Jan. 28, 2020
With the proliferation of online job search sites, it has become easier than ever to apply for multiple open positions in a short amount of time. Before you click "Apply," however, make sure the resume you attach meets the employer's expectations and requirements. Though each recruiter is different and what appeals to one may not impress another, certain mistakes will turn off any employer. Recruiters pay attention to both format and content, and below, I've listed five common mistakes related to both that keep employers from inviting you for an interview.
Your resume's format is what makes a first impression and determines whether your document goes in the "yes" or "no" pile. Recruiters spend seconds scanning your resume, and if they can't find what they need because of an unusual layout, small or difficult to read font size, or unnecessary use of emojis/color, or they are distracted by typos and inconsistencies, your document will be tossed. "My eyes scan a resume and if I notice mistakes and misalignment, I'm concerned about your attention to detail," says Liz Matthews, associate director of employer relations at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. "If you are not aware of the mistakes in your resume, I'm not sure how well you'll pay attention to your emails, calendar and all the other nuances that make the difference between a below average employee and a stellar one."
When preparing your resume, think about those who will have to read it. Make it easy for them to see you're the right person for the job so they make a decision to call you back. Keep your resume clean and organized, and use boldface and italics sparingly. Show off your technical skills by aligning all sections and dates; indent bullets to make different sections easier to see; proofread and have someone else proofread the document for you; and unless you are in one of the few situations when it's appropriate, avoid deviating from the standard resume format.
Speaking of making your resume user-friendly, one way not to do that is by loading your document with text, on one page or even worse, two pages. Text-heavy resumes demand much work from recruiters to find what you are trying to say, so they are often tossed. The purpose of a resume is not to get you a job but to get you an interview, so consider leaving only the information you know will grab employers' attention. Keep in mind that removing experiences doesn't mean they are not meaningful to you; you can still mention them once you are invited for an interview. On the resume, however, you are trying to highlight key skills and experiences that directly relate to the position.
To avoid making this mistake, pay attention to word usage. On a resume, every word must add value. Using adverbs and adjectives that contribute no meaning, such as extremely and excellent, is a waste of precious real estate on your document. Print and look at your resume. Do you see enough white space and clearly designated sections? If not, you have work to do. "Lack of white space means that your resume is too long or includes too many details," says Matthews. Remove the fluff and be concise.
One reason your resume lacks white space is the inclusion of information that's not relevant. This specific mistake indicates one of two things:
1. You didn't even read the job description and are simply sending the same resume to as many open positions as you see; or
2. You have no clue what you are interested in so your resume presents a hodgepodge of experiences and accomplishments with no focused message.
As someone just beginning your professional journey, you may think you don't have much information to share, so you list everything that comes to mind. Relevant experience, however, doesn't mean having had the same job as the one you are applying for; it means that your experiences have helped you develop the skills, technical and interpersonal knowledge, and attitude to perform well in the job you are applying for. "You want the reader to see what you've accomplished and not be overwhelmed by unnecessary information," says Matthews.
To avoid making this mistake, carefully read each job description — in fact, read it multiple times and highlight different themes that you notice (e.g., analytical skills, communication skills, etc.). Next, imagine the best person for the job based on what you identify in the job description and what you've found through researching the employer. If what you imagine matches who you are, then make sure your resume reveals that. Consider creating Word Clouds of the description and your resume, and then customize your resume to align with the language of the job description.
Even when candidates have reviewed the job description and know exactly what experiences, skills and accomplishments will grab the attention of recruiters, they may not spend the time to highlight how they delivered value, but would rather list general tasks completed. An effective bullet starts with an action verb that links to a specific outcome. It needs to answer the following questions: What did you do? How did you do it? What was the result?
"When I look at your resume, I want to see how you have contributed, not what you were responsible for," says Matthews. Don't simply make claims with no data and examples to support your claim. "Instead," adds Matthews, "tell me how many customers you helped, how the audience rated the presentations you delivered, or by what percentage your sales went up." Quantify your achievements but avoid inflating your success as that is a sure red flag for employers. Hiring is a risky process for employers so be sure to show those looking at your resume that you are worth the risk.
I hope it's not surprising to hear that employers review your online presence along with your application documents before they can consider you as a viable candidate. Though some roles may more obviously require an online presence, no matter your target industry and position, you need a polished and active LinkedIn profile if you want to be taken seriously. That said, don't assume that LinkedIn is the only place employers will check. They may search your name online and see your activity on personal social media sites. If you are not sure what that will bring up, open a new incognito window and put your name in the search bar to see what you can find.
Make sure the information employers find online matches and complements the story your resume tells. When it comes to online presence, depending on the field you are going into and the types of positions you are considering, you may want to add links to relevant social media sites or even a link to your website or portfolio, if you have one, and I encourage you to consider having one. These could either be directly related to your work or show a bit of your personality.
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