It's discouraging to send out résumé after résumé with fingers crossed that at least one submission will result in an interview. Some job seekers think they're doing everything right and trying their best: they've proofread religiously, tried different layout formats and used various submission techniques. Still, they haven't received any calls for an interview.
Here's some résumé rehab for those hassled job hunters. One or more of these six tweaks could make the true difference between staying in the no pile and receiving a call back.
[See: The 10 Best Cities to Find Jobs.]
1. Include information relevant to making a hiring decision, and erase all the rest. Time and space is wasted including things you only think an employer needs to know. Instead of writing a litany of responsibilities from job to job, accentuate only your accomplishments in the position. "Any HR person knows the basic job description for many jobs, so there's no need to summarize your title. You should be highlighting your success and, if possible, doing so with metrics," says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, a jobs service website that helps employees find freelance, part-time and telecommuting jobs.
"One of the reasons résumés get longer with more work experience is because people feel the need to include every job experience, including very old ones. Hiring managers tend to only read the first third of a résumé, so don't waste space with irrelevant or outdated information," says Gerrit Hall, CEO and co-founder of the résumé analytics firm RezScore. Users may submit their document to this company's website and receive a grade on its quality, as well as revision tips for writing a more targeted résumé.
"Clear, concise writing is always appreciated," says Paul McDonald, senior executive director of the staffing firm Robert Half International. "And your résumé should explain what value you added to an organization. Demonstrate that your previous employers have seen a return on their investment."
One thing you shouldn't erase, though, are your specific dates of employment. "Some don't include any time frame at all," Sutton Fell says. "Or they'll think they included time, but they've given the employer years without months. Saying you worked one numbered year to the next could mean just one month, December to January, or it could be nearly two years in time."
2. Throw out your stodgy template. Sending the same ol' same ol' résumé each time you apply for a job is as outdated as adding an objective to the top of the page. You should have a basic model that you may work from, but you need to tailor your résumé and cover letter for every job posting. "It's frustrating for a hiring manager to look at someone's résumé and see that they didn't take the time to read the job description," Sutton Fell says. "Failing to customize your writing according to the job description is one of the top mistakes job seekers make."
3. Don't concentrate on words, instead focus on message. One of the issues with peppering your document with buzzwords – think verbs like "spearheaded," and "implemented" and nouns like "team player" and "self-starter" – is that you start to sound like a résumé bot. "People get caught up in using the expected attributes of a good employee, or using overly long words to show how smart they are, but I'd advise you leave all that out," McDonald says. "Make sure you're getting your point across, and strive to impress with your experience and skills rather than your vocabulary."
4. Numbers speak louder than words. If you were the best-performing employee in your department, but all you write on your résumé is, "best-performing employee in the department," then that could be your main problem. Always give the metrics that back up your success – tangible achievements pique a hiring manager's interest and are worth more than superlatives. Numbers also convey your experience. "If I've been a CPA for the last 20 years, and I've taken the lead in five acquisitions and mergers, I'm going to specifically play up those numbers on my résumé. They stand out," McDonald says.
5. Be very specific about your skills. More than educational background and previous positions, skills make the difference between a pavement pounder and a new hire. WANTED Technologies is a Quebec City-based data company in Canada that collects information on employment trends and gauges how hiring supply compares to hiring demand. According to its data, the five top skills sought in jobs across the United States and across industries are organizational skills, project management, proficiency with Microsoft PowerPoint, sales experience and operations planning.
Most listings explain plainly and prominently the job skills required for specific positions, so your résumé should do the same. Consider including a summary of your qualifications at the very top – in the space that the extinct objective used to fill. "We find it's best to include even intangible skills in writing," Hall says. "Listing these skills outright could also help you if the employer uses a specific applicant tracking system that tracks keywords."
"You don't want an employer to have to jump to conclusions about what you can do," Sutton Fell adds. "Spell it out, be very clear and make it easy to see why you'll fit."
6. Time really is of the essence. There isn't a magic day of the week or Golden Hour of the day when employers are more likely to read your job materials, but timing is crucial in a different way. You might be at a disadvantage if you apply too many days after the job was posted. Consider whether it's worth it to tweak your résumé and submit for a job listing that's been online for more than 40 days. According to WANTED Technologies, the average posting length for jobs across hot industries such as IT, marketing and engineering is about six weeks.
"Each hiring manager is different, and the time frame for filling a position is different," Hall says. "Résumés could sit in a database for a whole month and no one goes through them to pick candidates, so there isn't a specific time of day or day of the week. What's most important is to apply for a job as quickly as possible and as close to the date the job was posted as possible. The quicker the better."