As an administrative assistant for a small business, I used to open and process all the incoming mail. When my employer advertised for new employees, the task of judging incoming resumes also fell to me.
Practically all companies, large and small, have non-management employees who act as resume filters because managers don't have time to consider every applicant. That means secretaries and human resource assistants judge your resume first; these people may only have seconds—that's right—seconds, to judge your resume before moving on to the next one in the pile.
The most demanding task your resume takes on is surviving those first cuts. Over 90% of resumes don't make it. And even if you make it past the secretary, you have to impress management enough to earn an interview. Here are five resume secrets you need to know to get your resume into the "keep" pile.
Do Your Resume Homework
The more you know about the job you want, the better your resume will look. Ask others in your field about their job hiring experiences. For example, if you want to be a Hollywood makeup artist, seek out and talk to other makeup artists. Find out what got them hired. Find out what those who hire makeup artists look for in applicants. Join makeup artist clubs, subscribe to their magazines, and invite makeup artists to lunch. Ask to see their resumes.
In highly competitive fields, this may be challenging since the people you can learn from will see you as competition, and rightly so. You can compensate; without being dishonest about your goals, express sincere interest and appreciation for those with career choices that match your goals. No one can resist giving out valuable career advice to a genuine admirer.
Use everything you learn from others in the field to customize and polish your resume. Networking with others can teach you all about potential employers and also leads to promising job interviews. You'll have a better chance of getting an interview on a personal recommendation from an employee you've befriended than on your own.
First Impressions Count
It's been said before, but must be said again—resumes with smudges, errors, poor spelling and hodge-podge organization are the first to hit the trash can. Cheap photocopied resumes leave a shoddy impression too. And a four-page resume tells potential employers that you are long-winded, not exceptionally-qualified. Know that the first person to look at your resume isn't reading it, but looking for a reason to eliminate it.
Your best bet: laser-print on high quality paper, a single page cover letter, and—unless you've had a fascinating 30-year career—a single page resume. Tight, clean, short resumes earn a second look.
Keep Your Resume Focused
The worst thing to put at the top of your resume is a vague, rambling goal that no one wants to hear:
- Objective: To grow universally in a variety of dimensions, to become a far better human being, to work very hard and exceed personal and professional goals in a professional setting.
Now that's a pile of gibberish. Everyone knows you're looking for a job because you want to be paid. You also want to feel valued and would like to work at a job you enjoy, where you can grow. Your resume should show specifics about you, not generalities about life.
The best item to include at the top of your resume (besides your name) is the specific job title for which you are applying; this fills the "Objective" line quite nicely. Keep in mind that even small companies shop for more than one employee position at a time. Always include the job title you are applying for on both the resume and in your cover letter. If you make it easy for potential employers to see exactly which job you're applying for, the screener may thank you by steering your resume clear of the trash can.
If you aren't responding to a specific job ad and don't have an exact title for the specific job you want, pick a job description that summarizes your talents well and use this as your resume objective.
Appeal to Your Resume's Audience
It's easy to be the perfect fit for the job if you know precisely what an employer is looking for. When writing your resume, pay particular attention to the description and credentials listed for ideal candidates. Address each of these credentials in your resume.
When applying for a specific advertised job, always customize your resume. Follow the word choices that the company uses, focus on the credentials that this particular employer values most. And if you don't know what those are, ask and find out! (For more information, read Simple Steps to Customize Your Resume .)
But know that only rarely do hiring teams hit a home run and find a candidate that meets all criteria on their wish list perfectly. Don't be discouraged if you only have two years of C++ programming experience instead of recommended five. List what you have, then focus on ways to illustrate that you have what it takes to get the job done (i.e. your ability to learn quickly, extra education you've had in areas where you fall short on experience and so on).
Put on your best face with your resume, but always be honest about your credentials—resume lies will come back to haunt you.
Check on Your Resume's Progress
I once applied for a job knowing I was the perfect fit. I had done my homework. I knew the company's needs and goals. I had plenty of experience in the field and a degree to match. My references were impressive. My resume was loaded with enticing facts about my career; my cover letter was perfect. Both were razor-sharp and custom-edited to fit the job description.
I was crushed when I didn't receive a call back instantly. After two days, I was perplexed. How could they turn me down? Surely no other applicant could boast such credentials.
I stopped back in at the personnel office the next day and politely asked if they'd had a chance to review my resume. The secretaries said: "Oh yes! We don't know what happened—we read it and told management about you, but couldn't call you because we lost your resume! We're so glad you stopped by."
I immediately handed over a new copy of my resume, was interviewed by management and received the job I wanted on the spot. The opportunity would have been lost had I assumed that the company decided against hiring me when they didn't call.
Always check back to see if the company is interested, but don't become a pest. Look at yourself through the eyes of the hiring office; make yourself attractive and available, but not overbearing.
Following these five resume secrets will make your resume stand out from the crowd and get you noticed. If you keep at it, you will make a good impression and get a step closer to realizing your career goals. Good luck.