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21 Ways to Improve Your Resume

21 Ways to Improve Your Resume
Improve your resume with these 21 tips. [Getty Images]

Your resume needs to get through the applicant tracking system and then get selected by the recruiter or HR person doing the initial screening. When your resume finally makes into someone’s hands, it typically gets just a 15 second glance according Human Resources and hiring managers. 15 Seconds! You have got to garner their interest fast or you are sunk.

For Baby Boomers with a lot of experience you can easily make mistakes that keep your resume lost in cyberspace or never reaching the hiring manager’s eyes. I’ve written over 5,000 resumes and hired hundreds of people personally so I’ve seen most of the errors job hunters make that torpedo their resume.

Your resume can be a door opener, or a career stopper. These 21 tips come from hiring managers.

  1. Emphasize RESULTS! Employers stressed that results achieved matter the most. Lace your resume with the accomplishments and outcomes you’ve delivered in past positions. Show the impact you had and your productivity by including details concerning money earned, or time or dollars saved. Use numbers to reflect, how much, how many, and percentage of gain or reduction. Innovations matter. List all new products, services, design, processes or system improvements you’ve made.
  2. Use KEYWORDS! Many companies use an applicant tracking system (ATS) in making their initial resume selection. Thus keywords are vital to being found. Review the jobs you’ve done and note the key industry buzz words and vital work tasks. Your resume keywords should include your skills, competencies, relevant credentials. Essentially, keywords should be words that, at a glance, will show the hiring manager that you are a good fit for the job.
  3. Focus the resume. It’s imperative to use a job title for the career objective to identify the name of the job being applied for. It’s most effective to create a different resume for each different job title (i.e., one resume for Project Manager, another for Engineer) and only incorporate the information pertinent to doing that stated job. Avoid crowding your resume with any non-related information.
  4. Be concise. No long job descriptions. Say exactly what you mean, using the smallest number of words to make the point. State only the specific qualifications you have to best perform the job advertised, employers say they quickly eliminate any broad scope or generalized resumes submitted.
  5. Limit resume to TWO pages. Employers stated that they are primarily interested in worked done in the last 5-7 years no matter what level position the candidate applied for. Cover in detail the major job duties performed noting results achieved. Be a skillful editor, deleting experience over 20 years old or anything not relevant or helpful to your securing a particular position and at the level you seek.
  6. Use a bullet style format. Employers can gather more info faster and prefer the bullets layout over the paragraph style format.
  7. Add a Summary of Qualifications section. Employers read this first. Encapsulate your most marketable skills and experience into four to six sentences so this section is a mini-verbal business card that details what you are bringing to the new employer.
  8. Note your skillset first. Look through employers’ job ads to uncover the major work tasks they require. Work tasks are what recruiters and HR folks search for first, so put these in your opening sentence under work experience.
  9. Don’t hide graduation years. Mature workers worry that employers will discard their resume if they look too old. Yet most employers want a grad date so they can verify you actually did graduate. Over 30% of people lie about a degree they never earned on their resume. Therefore, more employers are verifying backgrounds before hiring.
  10. Make it visually appealing. Keep the formatting of your resume readable, sharp and professional. Make sure there is adequate white space between points. Use a clean easy to read font like Arial with a preferred font size of 12. Save it as a PDF to preserve the formatting.
  11. Do not lie or embellish! A new survey from Career Builder of more than 2,500 hiring managers found that 75% have HR managers have caught applicants lying on their resume. This red flag in almost all cases eliminated hiring the candidate from that particular position. The most common fib seems to be embellishing skills or capabilities and taking liberties when describing the scope of their responsibilities. Some people even claimed to be employed by companies they never really worked for. Be warned. Employers are doing extensive background checks these days and they often uncover your lies during interviews and reference checks. State your skills, qualifications, education, and experience as positively as possible without misstating the truth.
  12. Clarify a Job title. If your job responsibilities are not adequately described by your company’s job title, then alter that title and indicate your responsibilities with a title in more appropriate terms i.e. IT Systems Analyst, instead of Tech lll.
  13. Use action verbs. Start each sentence with a descriptive action verb — such as directed, organized, established, created, planned, etc. They add power to your sentences. And, never use “I” on the resume. Action verbs and short impact sentences gather more attention.
  14. No abbreviations or acronyms. Spell out names of schools, cities, business terms, abbreviations, and titles completely, as employers may not recognize the exactly what the letters stand for.
  15. Use the correct tense. In all your sentences, use past tense words since they imply that you “have done it” before. Employers focus on past results even if you are still currently performing the duty at your job, write the resume using the past tense only.
  16. Skip tables. Do not use a table to list competencies, skill sets or job descriptions. Most of the electronic applicant tracking systems that employers use can’t read them and so tables copy as blank sections.
  17. Avoid graphics. Artistic designs, color inks, emojis, and photos should be avoided. Most electronic resume software can not read designs, or color ink correctly and often eliminate or change anything they see that is not text.
  18. Don’t advertise negative information. The resume is the wrong place to advertise that you were laid off, fired, or had an extended illness. Never state why you left a position; simply list the dates of employment.
  19. PROOFREAD! Careful read and make your resume flawless. No spelling errors, mistakes or typos. Many HR managers reported they do not hire offenders. Don’t trust computer spell checkers since a correctly spelled word like “sea” would go unnoticed by your computer but would be incorrectly read if you meant to say “see.”
  20. Cover your bases. Use your networking abilities and LinkedIn connections to find the employer you are targeting for a specific job and use the connections to email them a copy of your resume.
    No tag lines. Employers know you’ll provide references if they request them, therefore it is not necessary to put “References upon request” at the end of your resume.

FINAL TEST — Are employers calling? Is your resume getting results with employers calling on appropriate jobs you are actually qualified to perform? No over qualified calls or underqualified options. If not, start editing and rewriting to improve your resume so it is the best possible advertisement about you and your skills.

Originally published in Forbes Magazine

©2021 Robin Ryan.

Robin Ryan

Robin Ryan

A career counselor that helps clients land jobs, I offer Resume Writing, LinkedIn Profile Writing, and Interview Coaching services.

I’ve appeared on Oprah, Dr. Phil and over 3200 other TV and radio shows. A Wall Street Journal #1 bestselling author, I have written eight career books including: 60 Seconds & You’re Hired, Retirement Reinvention, Winning Resumes and Over 40 & You’re Hired. Currently I write a weekly careers column for Forbes.com.

Helping people advance their careers and land a new job is my mission.

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