Job Search Series – Five Steps to a Modern, Effective Resume

Your resume is still your most important marketing tool.

Guest Post by Lyn Leis

There is a lot of buzz these days about resumes becoming endangered or extinct. LinkedIn is a major resource for recruiters. Employers are checking you out on social media. Applicants are (sometimes successfully) using video resumes or guerilla job hunting tactics. You may opt to use some of all of these avenues (in an intelligent and informed way, of course) as part of your job search. However, most of your job applications will still require the traditional application method that includes – at minimum – a resume. And even if your video resume or LinkedIn profile gets attention, you will still need a strong resume for an interviewer to use. So, make sure your resume is updated and modern to market you most effectively.

1. Wow them…with content.

Everyone wants to make their resume stand out from the competition. Many people try to do this with graphics, colors, and creative formatting. This may make your resume stand out, but not in a positive way. Recruiters actually want your resume to follow a simple format and standard guidelines because it helps them quickly locate the information they need. An over-designed resume will likely slow them down, which will prove annoying rather than interesting. In addition, it will show recruiters that you don’t know the standards for applying to jobs (or worse, that you don’t feel they apply to you) which may also land you in the “No” pile. Finally, consider that your resume will probably be printed for review by at least one person, and that it will probably be done on a black and white printer. Your graphics and colors may not translate well and be difficult to read. (For more computer-related reasons to leave these out, see #5).

2. Omit outdated sections.

The Objective section is considered outdated or unnecessary by many recruiters. The assumption when you send a resume in to apply for a job is that your objective is to land that particular job. Listing an Objective may therefore be too broad or redundant. Or, it may have the opposite effect; sometimes employers may not invite you to interview for that position, but may find you a good fit for a different one. If your Objective is too specific and doesn’t describe that other position, recruiters are saying they may not pursue you in this manner.

You should also remove the “References available upon request” line from the bottom of your resume if it’s still there. Providing references upon request is an assumed part of the hiring process, and it is also considered redundant to say this on a resume. You can’t afford unnecessary information when your resume is one page (or maybe two, for more experienced candidates) and you have other new and relevant information to advertise.

3. Don’t get caught in a cover-up.

For quite a while, candidates have formatted their resumes to fudge, hide, or distract recruiters from information that may be detrimental to landing a position – such as gaps in employment, or lack of certain skills. One common way to do this is to use a functional resume format, which focuses on transferable skills and accomplishments, and minimizes employment history. However, the modern resume should not attempt to cover up potentially negative information. First, recruiters have seen these tactics many times and will recognize immediately that an applicant may be trying to hide something. Second, if they don’t notice right away that something has been hidden or omitted, they will find out eventually – maybe even in the interview – and will be annoyed that you kept this information from them. They may even wonder what else you fudged, hid, or even potentially lied about.

This may feel counterintuitive, but do the opposite! If you can demonstrate the ability to read a job description, identify requirements you may not quite meet, discuss them in a cover letter, and present an argument for why you should be interviewed anyway (positives that outweigh those potential negatives, or ways they could improve these areas), you are more likely to be interviewed than those who engage in cover-up operations. This tactic shows honesty, ethics, judgment, analytical skills, and communication skills, all of which are highly desirable in employees.

4. Customize your resume for each application.

Because recruiters spend less than a minute on your resume, you want the most important information above the fold. If your lab skills or language skills are required or extremely pertinent to a particular job, move them further up the resume. If some of your earlier job experiences are more relevant than your most current, use Relevant Experience and Additional Experience sections to help you move those positions further up your resume. Presenting the most relevant information first will make the recruiter’s job easier, and also show that you spent time reading the job description and know which of your accomplishments are the most important to highlight.

5. Make it computer friendly.

Humans aren’t the only ones reading resumes anymore. Many companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), which are designed to convert resumes to plain text and then analyze them for keyword matches. Resumes with a certain percentage of keyword matches (pulled from job descriptions and also identified by recruiters) will make it through the ATS. At this time, the ATS is limited in how and what it converts to plain text so it is important to make sure your resume is formatted to make it through.

Here are some things to avoid:

  • Textboxes, tables, headers, footers, and other elements. Any text in elements like these will be garbled or not read at all, and that information won’t be translated by the ATS. It will look like it’s missing entirely from the resume. Can you imagine having a well-matched resume, but the recruiter can’t contact you because your name and contact information, which were in a header, didn’t come through in plain text? (For this reason, I recommend against using templates like those put forth by word processing programs or resume writing websites. Follow a format, but create it yourself, start from scratch, and put everything right in the body of the document.)
  • Dates or numbers at the beginning of lines (e.g., dates at the beginning of an employment listing). The ATS won’t translate that line.
  • Graphics, colors, and complicated formatting other than the basics (bold, italics, underline, and caps). The ATS cannot translate more complicated formatting, and you don’t know how much of your resume will be left out if it has to navigate or skip these elements.
  • PDFs. The ATS currently cannot translate PDFs to plain text, and your whole resume will be discarded. If you can upload or attach more than one file, include both a Microsoft Word and PDF document. However, if you can only include one document, make it a Word document.

It is important to remember that while the ATS often does a first pass on your resume, people will still be making the final decisions. So it is important to follow all the other rules for human eyes (including length). Many people advise that you can use a longer resume for an ATS – which is true, computers don’t discriminate based on length. But people do, and they may be looking at your original formatted resume, so stick to those guidelines as well. The tricky part about the ATS is that you never know when an employer is using it, whether you upload your resume to a job search site or company website, or email it to a person. If you submit a resume electronically, it could always potentially be run through an ATS. So you want to make sure you format your resume for both people and computers.

Next week I’ll address the basic sections that can and should be included on your resume.

Lyn Leis is associate director of career and professional development at a private college.

4 thoughts on “Job Search Series – Five Steps to a Modern, Effective Resume

  1. Elaine G says:

    This is wonderful! I didn't know about a few of these suggestions. I haven't redone my resume in over a decade! Thank you for posting this!


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