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The Fundamentals of Making Your Resume Stand Out

When my son was eight years old, we were excited to sign him up for tackle football. As we approached the season, we expected to receive the first phone call from his head coach but instead received a call from the league. “We have some good news and some bad news.” Okay, I thought. Did my check not clear? “The good news is that your son is on a team. The bad news is we can’t find a head coach.”

I thought, “How hard could it be? I played - I can coach!” That began the start of a significant part of my life for the next 13 seasons between my two boys.

Thanks to the help of a reliable mentor the first year, I learned a lot. The real learning came in about the fourth year. As I became confident as a coach and my kids became more competent as players, I saw the other coaches starting to implement more trick plays. On occasion, these plays generated a lot of yards. Consistently, though, they were risky. Instead, I received the best advice – FOCUS ON THE FUNDAMENTALS.

The job hunt is similar. Over the past 25 years, I have seen thousands of resumes; different styles emerge. We have gone through phases of the popularity of various types. Each class seems to believe that they are going to somehow “catch our eye” and make a difference more with the aesthetics in the substance. In other cases, they try to cram more content per square inch, believing that more is better - only to make the resume is illegible and leave us confused.

Today’s job hunt is different. Most processes begin with the ATS (applicant tracking system) that scans the resume. Next – or possibly beforehand – you have the recruiter that spends about 7 to 10 seconds reviewing the resume to decide whether to reject it. You may have other gatekeepers are also scanning it for keywords, content, or other items. Finally, you may have the decision-maker at the end who still must review the same document decide whether to invite you in for an interview. One document must serve all these masters.

The best approach is to focus on fundamentals. Let’s start with these five fundamentals of your resume:

  1. Clarity – Your resume must be clean. When you look at it, it needs to look crisp, clean, and uncluttered. When you look at a document, and it looks cramped and ugly, you don’t want to read it. If the pages have long paragraphs, the mind automatically sends warning signals that it will be an investment of time – potentially exhausting to get through. If the page looks sloppy, it is also a disincentive. However, if the page seems organized, the layout looks neat, and the document appears welcoming, that is a good start.

  2. Predictability – Information should be easy to find. End of story. Placing your information in new places to “mix it up” or to “make it fresh” is not the right move for your resume. Employers want to go into your resume, find what they are looking for quickly, and make a decision. Put your information in predictable locations, easily identified with headers that use everyday language and titles, and laid out in a flow and format that makes sense. Use a reverse chronological approach to your experience to tell a story of how you got to where you are. Help them to help themselves in finding all of the information about you that they are looking for quickly and easily.

  3. Reader-Friendly – Use a format that is easy to follow, easy-to-read, and easy to remember. Avoid industry jargon, acronyms, and terminology that is difficult to remember. Use everyday language and words to describe your experience and background. Make it as easy as possible for them to read and understand what you have done, how you did it, and the outcomes of your efforts.

  4. Utility – Your resume should be functional. Most readers want to get to the point quickly and easily. Using single line bullet points to get your point across is far more effective than long paragraphs to explain your point. Start the resume with a Profile or Summary section that explains who you are, what you’ve done, and what you can bring to the company. Share a Skills or Key Competency section to layout your top skills for them to see exactly what you can do for them. Spell out your experience so they know what you have done, who you have done it before, and how it may apply to the job you are seeking. Place your education at the end – yes, it is essential, but not more important than your experience. Make it easy to use for the reader.

  5. Accurate - The resume should be exact from the perspective of correct dates, titles, responsibilities, and words. Double-check all positions to ensure that the titles you use in the resume are proper and that you do not overstate your role (e.g., calling yourself a Vice President when you were a Director). Always check for typos. While some employers are forgiving, not all are as forgiving. The higher up the position is, the less tolerant we tend to be (e.g., a CEO would not be excused for a typo in his or her resume as easily as a front-line mechanic).

If you haven’t started to review your resume yet, it’s good to start somewhere. Don’t focus so much on getting it perfect the first time around. Get it put together, review it, and then have somebody else check it. Once you build it initially, incorporate these five principles to get it as close to perfect as possible. Then share your criteria with others before they review your resume. This approach can help you to do more to achieve your best than anything else in the resume stage of the job hunt.

Here's to your success!

Dr. Wade

Connect with me: LinkedIn @DrWadeLarson Twitter@DrWadeLarson

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