Applying for a job can sometimes feel like an exercise in futility; you can send out a lot of resumes and rarely receive a response. Chances are the culprit is your resume. By knowing what hirers look for in qualified candidates and by following a few simple guidelines for what to include in your resume, you will maximize your chances of success.
Since many companies often receive hundreds, if not thousands, of applications for a given position, hirers spend only about 10 seconds reviewing a resume. Your resume must hook a hirer’s attention with a concise, strong headline at the top, just below your name and contact information. Think about today´s newspaper; what headlines grabbed your attention and made you want to read the articles? How would you introduce yourself to a hirer? The following are examples of effective headlines:
- Senior manager with 10 years experience directing sales forces for Fortune 500 companies
- Highly analytical CPA with expertise in insurance and finance industries
- Expert IT coordinator with certifications in networking and database administration
Summary of Qualifications
Once you’ve hooked a hirer´s interest with your headline, summarize in up to eight one-sentence bullets why you are an ideal candidate for the job, focusing on areas of expertise, relevant job titles held, years of experience, and pertinent certifications and education. Also, closely read job ads and, if possible, incorporate the same type of language from the ads into your summary of qualifications. The following are examples of strong summary bullets:
- Lead five architects in designing $150 million development on time and under budget
- Surpassed $15K sales quota in first month; on target to increase sales by 200 percent in next quarter
- Exceptional communication skills; developed distribution template that reduced production planning stage by 30 percent
After the summary of qualifications, you will describe how your skills and experience made positive contributions to your employer´s bottom line. Be sure to include a mix of soft skills (such as communication, interpersonal, and negotiation skills) as well as hard, or technical, skills (including percentages, dollar amounts, and numerals, great items to attract a hirer´s attention). List your employment history in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent experience. Alternately, if you are switching careers or if you have a significant gap in employment, use a functional format, which breaks down experience by skill sets that are relevant to the position being pursued. Be sure to follow this section with an employment history section, listing company names, job titles, and dates of employment.
Education and Certifications
An education section is important to include on a resume, though if you feel that your graduation year ages you, leave it off. The most important information here is your highest level of education, school, and area of concentration. The education section is more relevant for entry-level professionals with minimal professional experience.
Hirers are busy people, too, and don’t have a lot of time to review every resume. Keep your resume short and to the point. Don´t exceed two pages for senior and executive-level positions. A professional with fewer than five years of experience should have a one-page resume.
Many people think the most important part of the job search is the resume. But have you noticed hardly any hirers accept a resume without a cover letter? That’s because hirers want to see a writing sample that expresses your interest in the position, knowledge of the prospective employer, and relevant skills and experience that you would bring to the job. Here are some tips for writing tailored cover letters that are sure to get you noticed:
- Address the cover letter to the hirer. Call the company or do a Google search to find out the hirer’s full name, title, and contact information. This information on your cover letter demonstrates to the hirer that you’ve done your research for the position.
- In your opening paragraph, be sure to mention the name of the employer and the position you are applying for.
- Provide a couple short examples of how your experience would translate to opportunities for the prospective employer. For example, explain how your background is a unique fit with the company and its products.
- Be careful with salary requirements. Most job announcements nowadays require the inclusion of salary requirements. But it’s very difficult to provide requirements for a position that you don’t know much about. Either let the hirer know that you will be able to provide salary requirements once you learn more about the position or you can give a range for your salary requirements. The key here is to not price yourself out of an opportunity.
- Keep the cover letter professional and brief. If you are unsure about the correct salutation to use (either Mr. or Ms.), call the company’s main switchboard and ask the receptionist. Or if you do not know the hirer’s name, use a gender-neutral greeting, such as “Dear Hiring Manager.”
- Close with a promise to follow up. Let the employer know when you will contact him or her to make sure your resume was received.
- Include your complete contact information at the bottom of the cover letter with your full name, address, phone number, and e-mail address.
- Paste your cover letter in the body of your e-mail; do not send it as an attachment.
By providing a few personalized touches to each cover letter, you will impress hirers with your thoughtfulness and thoroughness in researching the company upfront.