Optimize Your Resume if You Want to Get the Job

Optimize Your Resume if You Want to Get the Job

Peter Weddle

Resume writing sucks. Unless you're a masochist (or a professional resume writer), developing a resume is an experience that most resembles a root canal. We tolerate the process, however, because we believe that a correctly-formatted resume will help us snag a new or better job. However, that's simply not true. In fact, most employers see your resume as a ticket to nowhere.

So why bother at all? Because writing your resume is only step one in presenting your credentials. Step two is to tailor your resume for each individual job. In other words, in today's job market a resume is useless unless it's written expressly for a specific employment opportunity.

The good old days of sending a generic resume with a cover letter that emphasized the relevant points for an opening are gone forever. Recruiters would tolerate that approach in the old world of work because they knew that modifying your resume was a tedious and time-consuming activity. You prepared the document on a device called a typewriter, and changing it was like re-chiseling a statue.

Today, of course, that's no longer true. Recruiters know that it's easy for you to modify your resume, and they expect you to do just that. Indeed, whether or not your resume has been tailored to a job is used as one of their evaluation criteria. From an employer's perspective, anyone who's unwilling to invest the time and effort to put their best foot forward in their resume is probably also unwilling to make a contribution to their organization. And giving that impression with your resume will get you rejected, no matter how qualified you may be for a job.

So what resume modifications are likely to help you get noticed by recruiters and evaluated favorably? There are two key rewrites you should perform:

  1. Vocabulary
  2. Most recruiters are not experts in the fields for which they recruit. They aren't engineers, or sales professionals, or scientists; they're recruiters searching for that kind of talent. So what do they do? They look for certain specific keywords on a resume to indicate whether a person is qualified for their opening.

    Recruiters obtain those keywords from company HR departments, then search their resume database for any documents that contain them. Since computers can only identify exact word matches, even highly qualified candidates may be overlooked if their vocabulary isn't the same as that of the hiring manager.

    How can you determine which keywords to pick? Look at the job posting and any other content provided by the employer, then translate your vocabulary into the specific keywords and phrases that they're using. Just make sure not to exaggerate or misstate your credentials.

  3. Content
  4. Recruiters are busy people. Most handle multiple job openings simultaneously, and don't have time to wade through a lot of extraneous information to find the details that would make you a prime candidate for a particular position. So make it easy for them to recognize your credentials.

First, remove information that isn't directly related to the job you want, and emphasize the information that is related until it's as complete and compelling as you can make it. Then pick the five or ten parts of your record that work best for the job, and highlight them in bullets at the top of your resume in a "qualifications summary." Put this summary directly below your name and contact info, but above the body of your resume. Recruiters don't read resumes; they scan them, at least in their initial review. This positioning makes sure that you lead with your strengths, and that the recruiter will actually see them.

Tailoring your resume to each job opening clearly takes a lot more time than just forwarding the same old, generic document over and over again. In the good old days, job seekers were often told to mail out 500 or more resumes, as landing a job was a numbers game. Today, however, numbers matter less than precision. The more precisely you fit with a company's open position, culture and mission, the more you will be perceived as a qualified candidate.

So you have a choice: You can apply for a ton of openings using a generic resume and get a ton of rejections (or more likely, hear nothing at all). Or, you can tailor your resume with keywords, apply for a smaller number of jobs and likely hear back from at least some of them. Think of it this way – a tailored resume works; a generic resume means you don't.

Formerly the Chairman and CEO of Job Bank USA, Peter Weddle is an
HR consultant, recruiter, author and commentator with an international
reputation. He has authored or edited more than two dozen books,
including "Recognizing Richard Rabbit: A Fable About Being True to
Yourself", "Work Strong: Your Personal Career Fitness System" and
"WEDDLE's 2009/10 Guide to Employment Sites on the Internet". In
addition, he oversees WEDDLE's, a print publisher specializing in the
field of human resources. WEDDLE's annual Guides and Directory to job
boards are recognized for their accuracy and helpfulness, leading the
American Staffing Association to call Weddle the "Zagat of the online
employment industry." Peter Weddle is also CEO of the International
Association of Employment Websites.

Career Topics
Resume Writing