This past weekend during a panel formed to discuss business and career matters with college students, I was asked this question by a collegiate clearly frustrated, even scared, by the possibility of graduating in May with no job prospects in sight:
“How can I win when I know my resume is one of 500 the company will get for this one job?”
My reply (knowing the short answer was probably not going to help without further discussion):
“Your resume has to not suck.”
Statistically speaking, most resumes – no matter how good we think they are – suck. Within the first 10 seconds of review, at least 60% of resumes are thrown away by hiring systems or recruiters.
Changing your resume from a “1 in 500” – and being seen as just another also-ran – to the “1 in 10” that got the interview, can be accomplished with relatively little effort. Here are the steps to build a truly great resume – and their theoretical impact (from the recruiter perspective) on how a resume moves through the decision-making process:
Step 1: Present a Resume Worth Reading
Far too many resumes are littered with typos, unfinished sentences and poor layout. These resumes scream “unemployable” – and are the first to be discarded.
Using a resume professional or trusted mentor, create an articulate resume that passes the first-glance test with good grammar, correct spelling and an easy-to-read layout.
Impact: You survived the first cut – and reduced your competition from 500 to 400.
Step 2: Personalize Your Resume (and Cover Letter)
Far too many applicants send generic resumes to every company, like it came off a copy machine (which it just may have). Showing no differentiation or interest in this specific position – without the slightest effort to indicate any research was done on the company – these resumes are next to be discarded.
Tailor every resume you send to the job description and company. No exceptions.
Impact: In just two easy steps… you are now 1 of 300 remaining applicants.
Step 3: Pepper Your Resume with Keywords
Larger corporations and agencies use Automatic Tracking Systems (ATS) to process the high volume of resumes received. These systems find keywords in your resume that show you meet minimum qualifications. Without these keywords, your application is sent to the digital discard pile – before a human ever sees your resume.
Using exact words from the requirements section of the job description, meticulously include keywords in your resume.
Impact: Having passed the ATS (and in about 10 seconds) you have quickly moved from 1 in 500… to 1 in 200.
Step 4: Create a Summary Statement
Through social media profiles, we enjoy getting to know each other in a matter of seconds. In our digital world, your resume should do the same.
Just below your name, create a summary statement – either a short paragraph (maybe 400 characters) or six to eight bullet points – that enables recruiters, in one glance, to see who you are, what you can do and if you are a good fit for their company. (Note: the summary statement is a great place for peppering those keywords!)
Impact: The candidate pool is down to 100… you have left 400 competitors behind.
Step 5: Quantify!
Recruiters are drawn to “inferred contribution” – a fancy way of saying “What you did before you will do again, for me.” Quantifying, in the simplest form possible, enables the recruiter to see how you’ve performed in the past– and envision how you will produce in their company. The trick is to help them see your “by the numbers” value!
Before: Lead my sales team in all categories; consistently exceeded quota
After: Top salesperson in 4 consecutive quarters; exceeded quote by 132%
Before: Excellent leader and mentor
After: Maintained a 75.4% retention rate among team members; 45% of my team received promotions
In an ultra-competitive job market, quantifying your work history is a mandatory step in writing your resume.
Impact: You are now safely into the Top 10% of resumes received; just 50 applicants remain.
Step 6: Concentrate on Culture
Having made it this far, there’s little doubt in the recruiter’s eyes you can do the job. The next task at hand: find out if you are a fit within the company culture. Will you work well with the existing team? Will you and your supervisor get along? Are you a low-key contributor… or a high-maintenance diva?
Analyze the company’s website, social media presence and the job description. What are the keywords that describe their employer brand? For example, if they often mention teamwork, flexibility, family and community involvement – your resume should be infused with those keywords. (Warning: do not do this in an insincere, “I’ll-say-anything-to-get-a-job” way; be real – and be honest)
Impact: You have moved to 1 in 25; pass one more test and that elusive phone interview is yours.
Step 7: Remove the Notion of Risk
Are you a good person? Do you make good personal decisions? Should the recruiter stick her neck out to recommend you?
To determine the answers to these questions, your LinkedIn profile is reviewed to ensure no discrepancies with your resume (specifically, have you attempted to use keywords to BS your way into an interview?) Facebook is reviewed as a digital reference check; anything that positions you as a risk is scrutinized heavily. Your Twitter account, personal blog and other forms of online presence will also be evaluated. You will be Googled.
All this is done with one mission in mind: to reduce risk by ensuring the “real” you is a close match to the “resume” you.
Impact: No red flags in your online presence? Congratulations… you are one of 10 invited to interview!
Worried about finding your first job – or your next? Think you don’t stand a chance because your competition – at first glance – may be in the hundreds? See if following these seven steps gets you from perceived as just 1 of 500 mediocre resumes received, to a 1 in 10 “must interview” candidate.
About the Author: A passionate supporter of Gen Y talent, CEO and Founder of YouTern Mark Babbitt is a serial entrepreneur and mentor. Mark has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Forbes and Under30CEO regarding internships, higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce and career development. Recently, Mark was honored to be named to GenJuice’s list of “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors”. You can contact Mark via email or on Twitter.