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    Resume Writing Success Secrets: Understanding How Employers Review Resumes

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    Resume Writing Secrets + Resume ChecklistWant to know the secrets to writing resumes that stand out and get you interviews? With this post you’ll learn to position, rate, and elevate your resume to success.

    To make your resume the most successful that it can be, you have to first understand two things:

    #1 – How most companies review and evaluate resumes.

    #2 – What your resume must do to improve your chances of an interview.

    First, Let’s Understand Your Audience

    One of the key mistakes job seekers at all levels make is in writing their resumes solely for the decision maker in their core discipline who will make the final hiring decision.

    This individual can read between the lines, understand highly technical data, and possibly appreciate the depth of a 3-5 page resume.

    While this individual holds the final job offer in his or her hands, there is frequently a path your resume must travel before it even reaches this individual.

    Failing to prepare for the individuals and systems who will evaluate your resume along this path can virtually eliminate your chance of ever reaching the decision maker with your resume.

    To insulate yourself from crippling errors and ensure your resume reaches the key decision maker requires that you know and understand the key players to whom your resume may travel, and that you balance your resume to satisfy all their diverse needs.

    Note to Executives, Managers & Tech Leaders: At this point do not assume this situation does not apply to you.

    Your best efforts to position your resume through networking may still result with it being evaluated by a low-level clerk or secretary within the office of a recruiter, company president, or human resource manager. Contingency planning of the kind described in this post can only ensure a win-win result with your resume.

    So, who are these audiences or reviewers?

    There are three key steps, in order, through which your resume will most likely pass:

    1.  The Human Scan.
    2.  The Keyword / ATS Scan.
    3.  The Decision Maker Evaluation.

    The Human Scan

    This is an initial “quick” evaluation that many resumes will receive by a recruiter or company either before or after the Keyword / ATS Scan.

    I call this the ‘gum chewing clerk’.

    This individual likely lacks technical and professional knowledge of your experience level, has an overwhelming number of resumes to review, and is able to allocate as little as 7-10 seconds to each resume evaluation.

    For this audience, it is critical to make your resume quick to review by front-loading your resume with a clear target, summary of your unique selling propositions, and supporting keywords that detail your core competencies.

    This keyword section at the start of your resume will funnel the reader into your experience section where you can provide the supporting evidence and details.

    The Keyword / ATS Scan

    This refers to the very common practice of using an applicant tracking system (ATS) or other related system to review your resume.

    While this saves precious manhours for human resource departments and recruiters, it can hurt you if you assume a human is sitting down to read your resume.

    With ATS, the computer, and more frequently artificial intelligence (AI), are being used to search resumes for keywords and keyword phrases.

    This strikes fear into many a job seeker (and even pro resume writers) as there are hundreds if not thousands of ATS systems out there and rarely the ability to tell who is using what.

    Your resume must avoid formatting that kills word readability like funky fonts, underlining, tables, and text boxes. But it must also show as close a match as possible to the target job’s word usage along with proof within your job descriptions.

    As you can see, if you’ve been using a one-size-fits-all-jobs resume, that’s a thing of the past!

    (Note: Don’t let this paralyze you or second-guess your professional resume writer! People want to make a huge deal out of it and while it is critical understand that you’ll never make even the best-fit resume score well in every system. Match the job target and ensure content is scannable, and you’ve hit it).

    The Decision Maker Evaluation

    This is the end-result you were seeking when you initially submitted your resume.

    If you survived one or both of the initial two steps, or effectively networked your way here in the first place, you are now in the hands of someone qualified to make a decision.

    You should expect that you are now in a smaller stack of seemingly equally qualified candidates from whom the decision maker must select for interviews.

    At this point your resume must also stand out visually and clearly qualify and quantify the value you can bring to a prospective employer in terms of challenges, actions, and results.

    It is important to start strong and stay strong.

    In each position, avoid bulky paragraphs or laundry lists of responsibilities or results. Your resume should tell a concise and powerful story of the challenges you faced, the steps you took, and the results you attained.

    Overall, your vision for your career when consigned to a resume should be that of a puzzle assembled to maximum advantage, not a linear timeline. Look at each piece individually, see what it means, and cross the bridge to the decision maker and targeted job position with how you represent the information and accomplishments on paper.

    This can be a serious balancing act in that you must:

    1. Make it visually attractive for decision makers while ensuring readability for ATS.
    2. Avoid keyword stuffing and instead front-load with keywords AND then show their usage in job descriptions.
    3. Thoughtfully match resume content to each target job.
    4. Stand out from equally qualified competition by ensuring you don’t just list responsibilities but instead focus on CAR stories (challenges, actions and results that have been quantified whenever possible).

    Now Let’s Rate Your Current Resume

    By now you may have begun to get an idea of how your resume stacks up to the competition. To further evaluate its quality and potential success, ask yourself the following ten yes/no questions:

    (You can also download a checklist of the questionnaire in PDF here). 

    1. By scanning your resume for 10 seconds, can you clearly determine a specific job goal and the relevant value offered toward that goal?

    2. Does your resume convince you that you are qualified for your job target(s) in the first 1/3 of the first page?

    3. Is the page layout of the resume pleasing to the eye and attractive? Do you want to read it?

    4. Have you used a font and style that are computer scannable in the resume? (Note: most templates are not scannable).

    5. Does the resume have ALL the necessary “keywords” and phrases to survive an ATS scan? Are the keywords easily located for visual review in the resume?

    6. When you look at the resume, do you get excited about the value of your qualifications, or does it just look bland or like all the resumes you’ve seen?

    7. Does the resume quantify and qualify your achievements, challenges, and results instead of sounding like a laundry list of responsibilities?

    8. Are you aware of what valuable information you may have left out or taken for granted in your resume?

    9. Is there anything that could be construed as negative such as a lack of results, too long or too short positions, breaks in work history, or a too-long career track?

    10. Does your resume really sell YOU?

    If you answered “no” to even one question then your resume is not selling you at the level it should. Go back to the drawing board or seek the assistance of a CDI certified professional resume writer to guide you through the process of creating a strategic, dynamic, and results-driven resume. Regardless of how you recreate or develop your resume, be certain that it provides a:

    • Clear target and direction for a quick review;
    • Unique selling proposition and summary of your core expertise;
    • Comprehensive keyword list (typically 3-columns) of your core position competencies;
    • Scannable format for ATS review;
    • Formula of challenges, actions, results, and responsibilities in your most recent position(s) to tell a story and cross the bridge to the decision maker with your experience and value;
    • Timeline that demonstrates your value but does not date you or over-qualify you as a candidate;
    • Dynamic and visually distinctive format that makes a professional first impression;
    • Focus on quantifiable results, including numbers, percentages, and dollar amounts whenever possible.

    Recognize your resume as, and make it, the single most important first step in your job search and you will not go wrong.

    Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression so use these resume writing secrets to stand out and win your next interview!

    Need Help with Your Resume?

    CDI is a professional association that trains and certifies resume writers and career coaches.

    If you need assistance, look for one of our certified or award-winning professionals in our Find a Career Pro directory.

    Start on our Job Seeker Resources page >>

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