Illustration: Ashley Siebels
Writing a resume is, let’s face it, not always seen as fun: hours mulling every year of your career, searching for the right words, worrying about whether your accomplishments look impressive enough. Then you have to find the time to noodle around with it, between work, family and other commitments.
Even more importantly: there’s no wiggle room. Recruiters spend about six seconds looking at your resume before they make their initial decision. So, you have to make it count. (Some will go to any length to make it count: One savvy job-seeker created a 20-page magazine about himself to impress the editors at GQ — maybe a little too long).
Make sure your resume accurately reflects who you are, what you have to offer the company you want to work for, and that it’s competitive enough to rival the resumes of other people with big dreams and creative minds.
Your resume might be read by a computer
While most resume advice focuses on creating a pretty document that impresses humans, you’re better off with an efficient one that impresses robots. Many large companies keep resumes in databases that are scanned for keywords and processed by algorithms before a human ever sees them.
Luckily, there’s a way to design the document so it can be read by a computer.
Here are the top tips for a successful digital resume.
- Algorithms favor the top of a resume, where experience is more relevant. Fill that area with a “target job title,” expert Martin Yate has said. That means taking the same job title from the job you want and finding a way to feature it on your resume.
- Use the same major words that are in the job description. If the job listing is for a Project Manager, make sure that you use words that show expertise in that field: PRINCE2, for your certification.
- Make sure each entry on your resume describes hard skills that a computer will understand. Instead of “motivated a team,” for instance, tend to emphasize hard data: “grew revenues,” or “implemented new software” or “innovated a successful profit strategy.” Each entry should focus on measurable performance.
- Go minimal. Humans and computer both appreciate this. “Try to avoid all graphics, tables and fancy fonts” because the system is designed to process text only, Jan Tegze, Senior Recruiting Manager at SolarWinds, said in a LinkedIn post.
- If it’s all too much to think about, choose an “ATS” option on resume-template sites like Hloom.
- Hloom has an ATS Optimized resume templates section. That means that these templates are formatted specifically so computers can read your resume. “All the Information” seems like the best because even though it’s mostly black text, the sections and your title stand out in orange, and the font is slightly more playful than the one featured on the “Technical Special” template.
Picking all the right words
A 2014 CareerBuilder survey of “2,201 hiring managers and human resource professionals across industries and company sizes” shed light on some words you should and shouldn’t include on your resume.
Once again, vagueness is a terrible strategy.
For instance, here are a bunch of the terms that participants chucked in the “no” pile: “best of breed,” “think outside of the box,” “go-getter,” “value add,” “detail-oriented,” “proactively,” “bottom-line” and “team player.”
Better words exist. Emphasize actions and achievements, not just personal qualities.
These are some of the terms the survey participants favored instead: “achieved,” “improved,” “trained/mentored,” “managed,” “created,” “increased/decreased,” “negotiated,” “launched,” “under budget” and “won.”
Every word makes an impression, so choose each one carefully.
Be wary of Google Docs resume templates
Google Docs offers free templates to help guide your resume design process– but this approach is more traditional, and may not leave much room for more customized resume styles.
To access them, log into your Gmail account if you have one, head over to Google Docs, click on “Template Gallery,” then “General.”
As you scroll through the options, you’ll currently find resume templates like “Swiss,” “Serif,” “Coral” and “Spearmint.” Many of them have formatting and interesting fonts, which may impressive people in some industries but will stand in your way if you’re aiming for that minimalist appeal that pleases both humans and robots.
The best option is Coral, which includes no distracting formatting and has “Skills” right at the top. If you’re in a field where you’re sure your resume will go to a human, Serif is also a nice Google Docs option because it’s easy to read and the formatting isn’t intrusive.
Where to find other resume templates that succeed
Don’t be afraid to branch out and use other resources when formatting your resume.
Hloom offers hundreds of free templates, with categories like “Basic and Simple,” “Clean,” “Modern,” “Contemporary,” “Creative” and “Infographic.”
The best of these to pick: in the “Clean” category, the “Substantial” template features open, white space for your name in clear, bold type at the top and leaves space for your title and summary. The text is mostly black, but the orange adds a nice hint of color. The lines between sections of the text make it easier to read. Many other options include bells and whistles that you’ll like if you’re applying for a visually oriented job; for those, you might try one of the options in the Contemporary category or in Portfolio, which gives space to add photos of your work.
One note about Hloom: The Muse pointed out that users should be sure to hit the “Click here to download” link — not the big, green, “Free Download” button— when downloading a template on the computer.
Full disclaimer: I have used a free, Hloom resume template to design an earlier version of my own resume.
A note about colors— while you probably shouldn’t throw handful on your resume, be sure that if you use color in your job search, that the hue aligns with your “personal brand message.” Colors can carry symbolism far beyond what you intend; for instance, we remember a financial publication that refused to use red anywhere because the color implied money that had been lost. Only green or navy blue were acceptable.
Choosing the right font
The font you choose will also make a world of difference. Bloomberg profiled fonts to embrace and avoid on your resume.
The best and most eternal advice: back away from Comic Sans!
As for Times New Roman: some discerning hiring managers steer clear of this classic font. It’s not particularly easy to read, and it’s so standard that it suggests you chose the laziest option. “It’s telegraphing that you didn’t put any thought into the typeface that you selected…It’s like putting on sweatpants,” Brian Hoff, creative director of Brian Hoff Design, let Bloomberg know how he really feels about it. (Of course ever font has its apologists: The Washington Post begged to differ.)
With all this talk of fonts to kick to the curb, which ones should you use? A lot depends on personal taste, of course, but we checked out some suggestions to see what experts like.
The Huffington Post listed Calibri as its number one, with Samantha Howie, senior human resources recruiter at the of Maximum Management Corp., saying that the font is “…clear, readable, straightforward but not lacking in personality.”
Create a LinkedIn profile
Resumes are great when you’re applying for jobs, but every job-hunter knows that connections matter most. LinkedIn has become the default social network for industry leaders to check up on each other, whether or not they’re currently looking. Many recruiters favor LinkedIn as a way to search for prospects, and the multiple levels of connections mean that serendipity may get your resume noticed.
We like this Business Insider guide to all the different things you should do to make your LinkedIn profile stand out, including a good, professional picture and a focus on skills and even volunteer work to show that you’re well-rounded. The best part? If anyone needs to see your experience in a hurry, you can just send them a link.
Of course, LinkedIn isn’t always the most delightful user experience, but as long as you’re spiffing up your resume, you should make sure you do it right on a social network that almost anyone can access.
The way you revamp your resume is ultimately up to you, but make sure it’s something you’re proud of so you can passionately talk about your achievements if you get contacted for an interview.