21 Ways to Improve Your Resume

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

You’ve submitted your resume for one or more job openings.  Now your resume needs to get through an applicant tracking system (ATS) and then get selected by the recruiter or HR person doing the initial screening.

But when your resume finally makes it into someone’s hands, it typically gets just a 15-second glance according to Human Resources and hiring managers. 15 Seconds!

You have got to garner their interest fast or you are sunk.

If you are a professional with a lot of experience, possibly two or three decades, 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, designs, 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 be found. Review the jobs you’ve done and note the key industry buzzwords and vital work tasks. Your resume keywords should include your skills, competencies, and 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 work done in the last 5-7 years no matter what level of 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 bullet 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.

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  1. Hide graduation dates if over 55. Mature workers worry that employers will discard their resume if they look too old. This is a legitimate concern.  So to get around it, list your degree with no date.  Once you are in the interview and an offer is on the table, then they will likely ask for your graduation date so they can verify your degree.

  2. Do not lie or embellish! A survey from Career Builder of more than 2,500 hiring managers found that 75% have HR managers have caught applicants lying on their resume. In fact, 30% of all people lie about their degree.  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.

  3. 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 III.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. No abbreviations or acronyms. Spell out the names of schools, cities, business terms, abbreviations, and titles completely, as employers may not recognize exactly what the letters stand for.

  7. 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.

  8. Skip tables and columns. Do not use a table or column to list competencies, skill sets, or job descriptions. Most of the electronic applicant tracking systems that employers use can’t read them and so these appear as blank sections.

  9. Avoid graphics. Creative resumes do not work. 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.

  10. Don’t advertise negative information. The resume is the wrong place to advertise that you were laid off, fired, went on sabbatical, or had an extended illness. Never state why you left a position; simply list the dates of employment.

  11. PROOFREAD! Carefully read and make your resume flawless. No spelling errors, mistakes, or typos. Many HR managers reported they do not hire offenders. Don’t completely 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.”

  12. Referrals matter. Use your networking abilities and LinkedIn connections to find an employee who works for the employer you are targeting.  A referral by that employee is always guaranteed to have your resume looked at. While only 7% of all applicants are referred, 47% of these candidates are hired.

  13. FINAL TEST — Are employers calling? Is your resume getting results with employers calling on appropriate jobs you are actually qualified to perform? No overqualified 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.com

©2023 Robin Ryan.

Robin Ryan

Robin Ryan

A career counselor that helps clients land jobs, I offer Resume Writing, LinkedIn Profile Writing, Interview Coaching, and Salary Negotiation 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 careers column for Forbes.com.

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

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