Most of us know from experience that looking for a job can be incredibly stressful. You spend hours upon hours perfecting your job materials, searching for openings, and sending in applications, only to have your potential employer spend six seconds looking at your hard work. Oh, that’s right: 2012 research from The Ladders found that job recruiters spent an average of six seconds studying job seekers’ résumés “before they make the initial "fit or no fit" decision.” Because employers scan job candidates’ résumés so quickly, it’s incredibly important to make sure that your résumé represents you in a way that’s accurate, appealing, and easy to read. As the cliché goes, you only get to make a first impression once, so you should try to do everything you can to make that impression a good one. (Keep in mind that the résumé is not the only document a recruiter sees; most of the time, you’ll also submit a cover letter. Your cover letter can be a great opportunity to give your potential employer a sense of who you are as a person and an employee, something that is quite difficult in a résumé alone).
Different industries have different standards when it comes to résumés, so the very first thing you should to is seek out examples and advice from people already in your desired field. Regardless of what kind of job you’re applying for, however, there are a few simple rules that jobseekers across the board should follow. Read on to find out seven simple things you should do to make sure that your résumé really shines:
1. Proofread, proofread, proofread
Remember: Your résumé is your first impression. Your potential employer won’t care how qualified you are if your documents are plagued by typos because these mistakes—small though they may seem—send the message that you’re sloppy. How can a recruiter expect that you’ll take meticulous care with his or her business if you can’t extend that kind of care to your own job materials?
So commit yourself to proofreading your résumé over and over. (And don’t just use spell check. This is not 6th grade.) It’s also a good idea to ask for help: Send your document to friends, your significant other, your parents...anyone who might be able to catch an error that you’ve missed. Also take the time to check (and recheck) that your contact information is accurate. The last thing you want to do is make it impossible for an employer to reach you because there’s a typo in your email address! Once you have your résumé in perfect shape, remember to recheck it any time that you make changes to tailor it for a specific job.
2. Keep it simple
Yes, Elle Woods impressed with a pink, scented résumé, but outside the world of fiction, it’s best to keep things simple. That means good quality, white paper; black ink; and a basic, easy-to-read font, in a standard size. (Anything smaller than 11 or 10 pt, and your resume becomes really hard to read.) When you’re putting together your résumé, don’t only think about cramming in as much info as possible; also prioritize a good amount of white space, so that your reader can easily decipher the structure of the document.
3. Keep everything consistent
Making sure your résumé is stylistically consistent will help to ensure that you present a professional front. Keep your formatting and punctuation the same throughout the document: If you end headings with a period, then make sure they’re all like that. If you abbreviate some names of months, abbreviate throughout (so, if one section says “Jan. 2013,” make sure another section doesn’t say “February, 2012.”). These rules may seem really picky, but keeping everything the same throughout will give your résumé a real sense of polish.
4. Avoid overused words
In 2013, LinkedIn did a survey of the most used words in people’s profiles. “Responsible,” “strategic,” and “creative” topped the list. Although you don’t need to get avant garde in your language, it’s a good idea to mix up your wordage a bit, so that you don’t sound exactly like everyone else. Check out the rest of LinkedIn’s overused words here.
5. Try to emphasize results, rather than responsibilities
When you discuss your work experience, try to include information about what you actually accomplished, as opposed to a basic list of your everyday responsibilities. Did your last job involve writing grant applications? Include info about your success rate. Did your work as a web designer increase web traffic for your last employer? Say so!
6. Keep it short
I know it’s tempting to include everything that’s ever happened to you on your résumé, but you should really keep it down to one or two pages, which will require that you prioritize some of your experiences over others. Take the work of paring down your résumé as an opportunity to tailor it to the field in which you’re applying and to the specific job you want. For example, if you’re applying to marketing jobs, then you don’t need to include your work as a camp counselor.
7. Include what’s relevant, and don’t pad
It’s easy to feel insecure about your level of work experience, but try not to pad your résumé. Potential employers will see that you’re padding and will take that as a sign that you lack experience. Cut out things that are outdated; If you’re a few years out of college, generally work experience from high school is going to seem like too far of a reach. Emphasize the experiences that have most prepared you for the job, and spend less space on those that are further afield. If a previous position is completely unrelated to what you want to do now, it may be a good idea to simply leave it out.
All of that said, don’t sell yourself short when it comes to relevant experience. Spend some time thinking about how your internships, volunteer work, and other unpaid labor have prepared you for the job you want. If you’re looking for a job in web design, and you singlehandedly created an amazing website for your university kickball team, that’s relevant information. If you’re looking for work in PR, and you volunteered as the assistant to the PR manager of a local nonprofit, that’s relevant, and you should include it!
Good luck out there, friends!
Images: Christian Gonzalez