I was the first person in my family to go to college in the United States, which made the transition difficult and the learning curve steep. After graduation came another round of hurdles: Landing my first job and eventually transitioning to a salaried position with benefits. As a graduate of the COOP program, I coach students applying for digital marketing jobs. When I'm coaching, I often find myself sharing what I've learned throughout my own process of figuring out how to create an eye-catching résumé. These are my top dos and don’ts:
Consolidating your work experience to a single, relevant, well-edited page is a must, even if you’ve been working for 10-plus years. Hiring managers simply don’t have enough time to read pages and pages on every candidate for every job. If you have more than a page worth of notable experience and accomplishments, make a “master” résumé for your own records that has spells out everything. Then use that version to craft a more tailored one-page variation highlighting things most relevant to a particular role.
Yes, you want to cram as much as you can on that one page, but recruiters will toss résumés that are hard to read, too dense, or have inconsistent formatting (line up those bullets). Make it a priority to have a résumé that looks as good as it sounds. Think about layout, colors, and typeface. If you need a magnifying glass to read your text, you probably need to increase the font size.
It’s next to impossible to catch all of your own mistakes. Good proofreaders should notice things you’re overlooking, whether it’s a typo or a formatting or phrasing issue. If you and a few friends are applying for jobs at the same time, suggest that you start having weekly review sessions. Trade your résumés like you’re still in school trading papers. Mark them up to help each other. Nothing beats a second set of eyes.
Do your research: Who is going to read this? If you use industry lingo, will the HR person understand it? Go over your verbiage with a fine-tooth comb and clarify any tricky jargon. Keeping things clear and simple will go a long way.
Most jobs come with job descriptions that are used as guides during the hiring process. If you’re stumped on what skills to highlight, use the company’s description of your role as a guide to begin talking about yourself on your cover letter.
If you know people who are claiming to have done things or worked places they haven’t … ignore them. While you should proudly own your accomplishments and work history, over-embellishing or lying about your credentials is a surefire way to blow your chances with employers. Don’t inflate your work; you’ll only hurt yourself when someone goes to check your references and you get caught in a lie.
Every company wants to be spoken to differently. While your cover letter can help make it clear that you understand the brand, it’s not a bad idea to use some of the organization’s language within your résumé, too. Choosing terms and concepts that the organization values could inspire recruiters to give your résumé a second look.
When you apply to jobs online, there’s a good chance your résumé will end up in a jam-packed inbox filled with thousands of other applications, decreasing the odds yours will stand out and get the attention it deserves. Even when it’s difficult to know who is going to read your letter, do your best to find out where it goes. Does this organization outsource its HR? Are employees and managers in charge of the hiring process? Once you figure out a particular company’s methods, do some more digging and try to direct your résumé to the person who has the authority to bring you in for an interview.
Finding a job can be a tough, long process. But pulling all-nighters to submit 25 applications a day won’t help make it any less daunting. You might as well breathe, be thoughtful, and take time to remind yourself that if you continue being smart and strategic, it will all ultimately work out.
I knew I was a great candidate and that it was just a matter of getting my résumé (and ultimately myself) in front of the right people who could recognize my talents. The months of no callbacks and unanswered emails took a toll, and now I tell everyone to keep perspective. Remember: You are capable of being exemplary in many roles. Crafting your résumé is just a matter of presenting yourself in the right light.
Image by Yemi Adewunmi