Tips for Resumes That Are Dressed for Success

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Did you know that most recruiters will only look at a resume 60 seconds or less before deciding whether to keep it or delete it?

Sixty seconds.

That’s how long you have to make a good impression, to show the recruiter that you are a serious contender for the job. That you have taken the time to make every word count while also making it easy on the eyes and free of careless errors. Yes, it is a tall order!

During my writing and editing career, I also worked for more than 20 years as a grad school admissions consultant, advising applicants on their essays, resumes and cover letters. In that time, I realized how many people—including professionals—wrestled with their resumes, unsure of how to state their qualifications without underdoing or overdoing it. 

I’ve also been in the recruiter’s seat, culling through resumes sent in response to job openings in my husband’s small business. I was shocked at how often people sent in resumes for jobs they were totally unsuited for, resumes riddled with errors and resumes without any accompanying cover letter. Recruiters resent having their time wasted like this.

Investing the time and effort into crafting a strong, compelling resume will make the difference between you becoming a contender for a job…or not. Here are my essential tips for starting the process:

Start with a qualifications summary, a resume objective or professional profile at the top.

Each of these is slightly different, and I could fill this article by writing only about the distinctions among them. You’ll be able to choose the one best suited for you after seeing examples of each on resumegenius.com or resumecoach.com. Even though the summary or objective appears at the top of your resume, it’s a good idea to write the rest of your resume first. This will make it easier to pick out your strongest assets for the summary headline or section.

Limit your resume to one page, unless you have more than ten years of work experience.

List your jobs in reverse chronological order in the employment history.

Your current or most recent position comes first. Even if you have a two-page resume, limit the number of bullet point items for each job to reflect your most important, quantifiable achievements—no more than five or six maximum, unless you work in a more technical role and more examples are necessary to show the scope of your responsibilities. What is a “quantifiable” achievement? Here are some examples:

  • “Introduced newer accounting software, leading to 20% reduction in aging receivables.”
  • “Recommended new vendor, resulting in 25% savings in monthly costs for office supplies.”

If you cannot quantify an achievement, you should emphasize your strongest, most recent contributions at work. Focus on the things you have done which demonstrate growth and impact on your organization. As you go back in time, list fewer bullet point items than for your more recent professional experience. Your goal is to demonstrate a steady trajectory of growth in responsibility and accomplishment, making earlier jobs less relevant.

If you were promoted in any job, absolutely make that a bulleted item and offer context. For example, after leading a successful sales campaign, you were promoted to assistant manager.

Start every bullet point section with a verb.

Active voice makes that happen:

  •  “Led team of five in curriculum review and enhancement.”
  • “Enhanced onboarding of new-hires, resulting in 30% improved retention rate.”
  • “Initiated redesign of patient intake form, resulting in higher satisfaction among staff therapists.”

Verbs such as “managed,” “led,” “researched,” “provided,” “introduced,” “counseled” and “developed” will emphasize you’re a woman of action who will add value to the organization.

Explain employment gaps of six months or more.

If you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, you’ll need to account for that time. If you were a full-time mom, perhaps running a part-time business, list the business and its achievements. If you were exclusively a “home engineer,” list that as a job! The varied organizational, logistical, and psychological skills required on the job are valuable. Alternately, you could explain such a gap in a cover letter.

Leave your education and certifications for the end.

List your college degree, and any academic awards, if earned. Unless you are still in your 20’s and had strong leadership or notable achievements during college, keep this to a line or two. Add a separate section for professional certifications and awards.

Close with skills and activities that round you out as an individual.

If you speak other languages, play violin in a chamber group, have a longstanding volunteer commitment, have traveled to Antarctica or are an amateur chef specializing in Italian cooking, list these interesting tidbits about yourself in an “Other” section. This is not mandatory and may look odd when applying for a technical position, but if there is room, it will make you stand out beyond that of 100 or more faceless job-seekers—you will become memorable as a relatable, interesting human being.

Read job posting carefully.

Only apply for jobs where your experiences align directly, or where you have easily transferable skills. This will also ensure that your resume will be keyword-optimized for recruiters.

Keep it neat, with an easy-to-read font, no smaller than 10.5 font size.

Have it proofread by an eagle-eyed editor.

Errors such as spelling mistakes, typos or bad punctuation won’t do you any favors.

Always include a cover letter.

The letter should be tailored for the specific position and explain why you are drawn to this job posting. Well-crafted cover letters are not easy to write, but they will boost your chances of becoming a serious candidate enormously.

Now that you have these tools, you’re ready to update your resume and make your job search more fruitful!

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Judy Gruen
Judy Gruen is an award-winning journalist, book author and consultant, editor and writing coach. Her guidance has helped hundreds of applicants gain acceptance to top business schools and earn job offers in a tight business market. When you are ready for more guidance on resumes, cover letters or any other messaging that matters, email Judy at judyrgruen@gmail.com.

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