Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.
I graduated last year and have a year of work experience but was laid off as coronavirus hit. Companies are now starting to hire again, and with so many people looking for work, the competition is overwhelming. I'm just not getting any responses to my resume. Any ideas about what I can do to improve my resume?
One of the most common resume-writing problems is misunderstanding how your resume will be found and processed. It is common to try to make your resume appeal to as wide an audience as possible. But the recruiters who search resume databases—where your resume will ultimately be stored when you send it to an employer—are looking for people qualified for one specific job, so you need to focus your resume on one specific job and not try to make it all things to all people. A one-size-fits-all resume is actually less discoverable in database searches, and it will appear to be less relevant and receive a less careful review whenever it is read by a recruiter.
Here are some practical tweaks you can use to improve your resume's performance.
Deconstruct Your Target Job
With job competition as fierce as it is now, I would suggest you pursue one distinct job that you can do now—one for which you have all the skills and experience needed to hit the ground running.
You probably have a good idea of what that job is, but you may lack an understanding of how employers define the job. The quickest way to gain that understanding is to collect six job postings that focus on that particular job. Then comb through them to find the skills and experience they have in common and the words they use to express these needs. These are the words recruiters will use in resume database searches and the words that will determine if your resume will be found or not.
If you want to pursue a different target job, you need to create another resume with a new focus. This isn't as big a chore as you think, because the layout and many of the details on your primary resume will remain the same.
Choose Your Target Job Title
Just as every movie, blog, book and TV show has a title to draw people in, your resume also needs a title. It's best to use the most common job title from the six job postings you collected. This target job title will appear at the top of your resume, immediately after your contact information. It's a headline for the whole document, helps your resume's discoverability in databases, and gives readers an immediate focus on who you are and what you do.
Use a Performance Profile or Performance Summary
Don't use "Objective" as a headline and then describe the job you want because the employer isn't interested in what you want until it makes an offer.
Instead, follow the target job title with a brief summary of what you have to offer—how your skills and experiences relate to the needs identified in the half dozen job postings you collected. Some of the skills and requirements will be common to all six postings, while others might be common to only one or two; focus on the ones that are most common.
Take the requirements common to the collected job postings for this job and write three to six lines describing your ability to execute these requirements.
Whenever you can, use the wording employers use in their job descriptions. When you do this, two things happen:
- Your resume pops up more often in recruiters' searches.
- Your resume is read more carefully.
Your research demonstrates an understanding of the job, and that can set you apart in a sea of candidates who haven't done their resume prep work as carefully.
If you lack a certain skill or experience, add a sentence about your desire to "work more with" or "gain more experience with" that particular skill. This gets critical keywords in your resume and shows a recruiter that you understand the job's needs.
List Your Professional Skills
A professional skills section identifies the skills required to execute the responsibilities of the job. List these words and acronyms in three columns to help recruiters who are skimming the document.
When a recruiter evaluates this section, each word, acronym or phrase tells the reader of another topic to be addressed at the interview and increases the odds of that interview happening.
Include Your Professional Experience
Include the names of companies you've worked for and when you worked there. Repeat the keywords you first mentioned in your professional skills section to describe each job in which you used them. This puts those skills with the place and time and helps the recruiter put your skills in context.
Forget the One-Page Resume Rule
This rule has been around for decades and is out of date because jobs have become far more complex. Use your resume to tell the story of your professional qualifications as they relate to the target job, but let the content dictate the page count. This doesn't mean you can ramble, though. Keep your resume tightly focused and if you have enough experience to warrant a second or third page, don't worry. Recruiters are unlikely to read the first page of your resume, think you are an awesome candidate, then decide not to see you because you have even more relevant experience on a second or third page.
If you make these changes in your resume, it will be more likely to show up in recruiters' resume database searches, meaning you'll likely get more interviews.
Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to [email protected] We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.