So when you’re ready to submit your resume, consider this checklist to increase your chances of getting the job:
1. Follow the instructions—precisely.
Make sure you follow any instructions to the letter. For instance, if the job posting says to put the position title in the subject line, do it—no matter what subject line you’d rather use instead. If you don’t, there’s a good chance your resume will go straight to the bottom of the pile, simply because you didn’t follow directions.
2. Send it to the right person.
Use the e-mail address included in the job posting, of course. But you can also take this a step further to increase your chances of landing the job. Consider tracking down the hiring manager’s email address and CC’ing him or her as well.
3. Convert your resume to PDF.
This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but if your resume is a PDF, you can be sure your formatting will be preserved. If it’s in Word, the document may display differently on the recipient’s computer than it does on yours. Avoid plain text resumes, which typically don’t look as polished as formatted ones.
4. Keep a plain-text copy of your resume for Web-based submissions.
If you’re submitting your resume via a Web-based submission system rather than e-mailing it, you’ll often need to copy and paste different sections of the document into different parts of the employer’s web form. Having a plain-text, unformatted resume on hand for these opportunities can make this process a lot easier.
5. Don’t get too creative with your resume format.
A resume isn’t the place to experiment with unusual colors or non-traditional design. The most important function of your resume design is to allow the employer to scan it quickly and understand the highlights of your experience and skills. Unless you’re applying for a design position, legible font, sufficient white space, and logical organization are more important than creative design.
6. Your cover letter can be in the body of the email itself.
People ask me this all the time: Where does the cover letter go? It’s fine to attach your cover letter as a separate document if you prefer, but putting the text in the body of the email itself makes it easier to scan quickly. Either way is fine.
7. Always include a cover letter.
Speaking of cover letters, this is your chance to make the case for your candidacy. Unless the employer specifically instructs otherwise, always submit a cover letter with your resume—even if they don’t ask for one.
8. Don’t submit extra documentation.
Unless the company specifically asks for something other than a cover letter and resume, don’t send it. Candidates sometimes include writing samples, letters of recommendation, transcripts, or even photos. Bring these sorts of extras (well, not photos) to your interview or wait to see whether the employer asks for additional documentation, but don’t send it in your initial e-mail. In most cases, it won’t help you, and in some cases it can actually hurt your chances. When a candidate attaches an unsolicited 20-page writing sample, for example, they look naïve, as if they don’t understand the hiring process.
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9. Update your profile on LinkedIn.
Make sure your resume and LinkedIn profile match, and that they don’t contradict each other. If an employer looks you up on LinkedIn and notices different job titles or different dates for positions, they may see that inconsistency as a red flag.
10. Don’t work on your resume or send it out from your current place of employment.
If you get caught, it could jeopardize your job. And even if you don’t get caught, it looks bad to the employer you want to work for. If they see your resume came from your work e-mail, they’ll assume you won’t be focused on the job when you’re working for them either.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.