7 Resume Tips for a Successful Job Application

February 22, 2016 by Margaret Townsend
Resume and Cover Letter Tips

If you really want to move your career forward or are in a competitive job market you absolutely need to create a resume that makes you an irresistible prospect for the interview list – each time you apply.

The best advice is the same, whether you are writing a resume, CV or creating a profile of yourself on a website. Think about how quickly you decide if you want to read a blog or not, as you scan the internet for interesting or useful content. Your purpose is to seem relevant to that recruiter within seconds even if they have seen 99 resumes before yours, and then keep their interest. Therefore, understanding what really interests a recruiter is a crucial part of your job application.

In my work I help people Change Jobs through a free, discreet and low maintenance online solution that allows multiple profile building under one account.

Sometimes I get asked for advice on how to construct a resume or what information should be included in an online job application and as my input has had a positive end result in each case, I decided to make the main elements of this advice publicly available to anyone who is interested. I hope it works for you.

  1. Original Resume or CV Creation – Long Version

First you need to create an original document, complete with everything that you have done – including work experience, skills and real attributes wherever obtained, as well as any qualifications you’ve got or courses you attended (even if you didn’t complete them).

You will have four sections to your resume. The ‘personal details’ section should come first but keep this basic – name, email, Skype, phone, address, nationality and all spoken languages (e.g., it is important to make it clear early on that you speak English if you are looking for work in an English speaking country but you are a non-national, or that you’ve got the languages required in any job description, assuming you do!).

Your next section should be ‘work experience’. Start with your current job if you are employed and work your way back by dates. Headings for each job should be start date, end date, employer name and your job title. It doesn’t have to be fancy, simple is good. Make the headings bold and underlined. Use a space after each heading and between paragraphs and keep paragraphs to no more than about five lines for easy reading.

DO NOT simply write what you were employed to do – your official job description. Instead, write what you ACTUALLY did. This is nearly always different and when you really reflect on your daily and weekly activities in your job you will find that you sometimes covered for others, you learned new things, you took on new responsibilities and you worked on once-off projects that were never really meant to be part of your job. This exercise will help you to understand and articulate your real input and value in each case and is an invaluable reflection process ahead of any potential interview – enough reason in itself to write your own resume!

It’s a good idea to write a short paragraph when explaining each of your jobs, outlining your main function and responsibilities as well as who you reported to and then list the actual duties you performed with bullet points.

For some jobs you may have really left an impact such as making financial savings for the company, coming up with a better way of doing something or training team members in new technology or processes. Whatever it is, create an extra heading under those jobs called ‘achievements’ under which you can explain what you did and the impact it had on the business or those around you.

Skills’ acquired should be kept to a separate section and here you can list any technical or social skills or attributes that you could explain further if you were asked to in an interview. Think about how you interact with team members, the technology you have used throughout your working life to date, anything you contribute to in a social context or personal strengths.

The fourth and last section will be your ‘qualifications’ and/or courses attended. Start with most recent and work your way back like you did with work experience. If you are currently studying you should still include details of this course even though you do not yet have a qualification.

  1. Find The Gaps and Mistakes

Having your history laid out chronologically gives you the opportunity to look back over those years with an objective viewpoint. Are there any large gaps between jobs – between the end date of one and the start date of the next? This nearly always invokes questions from an employer or human resources executive. If you have made an error on your resume you can fix it now.

If there really is a large gap between jobs it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you will need to have a quick and plausible answer when the interviewer asks why. And they will.

If you were doing something like travelling in between jobs then I would advise you to include it in your resume. Travelling and meeting people broadens the mind and most employers will respect that, so don’t be shy to include anything like that if it’s part of your history.

Turn on spell checker and review your resume for spelling and grammar mistakes. If this is really difficult for you, get someone else to do it as a favor – it only takes a minute but is crucial that you do it. Also you should take into account the local dialect of the employer with the job. For example, American English is quite different to European English and you may be surprised to learn that a UK HR Executive might think you are not that articulate when you spell words differently to how he/she does. If this is important in your profession it could kill your chances.

  1. Your Personal Brand or Image

Now is the right time to ‘Google’ yourself. Take the time to check out how you look to the outside world and ensure that potential employers won’t be put off. Revise the privacy settings on all of your social media accounts so that you are sure a recruiter will only see you in a good light.

For online job sites where you have registered and can be searched, use the document you just prepared to help you revise and update the information displayed as appropriate.

Consider having a professional photograph taken for your online profiles and physical resume.  For your online presence, at least review the pics currently being displayed and ensure they do look professional – especially on sites like LinkedIn, if you are there. Many recruiters will look you up online if they are seriously considering you for interview so don’t leave this until after you have applied for jobs.

Some job applications will also require that you include a photograph and having some to hand will prevent any delays in getting that application submitted.

  1. Make Your Resume Relevant – Curate Copies

Decide what type of jobs you want to go for and write them down. You need to curate or summarize your full profile into three or four-page documents for each of those jobs, so you can bring into focus the elements of your history that will make you the perfect match in each case.

If your full profile is no more than four pages long and you have been working in the same field all the time then you may not need to shorten or adjust it at all, simply examine it to ensure any important selling points are not left out and use this when applying for jobs.

However, if your work history is very varied or you find your full profile is very lengthy, then you should keep the detail on the work experience that is relevant, and cut back on the detail for work experience that doesn’t necessarily highlight you as a match. Do this for each type of job you will want to apply for, make several physical copies and label all the files so that you have a relevant resume to hand every time you see a job you like.

I don’t like to focus on ‘keywords’ because in my opinion, if your resume has already been optimized in such a way as to reflect you back as the ideal match to the job as described, based on your own knowledge and experiences, then you will most likely have all the keywords you need right there. Eventually a human being will read that resume and if they see that it has been over stuffed with certain phrases and keywords it will seem fake. Keep it real.

  1. Cover Letter

Usually you will be required to include a message with your job application but this can have various formats. For online applications it is common to see a message field which can also be optional.

You could create a template for yourself which you would need to edit for each application and many people do this, but my advice is to write a new one each time from scratch. The reason is because it is very easy to make terrible mistakes when editing, such as quoting the wrong job reference number or referring to the wrong job title or hiring manager’s name.

Also a cover letter or message is another chance for you to really sell yourself in a few lines to get interest from the hiring manager, and those who use generic cover letters with their job applications are quite easy to spot when you are reviewing resumes for a living and see hundreds each week. What a potential employer wants to see at this point is that you are genuinely interested in this particular job and that you may just be a good match on paper.

So keep it unique, succinct, friendly but not casual. Summarize your background in a few words and why you think you are a good fit for the position. Contrary to what you may be reading elsewhere about finding out the hiring manager’s name, DO NOT go out of your way to get this information unless you are applying for a job as a CIA agent, reporter or maybe an aggressive sales position.

In those exceptional situations it may prove your abilities to track people down and the recruiter may be impressed. But for most other job types, the job ad will indicate who you should send your application for the attention of and if it does not, you can simply use ‘Hiring Manager’ in your letter. Anything else may seem too aggressive or desperate and you might get the wrong name anyway as there could be many people involved in the stages of candidate selection! The perfect sign off is ‘Yours Sincerely’.

  1. Nice to Have

This is a trick that people often miss when looking for work. When a job ad states that a certain skill or experience is a ‘requirement’ it means you must have this to even think about applying. But when something is ‘desired’ or described as a ‘nice to have’ it means that you can apply even if you do not have those specific skills, as long as you meet the main requirements. Make sure you read the full job ad so that you can gather this crucial information.

The person scanning all the resumes is not going to get out a magnifying glass to figure out if you are someone with the ‘nice to have’ in their background. BUT they nearly always go for the applicants who have got it all, if they notice that there are any. So please pay attention to this aspect of a job advertisement and if you do happen to possess the ‘nice to have’ then ensure that you include this important fact in your cover letter and that it is easy to spot in your resume, along with the skills that make you a match on the basic requirements for the job too.

This is one of the reasons why doing your own resume and providing a fresh cover letter each time is so important. It not only helps prepare you for a potential interview but it also vitally allows you to portray yourself in the best possible light and stand out from the crowd.

  1. The Early Bird Catches the Worm

Very few employers are willing or able to wait for months to hire for a particular position. They will use the maximum exposure allowed when posting a job ad anywhere online or in newsprint but that doesn’t mean they won’t fill it a lot quicker if the right person comes along. Even on their own website career page it is not uncommon to find jobs still posted several months after the vacancy has been filled, due either to neglect, building a database of future prospective candidates or maybe because leaving it there helps with their website rankings.

If the employer is getting a lot of good early applicants and needs to fill the position fast they probably won’t wait for weeks to get candidates organized for interview. It doesn’t always happen this way, but it happens enough for you to sit up and take notice.

You’ve got to set yourself up to be one of the first in line to apply for all the jobs that interest you so you don’t miss the boat. If you are too late you might not even know it. Some will reply and tell you that the position has already been filled but most will not communicate anything to you.

If you are browsing jobs on boards, career pages or through search engines, instead of watching for ‘closing’ dates of ads posted you should be noting the ‘posted’ date. This is your best indication of how fresh the job vacancy is and what your chances are of getting into the first pile of resumes being reviewed by the employer.

Summary

You might have noticed by now that we are not handing out templates or telling you exactly what you should write. Your resume needs to be clearly legible but as authentic and unique as possible so that the person scanning all of the resumes doesn’t skip over yours. This is a subtle trick to gain that valuable extra second of the recruiter’s attention, force them to stop for a second and focus. Then make sure they see what you want them to see within the next couple of seconds – that you fit the requirements AND bring something more.

This is also true for online profiles or forms because even though you can’t change their layout you will have a lot of influence over the content displayed within. Take every opportunity to help the reader quickly see how great you would be for the role, because nobody likes to waste time searching if they don’t have to and decisions are made quickly.

Successful Job Application Takeaway: Only apply for jobs where you match the requirements. Apply early, formulate your resume, CV or profile to be an exact fit for THAT job before applying and highlight your unique selling point – that ‘nice to have’ or desired skill the job description mentioned. If you’ve ever gone that extra mile for a colleague or employer and it had an impact (of course you have), SHARE IT on your resume!



About the Author

Margaret Townsend
An experienced recruiter and job seeker, now co-founder of www.globehook.com a private job search website. Blogs are full of practical tips and advice on career development, work-life balance, the job search and the job interview. Also writes in-depth unique articles about workplace issues such as gender diversity, HR practices, culture fit, employee engagement and gainful employment.

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