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Ten (oft-neglected) ways to optimize your resume, by Justin Andrews

Aug 31, 2021 03:50 PM

Alas, the grueling road of resume writing! One spends hours fretting and agonizing over a resume for the glazed eyeballs of future employers skimming through reams of lists and dates and soft skills. How to craft a resume that doesn’t dissipate into the resume-ether? Here are ten frequently neglected tips to help catch an employer’s eye.

1. Skills-based resume 

Without thinking, many of us stick to the basic rule: work history first. But if you’re a student applying for a job outside of your work experience, consider a skills-based resume. Here your skills are listed first and emphasized. It shows employers that you’ve developed relevant abilities through untraditional means. You may be fresh on the scene, but that doesn’t mean you’re unprepared. 

2. Find key words in job descriptions 

Larger companies often use an ATS (Applicant Tracking System), software that filters out weaker resumes so human eyes have less to read. One way of appeasing ATS bots: incorporate key words from the job description into your resume (and cover letter, too). If the job requires “time management” skills, note how you successfully managed your time at different jobs. The ATS will see that your resume matches the employer’s requirements. Also, human eyes will see that you’ve read the job description carefully and understand their brand or goals. But balance is everything. Too much copy-and-paste looks lazy and manipulative. Remember: use your own voice!   


3. Quantify, Quantify, Quantify 

Sometimes a detail, a single number, turns a dull statement into something sharper. Compare: “I helped students achieve better grades,” versus, “I helped forty students achieve grade-A marks.” The latter is precise and concrete. It shows that you’re attentive to your work and allows employers to better process your accomplishments.  

4. No to adverbs/adjectives  

An old writer’s truth: adverbs and adjectives often (not always!) signify a weak verb. When you have limited space, when your reader will be skimming, concision reigns. A few words need to say a lot. Too many adjectives and adverbs will clog sentences and strain weary eyes. Instead of saying, “I successfully made very accurate predictions on outcomes,” simply say, “I predicted outcomes.” Everything else is unnecessary.   


5. Yes to action verbs  

Action verbs describe, well, action—things happening. They are dynamic, forceful, and engaging. Instead of writing, “Because of my influence, the math club was popular again,” write, “I revitalized the math club.” 'Revitalized' grabs readers’ attention. It’s more direct and sophisticated.  


6.  Avoid cliches  

Cliches like “team player” and “hard worker,” as true as they may be, suggest that you haven’t taken the time to write something original. Find language in your own voice, not from a thousand other resumes. Get specific: how were you a hard worker? What separates your hard work from others’? That said, avoid the other extreme: thesaurus writing. In the context of a resume, “indomitable worker” sounds forced and somewhat pretentious.   


7. List volunteer work  

Some conventional wisdom says that only those with little work experience should list volunteer experience, but this has changed. Yes, volunteer work can show that you’ve acquired relevant skills; it may also suggest something about your integrity as a person. Employers worth their salt look for employees who care for more than monetary success.  

8. List successes, not duties  

Saying you’ve built a table doesn’t prove you’re good at building tables. Saying you’ve built an award-winning table does.  

9. Highlight remote work  

As more employment opportunities remain remote, new skills are needed. Have you led a Zoom meeting? Have you worked independently from home? Consider highlighting your remote work on your resume.   

10. Keep it clean  

When formatting, don’t get creative. Keep things minimal, direct, and consistent. You can’t go wrong with 1-inch margins, 12-point font, and Times New Roman. If you want a little spice to stand out from the crowd, keep it subtle and cohesive. Do everything possible to cushion the employer’s weary eyeballs. Remember, within a short period of time, you want them to know who you are and what you offer. Fancy borders, weird fonts, and a plethora of emphasized words is tiring and unprofessional. A well-structured resume demonstrates your ability to structure things. Your resume’s aesthetics is the first impression you’ll give.