Those of you who have recently read my blog will know that I am in the process of brushing off my résumé for the possibility of finding a new job. I do stress the word “possibility” as I am still gainfully employed (a fact I’m happy about, of course), but the fear of an un-forseen change in my professional future still makes me queasy. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far in gearing up for a job search concerns my résumé. Yes, I do already have a résumé, and I try to update it occasionally to reflect my changing skills and capabilities.
However (you saw that word coming, didn’t you?)… I quickly learned that though I have an impressive list of relevant accomplishments, all that don’t mean diddly if my résumé doesn’t pass “The 30-second test.” That’s the name given to the hiring manager or HR person’s quick glance at the résumé (because they don’t have all day to read it). It’s the printed page’s equivalent of that first impression on a blind date.
Heeding the critique my résumé received, I decided to have it brushed up… okay, revamped by a professional service. Some of you out there may be thinking, “Gee, Allison, you couldn’t improve it yourself?” Well, apart from when I was just getting started in my professional career, I have written and updated my résumé by my own self. However, I was paying no mind to that all-important 30-second test and heeding other résumé rules I learned over the years, some of which may not be effective in these modern times. So, with that in mind, I want to swap my wig and dress for my male mode dress shirt and tie and impart some lessons and advice the résumé writers handed down to me in the past week or so they were improving and (after my feedback) re-improving my résumé.
Looks do matter. I do have a great list of skills, experiences, and accomplishments, which the résumé editor complimented me on up front when critiquing my old résumé. All of that information was pretty crowded onto one page, though (“page,” not “sheet,” and I’ll get into that later). Plus, I used a lot of bullet points to emphasize my skills and duties, and while bullet points add some punch, too many of them will dilute the impact (and prevent the HR person from zeroing in on the key points). Using the right amount of white space and bullet points (though not too much of either) will lead to a résumé that will catch the HR person’s eye.
Stronger is better. In addition to toning down the bullet points and crowded information, another big change in my résumé was a change from “doer” to “achiever” statements. Since employers want to know what a candidate can do for them, they’re receptive to results-driven statements more than skill-based sentences. This means that “Slashed costs by 30%” is a lot more attractive than plainly stating “Negotiated vendor contracts.” And for my résumé, that meant sentences like “Communicating with customers regarding account changes” became “Ensured good customer service by communicating updates to their accounts.” (Yeah, it’s not as catchy as “Slashed costs by 30%” but it’s my résumé.) As the résumé editors told me, employers want to know how a candidate can make a difference, not just what skills they can bring.
Expertise still counts, of course. My previous résumé had a small section (six bullet points, one sentence for each) highlighting my skills, expertise, and qualifications. While it made that section concise, it didn’t make it pop. So, the résumé editors expanded that section, pulling information from my work experience and combining it into a section marked “Areas of Expertise” that included four subsets: Operations support, effective communications, leadership, and additional strengths. I was really struck by this change in my résumé, as it helped differentiate the skills I’ve acquired from the work I’ve done.
The “one page” versus “one sheet” thing. Old School Me was always led to believe that every little bit of my résumé needed to be limited to one page, not two; that meant squeezing in a lot of stuff (a no-no as noted above) or sacrificing of some things I wanted to highlight. My résumé editors and I didn’t dwell into this topic too much, but that the finished update stretched to two pages (or one sheet if it’s printed out) seemed to ease my pondering about the subject (“Okay, so it’s two pages then.”). I imagine with the advent of résumé scanning software, it won’t matter to a company’s HR folks how long a résumé needs to be. And speaking of résumé scanning…
Try to avoid sending a PDF version of your résumé. During the résumé editing process, I learned that 93% of all hiring managers use résumé scanning software to help weed out applicants (which can make all that “doer” verbiage I discussed all the more important). While most of that software can capture and save every word, some older software and tracking systems can’t read PDF files. So, while PDFs can ensure consistency on a Mac or PC, it’s best to send a MS Word version of your résumé instead (or whatever a Mac’s equivalent is). What’s more, PDFs are usually much larger in file size; it’s essentially like a digital picture, which can be pretty large in itself (check out the file sizes in your photo folder sometime), while a two-page MS Word file is comparatively much, much smaller. I used to send PDF versions of my résumé to potential employers in the past, but now that I know this advice, I’ll stick with MS Word (that is, unless an employer specifically requests a PDF).
But above all, know that you are the best writer of your résumé. No, that statement doesn’t mean you should never use a résumé service (on the contrary, they can be a valuable service even though they’re pay-for-play), but know that they aren’t mind readers; they are working off of the information you provide to them. Always keep a list of the skills you possess, the places you’ve been, and the things you’ve done. And don’t forget to update that list every now and again so that you’re prepared when the time comes to compose or revise your résumé.
And however you’re composing your résumé, don’t be afraid to take advice from the internet, a professional, or whoever. The littlest critique or the biggest compliment can mean the world to your résumé… and your chances of landing the job you desire. Good luck!