What’s important in a resume?

The stories are everywhere: the resume is dead, companies are using unconventional hiring strategies and people are finding more creative ways of getting a job. But the need to have a good resume isn't going away anytime soon. Unfortunately, many people struggle with writing and editing their resumes, and a poorly crafted resume can completely ruin a job search.

There are no hard and fast rules for resumes, but what most experts do agree on is that having an easy-to-follow resume is paramount. Linda Daniels, Manager of Assessments and Learning at the Philadelphia branch of The BOSS Group, a creative staffing firm, says, "We emphasize good organizational hierarchy, clean design and layout, and concise but comprehensive content regarding experience and skills, making it clear at a glance what they do and what they want to do."

Considering a recruiter generally spends six seconds reviewing a resume, they need to understand your area of expertise very quickly. Mustafa El-Rafey, SVP of Talent Management and Rewards at QVC, adds, “It is important to tailor your resume to the job you’re applying for. Look closely at the job description and then highlight the skills, key competencies, and career experiences relevant to the specific position.”

There's also a lot of well-founded concern about Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software. For jobseekers, these programs can induce a fear of being passed over based on formatting choices or missing the correct keywords. If you're drawing a blank or just want to be sure you're using the right language, look through some of the job postings that you're targeting and build a list of position- and industry-specific words that pop up frequently.

Do be careful, however, not to put too much into your resume. One of the most common mistakes job seekers make is including too much information and hoping the employer will see how versatile they are. This often backfires and gives an impression that the applicant is not committed to the specific position the company is looking to fill. “Don't throw a lot of keywords into a resume - that makes you look like a Jack-of-Too-Many-Trades,” cautions Daniels, adding that the last thing you want to come across as “is a Master-Of-None."

You also don’t need to include every job you’ve ever had, and you don’t need to talk about every responsibility. If you’re making a career change or have broad-based experience, it can be especially useful to create an introductory summary or profile section that sets the tone for what you want the reader to focus on. This is also a great place to list technical skills, fluency in languages (other than English) and other selling points that might not fit into job descriptions.

Explain what responsibilities you’ve held with each position on the resume, but don’t simply rely on generic descriptions. “Highlighting at least one key major accomplishment for each role helps to demonstrate your significant impact to the organization,” advises El-Rafey. If you can quantify how much you increased sales, talk about streamlining a process from days to hours, cite examples of improving customer satisfaction or other achievements, it will help you stand out from all the other applicants who have held similar job titles.

While it can be frustrating not to have a clear-cut formula for what should be included and how it should be addressed, it can also be liberating to have the freedom to create a resume that's truly in line with your current goals.


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