If you're in the quarter of the population looking to make good on that New Year's resolution to find a new job in 2019, you'll need an ace resume.
It's a first step many of us take reluctantly, wrestling with how best to phrase our qualifications and ultimately hoping to get by with just a couple tweaks to the same format we've been using since college.
But a well-crafted resume acts as both a strong first-impression and a convincing sales pitch. It's an opportunity to showcase your talents and woo recruiters and hiring managers into making an offer.
How to get a piece of paper to deliver on all that is easier than it sounds. With the help of career coaches and resumes experts, CNBC Make It breaks down the formula for creating a perfect resume.
We've all heard the conventional wisdom that one-page resumes are the way to go, that managers and recruiters lose patience with longer resumes and only spend 7.4 seconds reviewing the document anyway, so keep it short.
But a recent study from ResumeGo, a resume and CV writing service, found that recruiters and hiring managers were 2.3 times as likely to hire two-page resume applicants over similar one-page resume applicants. And the call-back benefits of including a second page increased the more senior the role — candidates with longer resumes were hired more than 70 percent of the time for mid-level or managerial-level jobs.
This doesn't mean you should pad your resume with irrelevant information or verbose sentences just for the sake of filling out two pages, but if you were struggling to cram all necessary details about your experiences or skills onto a single page, stop cutting and embrace a second page.
"If you're an entry-level worker, you should probably stick to one page, but once you're beyond that first job, we expect you to graduate to a two-page resume," says Amanda Augustine, a career coach with TopResume, though she notes that "it would be very rare to encourage someone to write beyond two pages."
Make an impact with your words, not your styling.
"Employers hate overly complicated or fussy designs. They are used to finding the information they need in certain places, they don't want to hunt for it," says Augustine.
Opt for a clean layout with clearly marked sections and breathing space. Align your most important information along the left side of the page and the top corners, as this so-called "F-pattern" design best mimics the way we skim documents and holds recruiters' attention for longer than those arranged down the center or viewed from left to right, according to a study from job site Ladders.
Top-performing resumes also made use of one or two easy-to-read fonts, section and title headers, and bold job titles supported by a bulleted list of accomplishments, according to that same Ladders study. Stick to standard headers such as education, experience, summary and skills, as that is what the computer systems that process your online application scan for.
If you want to add visual interest, try using a single pop of color to break up the text, say in dividers or subheads. Skip adding a photo of yourself, graphics, logos or other unnecessary embellishments.
"The systems that process online applications, used by most large companies, don't understand images or graphics. Some can't handle PDFs. Some won't read information placed in the header or footer sections of a Word document," says Augustine.
Test how well bots will comprehend yours by copying it into a plain text file. "If odd symbols pop up, if things appear out of order, that's how the computer will read and process it," says Augustine. If you love your current design, save that version for sending directly to hiring managers.
"The top-third of your resume should be a snapshot of everything the recruiter or hiring manager needs to know: your contact information and LinkedIn, your professional summary and most recent job," says Augustine.
This section is prime real estate. If you're going to make the sell, it will be because of what you put here. And that's why most resume experts recommended starting with a summary statement, typically a brief paragraph that acts as your elevator pitch highlighting what you excel at and how you can fill this employer's needs.
But it also needs to grab their interest, which is why executive career coach Roy Cohen encourages you to be a little proactive: "Throw out a bold statement about what you've done or your ability to make a difference. If you do something better than everyone else, say it." But you also need to be able to defend and prove such statements, so don't let hyperbole get the better of you.
And whatever you do, don't label this section an "objective statement."
"Objective statements are all about you. What you want, what you're looking for," says Augustine. "But resumes are a marketing document. They need to cater toward the intended audience and what they care about."
Sending out one generic resume to all job postings won't cut it in 2019.
"You need to tailor your resume to each specific job you're applying to," says Vicki Salemi, career expert with Monster. "Save the job description and look at the lingo the employer is using. You want to include words within your resume that match the keywords they chose to use, it shows the employer you understand what they do and need."
This doesn't mean you need to start from scratch each time, but rather look for ways to subtly mimic the employer's language. If they stress negotiation skills, include a brief mention of your ability in the summary statement. Reorder the bullets underneath your job titles to mimic the order of qualifications the employer gave. For instance, if one of the first things a job ad stresses is managing a team, then any experience you have in that area should take the top bullet.
"Jobs today want so much specialization that using one generic resume won't be as interesting to whoever is reading," says Cohen.
It will also help you get past an applicant tracking system, which is programmed to look for certain keywords and qualifications and weed out irrelevant or weak applicants. The more closely you mirror the job listing, the more likely your application won't be rejected in this initial stage.
For help understanding what keywords to incorporate into your resume, Augustine suggests finding three to five listings describing the role you want and then pasting that text into a free online word cloud generator.
"The words that appear in the biggest font are the ones you should be incorporating into your resume, assuming, you do have those skills," says Augustine.
Recruiters and hiring managers are looking for expertise. A skills section, usually placed below the summary statement, quickly draws their eye right to that knowledge and shows your value. It should be a short, curated list of attributes that can be easily measured or demonstrated and are truly rare or in-demand within your field. Specificity is key, too. Don't just list coding — name each coding language you are proficient in.
But be careful not to overload this section. It's not a laundry list of everything you can do. Adding irrelevant, outdated or highly general skills, such as filing or Microsoft Office, won't impress, adds Salemi. You also want to shy away from listing skills that read more like personality traits, such as "self-starter." Instead, demonstrate these abilities in the description you write about each of your past gigs.
"This piece has become much more prominent. Ninety-five percent of the resumes I do have this section," says John Suarez, a professional resume writer and career coach. "You can capture a lot of keywords within it that application tracking systems will likely be looking for."
And that increases the odds a person will actually see it.
Employers care most about what you achieved in your former roles. Prove you're worth hiring by demonstrating that you get measurable results within each former roles' description.
Metrics that show you have increased the company's revenue, productivity or growth carry the most weight. But success doesn't always have to be shown as a statistic. Any industry awards or company recognition, cultural improvements, positive customer feedback, or mentoring can all be used to support the claims made in your skills section and in your job descriptions.
"You need to show, not tell. If you don't back up your claims with proof, then it is all just fluff," says Augustine. "Hiring managers want to know what you've done as result of possessing those skills. You always want to be thinking about how your projects or tasks moved the needle for your department or customers."
It will also give you an edge over the competition.
Failing to substantiate claims about your skills with specific metrics is one of the biggest mistakes job seekers make, says Augustine. And sadly, it's often a fatal one.
You don't need to list your whole career history on your resume — employers care most about what you've done recently.
In most industries, going back 10-15 years will be enough to demonstrate that you're qualified. Detailing any positions beyond the 20-year mark could date you, clutter your resume, and likely won't impress anyway, because they are usually your most junior roles.
Drop the year of your college graduation or other certifications unless their recency is one of your main selling points, as these too could date you, says Suarez.
You can also skip including a mailing address.
"Everything is online now. An employer will email or call you if they want to follow up," says Salemi. Employers can also be thrown by the address if you're applying from another state, she adds.
Save references until they're requested. There's no need to include them on your resume — that's limited real estate that needs to be used to showcase your experience and skills.
Unless your Twitter, Instagram or Facebook accounts are directly relevant to the role you're applying for, leave them off, too.
And finally, eliminate pronouns, says Augustine. Resumes are written in silent first-person.
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