When you apply to a job, it’s not uncommon to see a posting where hundreds of applicants have applied—hundreds of applicants that need to be manually reviewed by a recruiter or hiring manager. It’s quite a daunting task. It’s no wonder why the average time spent reviewing a resume is 6 seconds.
If you’re a job seeker, that means your resume needs to wow your reader in 6 seconds or less –and that’s quite a big ask for any word or .pdf document.
Recruiters will tell you the best way to stand out is to cater your resume to the job you’re applying to. Heck, I’ll tell you this too, but I also understand that job seeking is a numbers game, and custom-writing a resume for every single job you apply to isn’t always a realistic use of your time –especially if someone is only reading your resume for 6 seconds.
Fortunately, quick tweaks to a “Master Copy” of your resume can go a long way in catching a recruiter’s attention in that small time frame –increasing your odds of landing that interview.
Unless they’re a trained speed reader or have a photographic memory, hiring managers aren’t thoroughly reading every resume that comes into their inbox. Instead, recruiters are scanning resumes for certain keywords and phrases that show you can perform the job successfully. Where do these keywords come from? The job description itself.
It’s always a good idea to pack your resume with keywords and phrases that you find in the job posting itself and here’s why:
- Some companies –especially ones who receive a high volume of applications– use programs that search for specific keywords, and if you don’t have those words, your resume won’t be flagged as a top application. So, for example, if your resume states generically that you have experience using cloud-based platforms, but the job description calls out Google specifically, there’s a chance your application could be overlooked because –even though you have the experience needed–the company’s search is specifically looking for the word “Google”.
While there is always a person who reviews applications before sending that final “Thank you, no thank you” email, not having specific keywords in your resume puts your application at the mercy of the human reviewing your resume to connect those dots.
Before applying to a position, look over the job description to see what words from the job description you can incorporate into your resume. Not only does it make a hiring manager’s job easier, but it also leaves no question for employers to look at your resume and go, “Hey! That’s exactly what we’re looking for!”
2. Bullet Points
Have you ever seen a job posting, email, or social media post that was just a wall of text and thought, “Wow. Okay. No thank you.”? That first impression either colored what you read, or you simply skipped over it entirely. Why is that? Because the first thing people actually read before they start reading is the layout of something. Normally, if you aren’t pressed for time, the layout isn’t a huge deal, but when you have 6 seconds to wow someone, having a legible resume layout is important.
Bullet points are a great way to break up space and help a hiring manager drill down into the experiences you want to draw attention to.
When scanning a resume for the first time, recruiters are looking for reasons you match, not reasons to rule you out, so putting the most important experiences from a previous role at the top of that section is a great way to make it onto the interview shortlist.
3. Trim the Fat
When you have a “Master Resume” that you make tweaks to, chances are you will have some bullets listed that won’t be relevant for the specific position you're applying to. Remember, an effective resume is just as much about what you leave out as it is about what you put in, so trim the fat!
Think about it this way: If a recruiter has to go digging or read through unnecessary fluff to find the experiences that make you a relevant candidate for their specific job, that will undercut the power of the relevant experiences as a whole.
Don’t believe me? Think about the alternative: What resume would impress you more in 6 seconds? A long resume with tons of accomplishments, but only 30% of those accomplishments were relative to the position you’re trying to fill. Or a shorter resume where each bullet checked off another box from your job description’s requirements.
Even though both resumes may have the same amount of relevant information, it’s about presentation. Cutting out the extra fluff can make you seem more qualified.
When you bulk up your resume, you run the risk of detracting from the overall story your resume is trying to tell. In this case, that story is that you’re the most qualified person for the job, and you know this position/topic/industry like the back of your hand.
4. Education and Certifications
Listing your education can be a little bit of a grey area. Of course, that is something employers want to see –especially if it is a requirement of the job, but how to list it can become sticky.
Now, at the end of the day, you either have the required degree or you don’t, but for some jobs, specific education concentrations or certificates can give you an edge over the competition.
If you have a relevant certificate or your degree has a related concentration, you’ll want to list those things. While you don’t need to take note of every degree/certificate you’ve obtained, you do want to highlight what knowledge and formal training you have that makes you the best fit for the role.
This rule stands for degrees you are pursuing or informal skills too. It never stops surprising me how many candidates leave out valuable skills such as being bilingual from their resumes.
It’s important to keep your education section updated and accurate. Again, if you want to stand out from the other hundreds of applicants, you need to sell your “professional package”!
When it comes to the job hunt, you know you’re not alone. At any given time, you’re one of many people looking to apply for a job. You also know at the end of the day, only one person can be offered a role, and competition is fierce.
In that environment, it can be helpful to think about the hiring process in the context of filters instead of steps. And the filter your resume has to make it through? What can you do in 6 seconds to “wow” my resume’s reader?
By making small changes to your resume specific to a job post, a hiring manager can see that you’ve read the job description, are qualified for the role, and –most importantly—mean business when it comes to your professional goals.