From Mediocre to Must-Interview: A 7-Step Resume Makeover

First-Job-InterviewDuring a speaking engagement this week, I was asked this question by a collegiate clearly frightened 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 100 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 can’t suck.”

No matter how good we think they are, statistically speaking, most resumes do suck. And within the first 6 seconds of review, 60% of those resumes are thrown away by Automatic Tracking Systems (ATS) or recruiters.

Changing your resume from a “1 in 100” to the “1 in 10” that gets 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.

Remember: white space is your friend.

Impact: You survived the first cut – and reduced your competition from 100 to 80.

Step 2: Personalize Your Resume (and Cover Letter)

We know better, and yet far too many applicants still 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 60 remaining applicants.

Step 3: Pepper Your Resume with Keywords

Larger corporations and agencies use ATS to process the high volume of resumes received. As programmed by recruiters, 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 100… to 1 in 40.

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 30… you have left 70% of your 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!

Some examples:

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 in the “this person just might be worth a look” category; just 20 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 15; 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? After all, HR often doesn’t pick the best person for the job, they pick the safest person that can the job.

To determine the answers to these questions, your LinkedIn profile is reviewed to ensure there are no blatant 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. And if the “real” you is not a close match to the “resume” you… you are likely not worth the risk.

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 100 mediocre resumes received, to a 1 in 10 “must interview” candidate.





Mark BabbittAbout the Author: CEO and Founder of YouTern, Mark Babbitt is a serial mentor who has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Forbes and regarding job search, career development, internships and higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce. A keynote speaker and blogger, Mark’s contributions include Huffington Post, Bloomberg News, Switch and Shift, and Under30CEO.

Mark has been honored to be named to GenJuice’s list of “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors,” HR Examiner’s “Top 25 Trendspotters in HR” and CareerBliss’ “Top 10 Gen Y Career Experts.” Mark is currently working on two new books: “A World Gone Social: How Business Must Adapt to Survive (AMACOM, June 2014) with Ted Coine and “The Ultimate Guide to Internships (And Making Your College Years Matter Again)” (Allworth, September 2014). Contact Mark via email or on Twitter!


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