Get Resume Writing Right

In the last few weeks, I’ve published blogs about landing great internships and building strong internship programs. It might seem like the workforce is very different for new grads than for everyone else. However, just about everyone in a company, from the interns to the executives, has something in common. Just like you, they’ve probably spent hours agonizing over their resume. Most of us have a basic draft already. But how do you take your resume to the next level? Whether you’re actively looking for a new role or just looking to showcase your skills, read on for my tips.

COVID Context

First of all, it helps to understand the world we’re living in today. The elephant in the room is the pandemic. As hiring recovers for many companies, roles are opening up. In many organizations, opportunities are also becoming remote or flexible. In recent months, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics has shown unemployment rates decreasing. As others are finding work, know that you can too. This article describes a “talent shortage” affecting the United States economy. This means that there aren’t enough qualified or interested candidates to fill some open roles. Chances are good for you if you want to apply to a role that looks like a good fit.

There’s just one catch. Most organizations aren’t sending every resume to a human being right away. Instead, they’re using specialized software to filter through resumes. This software is called ATS, which stands for Applicant Tracking System. In this Forbes article, career coach Ashley Stahl explains why it’s important to know how this system works. Basically, you need to learn the rules of the game in order to have a chance at winning.

What to Include in Your Resume

To make sure your resume makes it to a real person, use keywords to pass the ATS. That’s the main point Stahl drives home in her article. This means making sure that the skills required in the job description are showing up in your resume. This article with strong examples notes that it’s not enough to just talk about what you did. Describe the impact of your actions. Examples of impact include cutting costs, boosting productivity, creating a new internal workflow, or solving a major problem. Be sure to quantify your results if possible.

In general, you’ll want to focus on the most recent 5-7 years of experience. In 2021, that means pandemic years will show up on your resume. As this article from FastCompany suggests, you’ll want to highlight examples of leadership during the crisis. What was your organization like before you made your impact? What challenges did you help the organization overcome? Speak to those points in your resume.

In addition, you want your resume to tell a story. Ideally, it traces the path you’ve taken to develop the skills you can now bring to a new position. To accomplish this goal, consider using a brief summary, as this HBR article suggests. Take a few lines to describe your overall career accomplishments at the top of your resume. This way, you’ll be bridging what you’ve already done to what you could offer a potential employer.

Mistakes to Avoid

Of course, there are some mistakes you won’t want to make as you’re crafting your resume. This article explains why. For instance, don’t just talk about your organization’s work in general. Remember, you’re marketing yourself, not any previous employers. Focus on what you contributed in your role during the time you spent there. Another caution: steer clear of too-specific jargon. Don’t assume that just because all your coworkers know a term, so will the hiring manager at another company.

If you’re a woman, this FastCompany video is for you. It describes some mistakes women are more likely to make in a resume. As I described in this earlier post, women interact differently with the workforce than men do. On average, women are more likely to do invisible, supportive work. They’re less likely to make a splash with flashy results. However, it’s important not to undersell yourself in a resume. Be confident in the skills and accomplishments you have to show for your hard work. Part of that confidence means using assertive language. Describe how you led a company effort; don’t just mention being part of it. Note times when you excelled; you didn’t just happen to do okay at something. You can bring tremendous value to a new role, so showcase it!

Updating an Existing Resume

If you have a resume from a while back, this is a great resource for you. That article lists parts of your resume to freshen up if it’s been a while since you wrote it. Most obviously, you’ll want to check out the description of your most recent role. What can you add? Any new numbers that quantify your impact? You’ll also want to update any place that lists your years of experience. Believe it or not, we’re in 2021. You’ve probably got another year or two of experience under your belt since the last resume draft!

In terms of things to cut, know that listing your graduation year won’t serve you. If you’re a recent grad, this can only make you seem inexperienced. You want to be seen with respect for what you’ve learned and accomplished, even at the start of your career. On the other hand, if you graduated several decades ago, listing that year might trigger a bias against older employees. Although the law prohibits age discrimination in the workplace, it can still happen.

Before you hit “save” again, make sure you’ve got any recently acquired certifications or skills on that resume. That might include things you’ve learned from remote work. Remember, the pandemic made you think quickly and flexibly. What will you bring to a new role from that experience?

Tools to Help You Out

If this feels overwhelming, I totally understand. Luckily, there are great tools out there that can help you out. In this article by a career coach, you’ll find a good list. For instance, ResyMatch and JobScan both compare job descriptions with your resume. These tools look for keywords you’re hitting, as well as what you’re missing. JobSeer is a Chrome extension that does the same thing for search results in job boards. That means you don’t even have to copy and paste!

If it feels overwhelming to take all these steps in reviving your resume, Pyrus is another helpful tool. Use Pyrus to organize your tasks in a clear to do list format. You can use the software on your phone or computer. With a motto like “Moving Work Forward,” you know Pyrus will help you move forward to your next job with confidence.