Writing a resume is a daunting task. This one piece of paper holds the key to a new career, a change of responsibilities, and hopefully, a nice pay raise. How well it’s written will also determine how and where you spend 50+ hours of your time each week.
The amount of information online about resume writing can be overwhelming. One source says you should use Times New Roman, while the other says Calibri. Well, I am here to put those debates to rest. Over the past 6 years, I have placed over 600 professionals in their dream careers at the nation’s top companies, including Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, and Verizon. By working intimately with hiring managers and job seekers alike throughout the entire recruitment process, I have fine-tuned the art of writing a winning resume and am here to share my insider secrets with you.
How Hiring Managers Look at a Resume
To write a winning resume, you need to look through the eyes of a hiring manager…
Your name is Hiring Harry and you are the Director of Finance at “Bloomberry”, a prestigious finance agency in New York City. Your team has more work than they know what to do with, so you have recently received approval from your VP to hire a new Financial Analyst. In the past, you have looked for a recent finance graduate from one of the top universities, who has had an internship, and is a whiz with Microsoft Excel. You have a standard job description that you have always used, so you throw it up on your company job board, you post it on Indeed, and you reach out to some of your staffing agency partners to see if they have anyone in their network.
Before you know it, you have hundreds of resumes pouring. Your team is already drowning with work, but the job applications are piling up, so you use the spare 30 minutes after eating lunch at your desk to scan through resumes. Thankfully, the Applicant Tracking System installed on the job boards have done the job of filtering out the massively under qualified resumes for you. Nevertheless, you don’t have much time, so you quickly spend a few seconds scanning through each resume to see if anyone jumps out.
After 20 minutes go by, you get an urgent email from your boss… A server has crashed, and all financial reporting is down. Looks like you will have to come back to those resumes later.
Resume Formatting Basics
Does the narrative above sound unfair for the job applicants? Sure- But it’s reality. So long are the days of knocking on doors with a paper resume in hand. Nowadays, applications are digital and resumes are automatically filtered by machines. And if your resume does make it to human eyes, statistics show that recruiters spend an average of 6 seconds scanning through a resume before they decide ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and move on to the next.
The number one thing you can do to increase your resume odds is to focus on formatting. A hiring manager’s eyes are trained to look for certain items in certain places. This also means that the font, layout, and flow of your resume needs to be consistent so hiring managers can quickly locate what they are searching for. Here are the formatting basics:
File Type: MS Word or PDF
Font: Times New Roman, 10pt or 11pt, black color
Margins: Narrow or Moderate
Length: 1 to 2 pages (max!)
Professional History: Include 10 to 15 years of experience
Remember- When it comes to formatting, consistency is key. If you put one company name in bold, all of them need to be bold. If you put one date in italics, they must all be in italics. You also need to make sure your headers, company names, dates, and position titles are vertically aligned down the paper.
Each resume should have the same sections, no matter your seniority or industry. The only change would be if you are entry-level, and have no relevant professional experience, you could swap the experience section with coursework, projects, or extracurricular activities. Here are the basic resume sections, in order from top to bottom, along with some tips for what to include in each:
Title & Header – Centered at the top of the page, note your first & last name, desired job title, 3-4 areas of specialty, email address, phone number, physical address, and a link to your personal website or LinkedIn profile.
Professional Profile- 3-4 sentences giving an overview of your years of experience, areas of specialty, and selling points about what makes you different. Avoid using soft skills, and instead, focus on hard or tangible assets. Anyone can write that they are a hard worker or team player, but that doesn’t prove that they act like it.
Summary of Skills – List of key skills separated into categories. These skills should correspond with the keywords in the job descriptions you are applying for. Again, focus on tangible skills, not soft skills. Make sure to include a ‘tools’ category containing any software or applications that you are familiar with.
Professional Experience- Listed in chronological order, with your most recent position first. You must include your title, company name, the dates of employment (month & year), a brief description of the company, a brief description of your position objective, a list of your responsibilities, and any notable achievements. For current positions, use the present tense. For past positions, use the past tense. Utilize action verbs instead of passive descriptions to give life to your description. Make sure to include as many metrics, numbers, and figures as you can.
Education, Certifications & Training – You can keep these sections together, or if it’s too long, you can separate them out. Include the institution name, the degree or certification, and the dates you graduated or attended. Always list your academic degrees first and then list your certifications and training’s in chronological order.
What is an Applicant Tracking System
I’m sure you have heard of Applicant Tracking Systems, better known as ATS, but are probably wondering… What the heck is it?
If we go back to Hiring Harry, we know that a hiring manager uses many avenues to source candidates, ranging from job boards to social media. An Applicant Tracking System is the software that brings the applications together in one central place where they can be automatically screened, stored, and manipulated.
Every company has an ATS that is used to track what positions are open, as well as the candidates that apply to them. This means that hiring managers can see how many times someone has applied to their company. Which is bad news for those that apply to every single open position, whether or not they are qualified for them.
The ATS also allows a hiring manager to track where they are in the recruitment process. This includes which applicants they like, who they have talked to, and who is coming in for an interview. When someone applies for a position, a personal file is automatically created, much like a file in a doctor’s office, and notes will be saved on all interactions, including feedback from an interview.
One of the most critical functions of an ATS is their automatic screening process. When a hiring manager uploads an open position, they will input a list of skills they are looking for, usually separated into ‘must have’ and ‘nice to have’ sections. Going back to Hiring Harry, for his Financial Analyst opening, he might include a bachelor’s degree in Finance and MS Excel as ‘must haves’ and SQL and investment banking as ‘nice to haves’. The ATS will then scan each resume that is submitted to the position to see if they include those keywords. The more times the keywords are repeated, the higher the ATS ranks the applicant. If there are no, or very few keywords, the ATS system will automatically flag the applicant for disqualification.
How to Optimize your Resume for ATS
With Applicant Tracking Systems, it’s all about keywords. To increase your chances of being looked at by a hiring manager, you need to analyze the keywords in the job descriptions you are applying for and then strategically place those words throughout your resume. The keywords should be evenly distributed through your header, professional profile, summary of skills, and professional experience sections. Take care to use the keywords exactly as they are written in the job descriptions, as they are usually searched for by the ATS verbatim.
When the ATS system creates a file for you, it automatically pulls information from your resume to populate fields for your name, contact information, education, and experience. To make sure the ATS pulls the correct information, your resume needs to be in Word or PDF format, using simple formatting (not tables), and without any information in the header or footer.
What Experience to Include in Your Resume
Many people wonder what experience is appropriate to include in their resume. The short answer is, keep it relevant to the positions you are applying for. If we put ourselves back in Hiring Harry’s shoes, would I really care if my Financial Analyst worked in a restaurant for 3 years?
This goes for training’s and certifications, as well. If you are applying for a corporate desk job, there is no need to include that you are CPR or firefighter certified. Only include the information that is relevant to the job you are applying for. The extra stuff can be brought up in an interview if you really feel it will give you a leg up.
Final Resume Writing Tips
Writing a resume is as much of an art as it is a science. If you are ever stuck wondering what to do, just put yourself back in Hiring Harry’s shoes. I also like to remind my clients that a resume is like fishing bait. You don’t need to give everything away on the first go. Just write enough to get the hiring manager to bite, and then you can reel them in all the way during an interview.