"Oh no! Not another expert telling me how to write an effective resume, one that will get me past the bots, be ATS-proof, catch a decision maker’s eye, be well-written, and that meets all grammatical and spelling requirements," you will think reading the title of our blog...
Aren’t there already 100’s of experts out there telling you what to do? – Yes, there are, and some of their advice is really good, especially if it is free!
Don’t forget, however, there are lots of experts that do charge quite a bit for their services. Before you make any hasty decisions and spend your hard-earned money, we are here to tell you – there is another way! Mr. Simon is offering you a two-for-one special!
For the first time, our article will not only discuss best practices for writing your best resume ever but will also include our discussion with Colleen Georges, a career coach and author who will lend her expertise on the subject of resume writing and making a great impression on potential employers!
Main Elements of a Great Resume
Stuart: So, Colleen, let’s discuss the main elements of a great resume.
Colleen: Stuart, I think that we both agree that no resume is complete without the following elements:
Your Contact Information – Sounds like a "no-brainer", but you’d be surprised at how many people either leave off their current address, phone number, and email address, or they put this information in a header where the ATS can’t see it (more on this subject in the next section). Always make it easy for the prospective employer to reach you.
Introductory Summary/Profile – A brief summary of your skills, experience, and achievements using simple, straightforward descriptions that make it easy for readers to quickly understand who you are and what you are about. Remember, they don’t have a lot of time to review all those resumes. Make yours one they want to read.
Career Highlights and Notable Achievements – Highlight the things you have done that you are the proudest of, and be sure to frame these around the information in the job postings. Whenever possible, make these quantifiable. Numbers get attention.
Relevant Education – Include certifications that show you have appropriate knowledge of the subject area that the job requires.
Relevant Experience – Clearly show your experience and its relevance to the job you are applying for.
List of Your Skills – What skills do you bring to the job? Which hard skills are essential to the position? What soft skills (transferable skills) do you have that are key to any job?
Don’t Let the Big Bad ATS Defeat You
Colleen: The next most important process that our readers should be aware of is the Applicant Tracking System (or ATS for short).
Stuart: Great idea! Everyone knows (or thinks they know) about the ATS. It’s that heartless artificial intelligence invented to eat up and spit out resumes by the 1,000’s.
Most employers now depend on the ATS to save them time by eliminating those resumes that do not meet their basic requirements. Although many job seekers know how this works, we can ensure our readers that Mr. Simon is going to help them by providing the knowledge and tools they need to make the ATS work for them.
Colleen: Yes, making your resume ATS-friendly is critical!
Here are the most important elements of the ATS and how you can use them to your advantage:
Keywords – One of the ever-present features of an ATS is its focus on “keywords.” These are the specific words (or phrases) that the ATS wants to see in your resume. They are the words and terms found right in the employer’s job descriptions and relate directly to the job itself. They will include subjects like education, skills, experience, etc.
The resume must reflect these keywords for the ATS to pick up and match to the job requirements. If they are not there, the system will likely reject the resume!
Keywords in Context – Just listing a bunch of keywords from the job description will not work. They must be found in the context of your achievements, in your background, and your education. Just listing them is not enough.
The White Text Trick – You may have heard of this as a way to trick the ATS. It involves copying the job description, pretty much word for word from the employer’s website, and changing the font color to white.
Although it won’t show up on the resume, the ATS will still be able to read the words and presumably give you credit for meeting its “keyword” requirements.
There are two problems with this approach:
- Newer versions of ATS have the ability to spot this trick and will automatically discard any resumes that attempt to pull this off.
- If your resume actually gets in front of a human being, they may spot the attempted subterfuge (as there will be unexplained white space in the document or a text box of white behind the regular text), and they will most likely reject it (and you) as deceptive.
Unwanted Features – Certain features such as text boxes, columns, graphics, symbols, photos, and clever formatting might look good in a networking resume or one that you would bring to a job interview. However, they will very likely not be read correctly by an ATS.
Therefore, some of the elements that you might want to feature may not make it through the process, so keep things simple.
Headers and Footers – Never put vital information in a header or footer. It is unlikely that an ATS would be able to read what is in there! Insert it in the body of the document itself.
Imagine if your "Contact Information" is in the resume’s header and none of it made it into the system. The ATS will not have this meaningful information, and the resume may be rejected for the lack of this data.
Job Experience Headings and Details – Use standard headings for your "Experience" section, company, city and state, job title, and dates. Once again, keep it simple so the system can pick it up.
Online Job Applications – Uploading your ATS-ready resume may not be enough. When completing an online job application, be sure to fill in all the boxes!
Colors and Shading – These elements do not impact the ability of the ATS to read your resume, and if you choose to use colors instead of black for your text, pick a safe one such as dark maroon, forest green, or dark blue.
Bullets – If you want to change your bullet symbols from a plain round bullet, you are best to use symbols found in common fonts like Times New Roman or Calibri, as they transfer well from sender to receiver. If you use a symbol from an uncommon font as a bullet and the receiver does not have that font, it will change it to a different symbol.
Fonts – Fonts, such as Arial, Verdana, Calibri, Cambria, and Garamond, are the safest to use with an ATS.
What Really Doesn’t Belong in a Resume
Colleen: Now that we’ve looked at what belongs in a resume and what needs to be done to help with ATS, we should look at what needs to be left out of a resume.
Stuart: I totally agree! Our readers should keep in mind that sometimes resumes contain too much or the wrong information. It shouldn’t look cluttered and unprofessional.
If the resume makes it past the ATS, a real person will be looking at it. Folks should keep the following in mind when working on theirs:
An Unprofessional Email Address – Nothing looks worse than some email address you created years ago when something humorous or silly seemed like a good idea at the time.
Number of Pages – Two pages is ideal. Folks in medicine and higher education (who need a CV) probably need to go beyond two pages. Similarly, project managers and engineers, by the nature of their work, may also need to go up to three pages.
Way Too Much Information, Long Paragraphs – When describing your work history, avoid listing your jobs in paragraph form. Keep it pithy and to the point. Long drawn-out descriptions, too many words, and overly detailed explanations about your past jobs will definitely turn off the average recruiter or hiring manager. No one wants to read a solid paragraph in an attempt to find out about your accomplishments.
Instead, think of bullet points. They were made for resumes. They separate accomplishments and skills into easy-to-read items. Remember, long bullet points may look like paragraphs. Keep bulleted points to two lines or less.
Here are examples of how the same loan officer job is described in a resume. Example #1 uses the overly long paragraph form, and Example #2 uses the more focused, attention-grabbing bulleted version. Which one do you think will pass the “way too much information” test?
Spelling and Grammar Mistakes – A real “no-brainer” – double- and triple-check for these before hitting “send.”
Inappropriate Fonts and Font Sizes – It’s easier to say what you should use, rather than what you shouldn’t.
The best advice is to select a font that is crisp, clear, and easy to read. A few of the best are Arial, Calibri, and Times New Roman. It is the same with the font size. Stick with 11 point but anything from 10–12 will work just fine.
Photos – Make sure to figure out if it’s necessary to include a resume photo in the country where you’re seeking work. Include a personal photo on your CV only in the countries where it’s expected.
If you are applying for a job in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Ireland, then photos are not necessary in a resume. Sometimes, they can even hurt. Even if you look like George Clooney or Beyoncé, photos can be distracting and may actually lessen your chances. People make immediate judgments about looks, age, etc., before they have a chance to meet you.
Unnecessary Personal Information – No one wants to take the time to read about your family, your political preferences, where you like to go on vacation and other parts of your personal life that have little or nothing to do with the job at hand.
Hobbies and Other Interests – In general, these things do not belong on a resume. Save this information for the interview and then only if you discover that you and the interviewer happen to have the same interest in common.
Best Types of Resumes
Stuart: There are three standard types of resumes. Let’s talk about them and which ones work best for different circumstances.
Colleen: They are the Chronological, Functional, and Hybrid resumes. All have their uses, but I have to say up front that I am not a big fan of functional resumes. I feel that they are dated and not used as much anymore.
The Chronological Resume, on the other hand, is a lot easier for the recruiter and the hiring manager to read and follow. And in a chronological resume, the reader is getting the functional part in both the "Introduction" and "Achievement" sections. It is also laid out in a logical order and shows a candidate’s progression through his/her career right up to the present.
To illustrate how a chronological resume can serve the purpose of a functional one, here is an example:
Someone in accounting is laid off, and due to circumstances, took a sales job, but wants to get back to accounting.
This job seeker should make sure to emphasize accounting in the intro (first 1/3 of page one), followed by information on accounting training/course work, unpaid work, volunteer work, etc., done during the interim in between.
This can go into the "Experience" section if it is relevant so that accounting information comes before the recent sales position. This helps to re-brand the candidate as an accountant versus a sales professional.
Of course, for those with an employment gap, the functional resume, or a hybrid of the functional and the chronological one, may be the right answer.
Stuart, I know you wrote an article on Explaining the Employment Gap for Mr. Simon. Perhaps you can speak to these types of resumes and how they can be best used.
Stuart: Thanks, Colleen, I am happy to do so.
The Functional Resume might be used by a person who has an employment gap, is changing careers, or has a job history not directly related to the position they are applying for.
It emphasizes skills and professional accomplishments right up front. It tells the prospective employer what things they know about, rather than when they may have accomplished them.
For example, they demonstrate “leadership” by describing how they managed a project team that brought an important task in on time and under budget, instead of relating when this accomplishment occurred.
The key to a functional resume is to match elements of the job description to one’s own skills and experiences to demonstrate to the reader how they have successfully met challenges related to the job.
The Hybrid or Combination Resume, as it is sometimes called, combines the functional with the chronological by featuring the skills and accomplishments followed by the professional experiences in chronological order.
To my mind, this definition is basically the same as the one you gave earlier on how the chronological resume effectively replaces the functional one. I think that we both agree, the chronological resume, if written as you described it, is superior to both the functional resume and the hybrid resume.
The Master Resume and Tailoring Yours to the Job
Stuart: Colleen, let’s discuss the Master resume. How would you best describe it?
Colleen: The Master Resume is really a compilation of all of your experience and your skills. It looks just like your resume but is not necessarily the one that you would send out, but rather the one you are starting from.
Each time you see a job listing that you are interested in (or a networking buddy has told you about), you want your resume to reflect the right background for the job.
Matching your skills and experiences to the job means customizing the resume you send from those qualities shown in your master document.
Stuart: Can you give us an example of how this would work?
Colleen: Absolutely! Let’s take marketing, for example.
There are a dozen or more jobs in the broad category of marketing, including marketing specialist, marketing analyst, social media manager, advertising manager, media buyer, and digital marketing specialist, just to name a few.
Our sample job hunter’s master resume would include all of the skills and experiences that she has in her marketing career (e.g., content writing, merchandising, branding, web design, advertising, etc.).
Based on the job description and other details, the candidate would select the relevant features from the master resume to include in the job-specific resume.
Not everything in the master resume would necessarily be appropriate so she would tweak her achievements to focus on what the job description is looking for. Swapping out one set of marketing skills for another is what would make the resume stand out.
Your Resume and Your LinkedIn Profile
Stuart: Can a person have multiple LinkedIn profiles?
Colleen: No. You only get one LinkedIn profile. Think of it as your master resume. LinkedIn chronologically puts your jobs in order. Your title and summary should be comprehensive.
Unlike various types of resumes which may not contain everything, your LinkedIn profile should help anyone looking at it to see you as a complete individual. There is a common thread that describes you in a way that incorporates who you are and what you are looking for.
Stuart: Are there any other tips that you would offer for LinkedIn?
Colleen: Sure! Be certain that your title creates something that incorporates the many areas of your interests and experience.
For instance, if you have been in marketing, sales, and customer service during your career, you have to find a way to tie these together so that your title makes sense to the reader.
Also, and this is very important, don’t let your resume and your LinkedIn profile appear to contradict each other. Recruiters that find your profile on LinkedIn and ask for your resume don’t want to be confused by seemingly different documents.
How to Feature Virtual Skills on Your Resume
Stuart: It’s 2021, and everyone needs to have virtual skills to stay current.
Remote collaboration is becoming the necessity of the day, so we all have to know how to use Zoom, Slack, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, or some other software to communicate with one another. A job seeker that is not familiar with them will not do as well in today’s job market.
Colleen: That’s right! Such skills go beyond these communication platforms. People have to know how to make presentations, and present them virtually to others such as customers, staff, management, even company boards of directors.
Virtually all training is now done online. The most commonly used features of Zoom, such as screen sharing, muting/unmuting your microphone, turning your video off/on, etc., are very helpful in rounding out skills on your resume. Maintaining client and colleague engagement through Zoom and other platforms is expected of many job seekers.
Colleen: If at all possible, always have a cover letter. Have a master cover letter ready to be tweaked for each specific job, even if you think that no one will actually read it.
Although some people may not read it, the cover letter serves four important purposes:
- It checks the box when required by the job application process.
- It serves to highlight and potentially elaborate upon the most important information in the resume.
- It gives you the opportunity to tell the reader why you are interested in the job.
- If not required for the application, it makes you stand out amongst the competition for submitting something extra.
Stuart: I would also suggest that the letter have a sentence or two showing that you know something about the company (from your research) that makes it important to you as a job candidate.
You might want to pull in some detail from the job description and tie it to the work you have done in the past.
Colleen: A brief STAR story might also help our readers to understand how they would be a good fit for the company going forward.
If you are going to use a STAR story, however, it must be brief and to the point. You don’t want the letter to run on and risk losing the reader!
Turning to a Resume Writing Expert
As we said in the beginning, you may still feel that your best efforts are not enough, and you wish to hire the services of a professional to help you get the perfect resume.
This is certainly up to you, and we do not want to discourage you from doing so. Just keep in mind that such services often come at a real cost (ranging from the low hundreds into the low thousands of dollars).
If you can afford it, and see real value to you in having a professional help you with your resume, then go for it!
We are delighted to recommend two people who you can turn to for help in writing your resumes at very reasonable prices. They are Mr. Simon’s friends, and he has every confidence in the quality of services they offer.
Dr. Colleen Georges will help you:
- showcase your proudest achievements
- highlight your unique strengths/expertise
- convey your value and career story
- land your resume on top of the pile
Colleen is a passionate life and career coach, resume writer, motivational speaker, organizational trainer, and university lecturer. She is the author of the 8-time award-winning, international best-selling book, RESCRIPT the Story You're Telling Yourself. She will be happy to help you rescript your resume and turn it to your advantage.
Dan Newmark will help you:
- make your resume visually more appealing by reformatting & redesign
- get rid of spelling and grammar mistakes
- re-word your document for clarity & impact
If you need powerful restructuring, dynamic, attractive and consistent formatting of your resume at an affordable price, get in touch with Dan via his LinkedIn or learn more on his site exclusively for resume editing services.
Dan is a go-to presentations expert with extensive experience designing and editing new business presentations (PowerPoint, Google Slides, Apple Keynote). He offers a full range of presentation services for startups and enterprises. For more information, visit Newmark Digital Presentations.
To recap all that was said, here are the takeaways to remember when preparing your powerful resume:
- Make sure to emphasize your achievements, the hard and soft skills that the job requires.
- Use the proper keywords, bullets, and fonts in your resume that will be accepted by an ATS and will make it easier for the potential employer to read.
- Be concise! Drawn-out descriptions and overly detailed explanations about your past jobs can turn the employer off your candidacy.
- Always check your document for spelling and grammar mistakes and proofread it several times before sending it.
- Don’t include photos in your resume if you are applying for a job in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Ireland.
- Avoid information about your family, political preferences, or hobbies in your resume. If needed, you will be asked about them during the interview.
- From the three types of resumes (i.e., Chronological, Functional, and Hybrid ones), choose the one that will work best for your specific circumstances.
- Prepare a Master resume. It will help you create multiple tailored resumes when applying for particular jobs.
- Have only one LinkedIn profile that aligns with your resume. It will help you demonstrate yourself as a complete individual.
- Highlight the virtual skills that are relevant to the position you are applying for.
- Always have a cover letter. It will boost your chances of landing an interview.
- Turn to a resume writing professional if you feel that your efforts in making your efficient resume are not enough.
Creating your own resume is not always easy, especially if you do not think you have “a way with words” as they say. However, do not let this prevent you from creating your own document.
Remember, your resume is a reflection of you, and you are the best person to tell your own story!
About the Author: Stuart Weiner has over 25 years of experience as a compliance officer and auditor, primarily in the healthcare field, and is currently the Principal of Integrated Compliance, a compliance consulting firm. He also serves as the registrar for the training committee at the Professional Service Group of Central New Jersey (PSGCNJ) – a U.S.-based organization that helps job seekers in their career transition.