About 90% of the resumes that jobseekers show me seem unlikely to achieve the goal of landing a job interview. The reason is simple—they are largely collections of job descriptions that do not stand out from the crowd. They do not communicate the information hiring teams need to consider an applicant.
The slide above shows three points I made at an introductory resume writing webinar I presented several weeks ago. Specifically, the resume should get the candidate through an employer’s applicant tracking system (ATS), communicate the benefits of hiring you, the job candidate, and then guide the job interview.
Let’s look at the three goals of a resume in more detail.
Get through automated resume screening.
Nearly everyone that calls or emails me asks whether I can get them through the electronic resume screening we have all heard about. Experts estimate that ATS systems reject about 75% of the resumes job applicants submit. Hiring teams search ATS databases for keywords they get from job descriptions. So, you can increase the chance your resume will get through the system by tailoring it to match the specific job you are applying for. As a result, the resume a jobseeker used when applying for mental health jobs probably won’t get through when he applies for operations jobs now that he has an MBA.
Plan on writing a different version of your resume for every job you apply to fill. You may know the keywords hiring teams will search for if you have worked in the same job function and industry for some time. Additionally, you can use a variety of apps and websites to generate word clouds that will show the most frequently used words in the job description.
Another way to approach finding the best keywords is to think about the words you would search for if you were hiring someone like yourself. Think in terms of “hard skills,” or industry-specific expertise you need to do the job. Nearly everyone says they have “great communications skills,” but not everyone is proficient in, say, GAAP accounting, so you will increase your chances of being found when you include references to specific accounting skills, for example.
And remember that employers will test you on technical skills, so only include skills you can demonstrate.
But analyzing the job description and then filling your resume with keywords won’t be enough. People hire people, so you will have to demonstrate the benefits of hiring you to company leadership.
Communicate the benefits of hiring you.
Marketers urge us to sell based on benefits, not features. The benefits of hiring us are the business and organizational results that set us apart from other prospective employees. For example, every customer service rep can probably say they respond to customer calls and emails, and then escalate those contacts they cannot resolve, so this statement would not set you apart from the crowd. Instead, think about the goal the company or your supervisor gave you. Were you expected to handle or resolve a certain number of calls each hour, day, or week? Did you exceed the required number and by how much? Can you tie this to increased revenue or cost savings?
Commonly, I ask my clients to describe what business and organizational challenges they were asked to address by taking what actions, to yield what quantifiable results?
A customer service technician I worked with told me he resolved repair visits with less than a 1 percent call back rate. This was a more compelling statement than saying the company sent him to resolve service outages each day. A benefit of hiring our cable guy, then, is that he fixes problems correctly the first time.
Next, you will want to demonstrate the benefits of hiring of you at the job interview.
You now have talking points for your interviews.
The ultimate goal of your resume is to get you to the all-important job interview. Then, the resume should give you talking points for the discussion. If your interviewers ask you about the skills and accomplishments on the resume, it is important for you to elaborate on the bullet-points with more details. You can also use the bullet-points as examples when asked questions such as “tell me about a time you provided great customer service.”
Listen to the feedback you get from your responses. This will help you decide what accomplishments are important to prospective employers so you can refine the resume for the next interview.
Keep in mind that one or more of the people you speak with during the interview process will be experts in your field. They will spot errors or inaccurate statements. And they may ask probing questions to determine whether or not you have used the skills listed on your resume.
Errors are especially embarrassing and potentially costly at this stage. For example, some years ago, a city pension fund manager interviewed me because I had co-authored a federal government report related to pension fund investment. He noted that the resume mentioned “$3 billion in investments” when the well-known estimate was “$3 trillion.” Oops! So, as you start preparing your own resume, or working with an expert who is preparing it for you, remember your goals. The resume should get through the filters, and then include achievements that help you stand out from other candidates. Then, it should guide your interview responses to help you land the right job sooner.