 1 page, but times are changing – in our increasingly digitized world, you only have to scroll further down to read additional content, so it’s not a disaster (and in some cases it may even be preferable) if your resume runs to 2 pages. That said – don’t fill your resume with “fluff” to make it longer, and do NOT let it exceed 2 pages – a good resume is targeted to the role you’re applying to, and it doesn’t include everything you have ever done (so yes, strip out that babysitting gig you had in high school, or your swimming awards in elementary school!). If your resume flops over onto the next page, edit it ruthlessly back to the last full page.
2. Streamlined, clear presentation
Don’t make it hard for the reader to find the information they need! If your resume is poorly laid out or contains spelling/grammatical errors, you are asking to be dismissed outright, before the reader even gets to any of the content. Use a professional font (e.g. Calibri, Times New Roman, Arial or Cambria), at least 10pt in size – it doesn’t matter how much more you’re able to fit on your 1-pager if no one can read it! Bullet points should be 2 lines, maximum – no dense text, no hanging words/phrases. Make sure the resume has consistent formatting and spacing, and that it contains correct spelling and grammar. Check, check and check again – then ask someone you trust to check it over for you! Finally – make sure your document is easy to consume on a laptop/iPad etc., which means no weird formatting, and avoid columns, tables and graphics, which cause parsing errors in automated resume reading systems.
3. Skip the objective – but include a headline
Don’t waste precious space setting your career goals out in your resume – they can be explained in your cover letter. BUT do include a brief “headline” at the top of your resume – a concise and objective statement of your skills/experience, which clearly communicates who you are and what your strengths are. This is your “hook” to make the recruiter want to read on. It’s a great idea to include “keywords” in this headline – these words should mirror the language in the job description, and include the skills that your target employer is seeking.
4. Make your Work Experience achievement-based
List your work experience in reverse chronological order starting with your current position – but don’t go back too far; focus on providing details for your last 10 years of work. Don’t write a boring “job description” explaining the little details of your everyday responsibilities. Instead, give examples of your professional achievements, backing them up with figures where possible, to demonstrate your results. Make sure you craft each bullet point to highlight transferrable skills like teamwork, leadership, analytical skills, technical knowledge etc. If you can include industry or role-specific keywords, so much the better, BUT make sure that a layperson could understand what you’re saying (my rule of thumb, “Could my grandmother understand this?!”) – this means cut the jargon, give proper context to what you did, and focus on results. The easier you make things for the reader, the greater your chance of success.
5. Showcase your Education
Again, your Education should be listed in reverse chronological order (e.g. Masters, then Bachelors, then High School). The objective of this section is to show potential employers how smart you are – accordingly, include degree classifications/awards/class rankings etc. if they present you in a favorable light, BUT do not include too much information here in case it detracts from the most important stuff, i.e. degree type and subject. Anything else that you did at school/university that you’d like to showcase (e.g. Class President) should be in the Other Data section at the bottom of your resume.
6. Additional Information
The humble little “Other Data” section is actually really important – recruiters typically want to figure out what kind of a person you are, so they will often turn to this section first. This is your opportunity to showcase important things like your technical skills, membership of professional organizations and language skills (but please only include foreign languages if you are fluent or could at least confidently conduct business in them – honestly, no one cares if you took high school French but could barely use it to order a croissant in Paris!). This section also provides an opportunity to talk a little bit about you, the person – if you have some interesting hobbies, you should consider including them here, hopefully to pique the curiosity of the reader or provide an “ice-breaker” at interview. Please, however, keep this part SHORT – too much information and you’ll risk coming across as self-absorbed.
7. Finally – consistency across all platforms!
For goodness sake, make sure that your social media and online footprint will make a positive impact on a recruiter. Clean up your public Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media pages, ensuring that they portray you in a positive light (I recently read a statistic that over 69% of employers have rejected candidates based on their social media alone!). LinkedIn is an increasingly powerful recruitment tool, so take a look at your LinkedIn profile, and make sure that it conveys the same overall story as your resume (although it should not be a straightforward copy of your resume – the platforms should work in tandem to present your “public face”).
Always remember that, in conjunction with your cover letter and LinkedIn profile, your resume is your key strategic marketing tool – it’s incredibly important that you get this document right, so that it makes an immediate impact on employers – and ultimately helps you to win the interview.