In today’s job-hunting world, it’s no longer enough to have a college degree in your field from an accredited institution—not when more than one-third of Americans (33.4 percent) have four-year college degrees, as reported by the U.S. Census in April 2017. Instead of just relying on a college degree, as might have been the case 20 or even 30 years ago, more and more job seekers are realizing they have to find other ways to make their resumes stand out from the crowd when it comes to appealing to hiring managers, recruiters, and the like.
So what are some good ways to make your resume stand out? There are several different ways to get your resume noticed by recruiters or hiring agencies, but here are some of the most common.
- Use a standard resume format. One of the most common mistakes new and even experienced job seekers make when it comes to making their resume stand out is attempting to get creative with the formatting.
While this may work fine for graphic designers, user interface/user experience designers or others in the creative fields, generally you don’t want to get overly fancy with the formatting of your resume. Not only does this play havoc with the applicant-tracking software most companies use, it also makes it more difficult for a recruiter to scan your resume with a casual glance—and sometimes, when they’re going through stacks and stacks of resumes, a casual glance might be all they have time for.
So how can you maintain a little creativity when it comes to your resume, while still staying in that recruiter- and hiring manager-approved standard resume format?
The answer is to use a template. Many sites offer easy-to-use resume templates, but possibly the most accessible ones are those offered by Google Docs. These templates allow you to present your arguments in a coherent, cogent manner while still managing to make your resume stand out from the crowd—and sometimes, that’s all you need.
- Put the most important or relevant things first. When it comes to applying for a job, figure out what sections of your work history are most important, and rank them appropriately. Unless you're a recent graduate, keep your educational background near the bottom. Most employers don't care when you graduated. Instead, they just care that you have a degree.
So look over the job requirements, figure out what jobs would be most relevant to the job you’re applying for, and put those first. Say you’re applying for a graphic design position in San Diego: That year you spent working as a cashier at the local Walmart probably isn’t relevant, so it would be wise to either keep it down to the bottom of your resume, or leave it off entirely.
What do you do if your most relevant experience isn’t your most recent experience? At that point, your best bet is to create a tailored “Experience” section that comes before everything else. This portion should have every job, volunteer work or other experience you think a recruiter or hiring manager would want to see for the position in question. The key with this section is to ensure the person reading your resume gets the message about what you have to offer.
- Tailor your resume to the position you’re applying for. When it comes to ways to get your resume noticed by hiring managers, or even just their website’s applicant-tracking software, you should tailor your resume to the position for which you’re applying to . We touched on this a little in the previous section with the use of a “Relevant Experience” section, but you can even take that one step further.
If you’re planning to apply for multiple, similar positions, one easy way to tailor your resume is through the use of keyword analysis and insertion. Take all the job postings you’re interested in applying for and run them through a keyword analysis website like SEObook’s Keyword Density Analyzer. This tool will show you what keywords come up most often in all the job postings you’re looking at, and then ranks them by frequency.
You can use this keyword analysis to adapt sections of your resume to include keywords managers or applicant-tracking software are looking for. For example, if you’re looking for front-end web developer positions and the keyword analysis software mentions HTML 65% of the time, it would be best to include your HTML experience in each of the jobs you performed, or even just in a “Relevant Skills” section.
The more times you use specific, well-used keywords, the more the applicant-tracking software will ping on your resume, increasing its visibility.
- Add and update a “Relevant Skills” section. Right underneath the “Relevant Experience” section of your resume, consider adding a “Relevant Skills” section if you don’t already have one. This is a way to bring attention to skills relevant to your new position, which you developed or trained yourself in at a previous job. To come back to that example of the graphic design position in San Diego, if you had taught yourself how to use the Adobe Creative Suite of design and production programs, that would be something to add to a “Relevant Skills” section.
Using a “Relevant Skills” section is one of the easy ways to make your resume stand out to hiring managers, because it allows you to showcase skills that may not be explicitly obvious in your “Relevant Experience” section. In fact, it’s best to put your “Relevant Skills” section right underneath your “Relevant Experience” so it’s the next thing the hiring manager sees when looking at your resume.
At the same time, however, be sure to keep that “Relevant Skills” section updated. Remove anything you know a hiring manager will think is a little dated—for example, experience in Microsoft Office Suite. In a post-college world, no hiring manager needs to hear you have experience in programs like that—it’s expected. Instead, use this section for skills that would be unexpected or would make you stand out from the crowd, like a foreign language.
- Don’t neglect the basics. As you get your resume prepared for the position or positions you’re applying for, don’t forget to keep the basics in mind. That means double-checking your formatting before you hit that “submit” button, making sure it’s consistent across all areas of your resume. You want all the headers in the same font and style, all the bullet points to match up—both in point type and in font selection—and all the numerals, numbers, and dates to look the same across the board.
The main thing to remember is that you do not want your resume’s styling to look sloppy—good formatting is one of the many ways you can set your resume apart from others’.
Part of not neglecting the basics also means you need to watch out for acronyms, making sure that you spell them out and include the acronym on first usage so the recruiter can understand exactly what you’re talking about. Don’t assume someone in human resources is familiar with all the jargon and technical terms common in the design industry.
Spelling out all acronyms also means the applicant tracking software most hiring managers use will be able to pick up on the acronym in either format, ensuring it doesn’t discount you as not having experience that you do, in fact, have. An example of this would be listing yourself as a Certified Public Accountant, or CPA.
- Mind the gaps. When it comes to gaps in your work history, how you handle them might be what sets your resume apart from the others. The best way to do this is to cut out the usual start and end dates of a position—e.g. dd/mm/yyyy to dd/mm/yyyy—and instead go with just the years only. So if you worked as a graphic designer with the Martin Fields Design Company from 6/06/2010 to 8/18/2014, consider just changing those dates to 6/2010 and 8/2014, respectively.
If you ever have to explain gaps in your resume, there are some things you can do to best address them, if employers should ask.
Be honest. Whether it’s a layoff, a firing, or just a simple need to take time off work to tackle other things, employers will be thankful for your honesty when it comes to what you may have been doing in your absence from the workforce. Developing a reputation for being truthful—or, on the opposite side, deceitful—will last a lifetime and impact how your future job interviews go, whether you realize it or not.
Be prepared. Even as you prepare to discuss previous positions you’ve held or skills you’ve learned, prepare for questions from your possible employer about the gaps in your work history. Stuttering and stammering your way through these explanations is just as unimpressive as showing up late or forgetting copies of your resume. Being prepared to talk about resume gaps isn’t just about focusing on what can negatively affect you, but also about the positive effects. Consider the important skills you’ve picked up along the way as you’ve taken a break from the workforce, and how you can use them to reinforce the job you’re going for.
7. Identify a narrative and stick to it. Identifying and sticking to a narrative is one of the best ways to get your resume noticed by a hiring manager. Figure out what the overarching aim of your resume is. What kind of job are you attempting to get hired for? Does your relevant experience point toward you being a good fit for this job? Do your relevant skills match skills people in this job category are known to have? Roll these questions around in your head as you look your resume over.
Once you’re certain that your resume has developed and sticks to the storyline you want to present, print it out and pass it off to a trusted friend to read. Ask them what they think the narrative is. What are their three most notable takeaways after reading your resume? If these don’t match up with the vibe you’re looking to put out, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
After you’re certain you’ve established a narrative for your resume, don’t forget to carry it over to your cover letter. While not all jobs require a cover letter, many do, and being able to write one that touts why you’re a strong match and why you’d be a good fit in the job you’re applying for is a good way to get hiring managers to take a look at your resume. Use this as an opportunity to do research on the role, as well.
While these tips are great for getting your resume noticed by a hiring manager or recruiter, you shouldn’t just neglect the job once you’ve hit that “submit” button.
If you feel comfortable doing so, ask the hiring manager or recruiter for advice on how they’d like you to follow up. Follow it. If no advice is forthcoming, at the very least you can follow up with a call or email to the person responsible for filling the position. Be ready to reiterate your interest in the position, because you might only have a few minutes to sell yourself. Practice before you pick up the phone. Write up a draft or two before you send that email. Above all, just find the right balance so you stay on top of the recruiter’s mind and one step closer to getting that job.
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