Here are eight smart ways to make certain that your résumé not only grabs their attention but also makes the most of techniques shaped by job networking sites and other new technologies.
Start like LinkedIn. A résumé is your stage to shout out your skills, accomplishments and strengths. Instead of a dull boilerplate objective, begin with a personal statement, according to Beverly Jones, an executive career coach and author of Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO: “Done properly, this statement, or summary, of who you are can pull someone in fast.”
This method of launching your résumé is a nod to the popularity of LinkedIn. “LinkedIn has changed the way many hiring managers read résumés now,” Jones said. “They expect this more personal approach.”
Be bold and write this section in the first person, as you would your LinkedIn Summary statement. This should be a quick roll call of your triumphs and skill set in the same language you would use when talking to someone.
For instance, you might describe the most important thing you’ve accomplished recently in your career, what you enjoy most about the work you do, something you are really proud of, or how your skills have allowed you to contribute to the success of your previous employers’ missions and bottom lines. The subtle message: You have the chops to help the company meet its objectives.
Keep it tight, say, five or six sentences, and end with a bulleted list, such as “Areas of Concentration,” with roughly three examples.
And in your desire to super-sell yourself, don’t get carried away. Three-fourths of human resources managers report having caught a lie on a résumé, according to CareerBuilder.
Use your keywords. The idea of having a one-and-done résumé is a relic of the past. Your résumé should be customized for each position you are considering. Use as much of the job posting’s language as possible. If your résumé doesn’t contain exactly the right keywords that appear in a job posting, when you send it electronically, it may not make it through an employer’s applicant tracking system (ATS).
For example, if the employer asks for “strong Excel and report-writing skills,” tuck these keyword expressions in your skills section and somewhere in the narrative of your past work experience. If the firm is looking for a “sales associate” with “a strong customer focus,” then include this phrase two or three times, or if the job requires someone who has “managed” a team, use “managed,” not “directed” or “operated,” or any other synonym.
Tools like Jobscan can help also you compare your résumé against job descriptions and analyze which keywords you need to include.
Simplify your fonts and format. Keep it to two pages. In some situations, it can be three pages, but only make your résume as long as it needs to be to underscore your credentials. Select a font that’s modern and easy on the eyes. I recommend Arial, Helvetica or Calibri. Stick to a 10- to 14-point size, and use black type against white paper for the body of the résumé. Your name, however, might be in 15-point size, all caps; your contact information and section heads might be in 12. But be consistent in the formatting, and use boldface type, italics and underlining sparingly.
Prepare the document in a plain Microsoft Word document format that can be viewed easily on most computers. You will also use this version to print out as a hard copy or to upload into an online job application form. Most job postings state what type of format is preferred.
Put your contact information at the top of the résumé: your first and last name, email address, phone number (just one), a customized LinkedIn URL, and a website, if you have one. Including your LinkedIn URL and blog or website address makes it easy for recruiters and hiring managers to find out more about you online. List the city and state in which you live. Omit your street address for privacy reasons.
Spotlight your skills. Most job seekers use the traditional chronological or reverse-chronological résumé format. But I recommend highlighting your specific skills first, focusing on those that are most transferable to the job you’re looking for. More than a third of human resource managers (37 percent) said they preferred having skills listed first on a résumé, according to the CareerBuilder report.
Focusing on the skills relevant to the job you’re applying for up high delivers the “why you should hire me” message before you start cataloging previous jobs. After all, what you can do for them today is what an employer really wants to know. And if you’re looking to change careers, or have a gap in your work history, it’s even more critical to focus on your skills, not your positions.
The top three or four key broad skill categories mandatory for the job you’re targeting will help you to pick what to include in this section. Add recent training, education and certifications to emphasize your professional development and willingness to learn.
In the next section, present your professional experience in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent position. Include the following details for each organization you served: start and end dates (month and year); organization’s name, location and what the organization does or did; position(s) you held and major accomplishments at each position.
Include volunteer positions or internships in this section — related experience doesn’t just have to be paid positions. I advise including any volunteer work that suggests you have management skills. Being in charge of a gala fundraising event, for instance, converts to sales and marketing chops. Holding a board position shows leadership capability.
Weave a story. As you describe your experience, remember the basics of a good story are who, what, where, when, why and how. No one wants to know just what tasks you performed. They want to know why it mattered. Numbers, statistics and percentages can get attention if you put them in bold type. These are quantifiable results that no one can quibble with when you’re touting why you’re a good hire. You want to say, for instance, that you grew sales by 25 percent, or you completed a job three months ahead of schedule. Résumé-writing pros refer to this as telling your “CAR story.” This stands for “challenge, action and result.”
In your CAR story for each job on your résumé, write about a problem you faced, what you did to solve it, and the specific tangible results of your efforts. For example, “Interviewed machine operators and developed multimedia training programs that reduced training time for new hires by 20 percent.” Statements like this show rather than tell. Let reviewers hear your voice and pride in your achievements. Importantly, make sure the CAR stories are relevant to the job for which you are applying.
Be sure to cherry-pick your professional experience. What employers want to see is your most recent 10 to 15 years of experience. No one wants, or needs, to read every one of your job entries over a four- to five-decade career. Bundle your earlier experiences into one tidy paragraph at the end of your résumé’s “experience” section, and skip dates. Only use the work history that’s germane to the job you’re applying for now.
Don’t use full sentences. Begin with verbs. “Managed company tax reporting, finance, invoicing, purchasing,” for example. Get creative. Most résumé bullet points start with the same overused words such as “led” or “managed.” Here’s a list of 429 verbs that can help you find fresh words to describe your efforts.
Mind the gaps. It’s best to have a good experience to sub for periods you were not working such as being able to say you traveled, performed community service, added a degree or pursued other education. Include a one-line explanation, such as “Volunteered for Habitat for Humanity,” to fill in for any extended periods of unemployment.
If you were out of the workforce for caregiving duties, you can hawk that, too. You were a “project manager,” managing a team of other caregivers — from nurses to doctors and physical therapists. You were a “researcher” tracking down the best doctors and medical care. You may have been a “financial manager” in charge of bill-paying and insurance claims. Use action verbs to portray your caregiving experience: directed, enabled, facilitated, hired, supervised, controlled, coordinated, navigated, negotiated, secured and resolved.
Add some punch. Interests, hobbies, activities and professional memberships can also help you get noticed. That can be a great way to subtly deflect an employer’s opinion that older workers don’t have the stamina for the job. It might even provide a personal connection to someone who is reading your résumé, if he or she shares a similar passion.
Hit delete. Eliminate college or high school graduation dates. Remove jobs that lasted less than six months. Avoid quirky job titles; the title could jettison you from a recruiter’s search criteria. “Wordsmith,” for instance, is unlikely to show up in an ATS search for the specific keyword “editor.” Skip “References available upon request.” Of course they are.
Kerry Hannon, AARP jobs expert, is the author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … and Pays the Bills, Getting the Job You Want After 50 for Dummies, Love Your Job, and What’s Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties, and Beyond. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.