At Harrison Careers, we can wax lyrical about the benefits of a great resume – and quickly identify a bad one. Your resume is one of the first glimpses an employer gets of you – it’s the foundational document on which the hiring decision is based, and it truly dictates whether or not you’ll get your foot in the door.

This article contains advice on how to help you improve your resume.

It’s arguable how much time a recruiter or potential employer will spend looking over a resume, but the general consensus is that they will scan your resume, note key specifics (current employer, job title, length of employment, education) and make a “yes or no” decision within about 6-8 seconds. Wow!

Worse still, if you submitted your application online, you can expect electronic Applicant Tracking Systems to pre-filter your resume – these programs scan resumes for key words and phrases, and mathematically score them for relevance, then send only the most appropriate ones through for human review. As a result, your resume may be rejected before an actual human even gets a look at it.

What does this mean for a candidate?

Well, it means that you have less than 10 seconds for your resume to make an impact. (Isn’t it ironic that you have to spend so long thinking about a document that it is unlikely will ever actually be read in its entirety by anyone other than you?!). Thankfully, if you follow certain, fairly basic, rules of thumb, you’ll maximize your chances of beating the ‘bots AND making a good first impression on the recruiter.

Read on for the Harrison Careers top tips on how to prepare a great resume:

1.         Resume 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. If it 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. Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri 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 is reading it. Bullet points should be 2 lines, maximum. Make sure the document 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!

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.

4.         Work Experience should be 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.         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 heavens 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!). 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 this 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 strategic marketing tool – it’s incredibly important that you get this document right, so that it makes an immediate impact and helps you to win the interview.

At Harrison Careers, we spend all our time helping clients get and pass interviews with elite companies. Get In Touch to let us know how we can help you!