This week, I spent several hours on Zoom with other resume writers and career coaches around the world listening to talks about current trends. Resumes have been in wide use within the United States since the end of World War II, and are not going away anytime soon. So, whether you write your own job search documents, write resumes for others, or use the information to select employees for your business, it’s worth keeping up.
As a result, this seems like a good time to update and reiterate a few basic resume and job search tips. Specifically:
- Follow directions,
- Select a format that will work,
- Identify your personal brand,
- Include a chronological work history, and
- Promote your accomplishments.
A key point I have heard at every professional training program I’ve attended is that there are no resume rules. Instead, we should follow best practices—techniques that demonstrably work.
There is (at the risk of contradicting myself) one real rule. Follow directions. Applicant tracking systems (ATS) usually accept common document formats such as MS-Word and PDF. Read the online application instructions, though, because the employer may specify the format their system reads.
We have done a more detailed treatment of the best file-type to upload in our January 31, 2021 post. And remember that your ability and willingness to follow directions will be evaluated either explicitly or implicitly for any job at any level.
Select a format that will work.
Resume format is a point of discussion with nearly every jobseeker I speak with. Formatting includes details such as the text font, text size, text color, and document length.
Font type and size: Early ATS systems read only certain fonts. Today’s systems should read most common fonts. The consensus among experts I’ve spoken with is to use a “sans serif” font such as Calibri to be sure automated systems will read your submission.
Font size: Although ATS systems ignore font size, people notice. Font sizes between 10 point and 12 point work best for many readers. Generally, I’ve found that jobseekers have tried to squeeze in too much information if they have used smaller fonts.
You can use larger font sizes for headings to help them stand out when people view the resume. An expert I have spoken to cautions, though, that large fonts can make a document look like a “child’s picture book.”
Text and background colors: Our eyes are drawn to color, so do not be afraid to use blue text, for example, in your headings, or even a blue background with white text. The ATS system will ignore your colors.
Document length: Much has been written about the topic of document length—and a lot of this information is obsolete. It’s no longer essential to limit your resume to one page, especially if you have more than ten years of relevant experience. The ATS is scanning content, and does not “see” the number of pages in your document.
Experts agree that a great resume should tell your story succinctly. As a result, I have found that a one-page or two-page resume ordinarily sells the candidate’s experience, even for jobseekers with complex jobs.
A US Navy veteran, for example, was skeptical whether the one-page resume we developed adequately summarized his 40-page military transcript. He landed the job he wanted within days.
It is relatively easy to change font characteristics using MS-Word so don’t get too bogged down in these details when you start designing your document.
Identify your personal brand.
Resume writers and coaches have discouraged jobseekers from using objective statements for at least 25 years. The current approach is to use a personal brand heading and subheading. Your heading can be as simple as your current job title or your target title. A descriptive subheading should grab the hiring manager’s attention while providing keywords for the ATS system. For example:
Senior Communication Technician
RF, coax, and fiber-optic installer/ troubleshooter with low callback rates
Then, we elaborated further on the brand statement with an accomplishment-based summary, including achievements focusing on the customer service and technical skills that led to his outstanding results as an installer and troubleshooter.
Include your reverse-chronological work history.
There are a number of situations where jobseekers do not want to place a reverse-chronological work history on their resume. This includes career changers and jobseekers returning to the workforce after a break.
Most experts agree that ATS systems do not properly digest so-called “functional resumes,” or even hybrid formats. Fortunately, a workaround has emerged. The accomplishment-based summary can emphasize relevant work experience and achievements, while the reverse-chronological work history section can include less detail on irrelevant jobs. The cover letter and LinkedIn profile can add even more relevant information and appropriate branding. In other words, the demise of the functional resume as an effective career marketing tool is not a show-stopper for career changers and those with employment gaps.
This topic, too, has been covered with more detail in our January 16, 2021 post.
Promote your accomplishments!
Last, but not least, successful jobseekers promote their achievements. We see resumes every week that include little more than the jobseeker’s position descriptions. Although job descriptions have valuable keywords, a job description-based resume is less likely to land the interview. The reason is the resume will not differentiate you from others applying for the same job.
Accomplishment bullet-points will demonstrate your unique value and increase your chances of being selected for an interview. For example, my Navy veteran client distinguished himself by saving the Navy $2 million. He repaired a torpedo firing system rather than having the shipyard open the submarine’s hull to replace it.
Of course, we have just scratched the surface. Your goal is to create a resume that will be found in automated searches, and then set you apart from other candidates when a hiring manager reads it. Formatting that both computer software and people can read, along with content that grabs attention will increase your chances of landing the interview.