You may be familiar with the often-cited assumption that recruiters are likely to spend no more than six seconds evaluating your resume. A new study has found that job seekers have more time to impress recruiters than previously thought — 7.4 seconds.
So how do you present the best case for yourself in those 7.4 seconds? The most successful resumes in the study tended to have three things in common: a simple, traditional resume format; a professional summary; and bullet lists of accomplishments. Less successful resumes tended to have cluttered a format, overly long sentences, too little white space and awkward inclusion of keywords.
The following tips can help you select the best traditional format to highlight your knowledge, skills and achievements, and secure an offer.
- Tell a story
Hiring managers say they are most impressed with resumes that tell a story about how applicants can add value to the workplace. Recent graduates often focus on how an opening will help them reach their potential. This is a mistake. Your next employer wants to know how you will help them. Make sure your resume clearly explains the value you will bring to your next role.
- Highlight soft skills
A study from the Society for Human Resource Management found that employers rate soft skills as especially important qualities for the kind of entry-level jobs filled by recent college graduates. Another recent survey reported that 95 percent of employers find it difficult to attract applicants with soft skills like leadership, adaptability, integrity, industry knowledge and customer focus.
- Employ keywords wisely
Before your resume is assessed by a recruiter, it will likely be evaluated by an automated applicant tracking system (ATS). Most ATSs are programmed to keep a simple tally of the number of words from the job description that are also found on your resume. This makes it essential that you use the same wording from the job description to describe your skills. However, once your resume has made it past the ATS and into the hands of a human recruiter, “keyword loading” is viewed unfavorably. So avoid listing skills you haven’t mastered, and when you include keywords, do so in a way that contributes to the story you are telling throughout the rest of your resume.
- Use a traditional resume format
New technology has made it easy — and tempting — to create an elaborate, one-of-a-kind format. But because most ATSs don’t have the capacity to evaluate nontraditional resumes, and most recruiters don’t have time to go hunting for information, you should avoid including images, graphics or unusual fonts in your resume.
The three basic formats — chronological, functional and hybrid — are still your best bet. Typically, recent graduates have been encouraged to use a functional format, but entry-level applicants with extensive leadership experience, multiple internships or nontraditional education paths may be better served by a chronological or hybrid format.
Whatever format you choose, you should consider using a resume template.
A. Chronological resume format
Dominated by its work history section with jobs listed in reverse chronological order, this is the most common format and the one most easily recognized and utilized by ATSs. This format makes sense if you have a robust job history.
B. Functional resume format
This format allows you to list skills, knowledge and experience gained in the classroom as well as from campus or volunteer activities. Its extremely flexible format makes it a useful tool for recent graduates with scant on-the-job experience.
C. Hybrid resume format
A hybrid resume combines elements of the chronological and functional formats. If you’ve held multiple part-time jobs, internships or volunteer leadership roles, this format may help you stand out from your peers.
Whatever format you choose, your resume will consist of the following sections:
Your headline or header consists of your name, contact information and, in some fields, your credentials. Remember that you are the brand your resume is selling, so make your name stand out with a unique graphic treatment and a slightly larger typeface. Next, include your contact information, along with a stable link to your LinkedIn profile. Do not include your mailing address.
This section can be thought of as your sales pitch. Your summary should focus on what you can offer your first employer, not what you hope to gain from the experience. There are several ways to present your professional summary: as a brief narrative, as a series of descriptive titles and adjectives, or as a bullet list of accomplishments.
Skills (and accomplishments)
You may want to split this into multiple sections, such as certifications and professional skills, or by topics like administration and finance. In addition to skills gained in the classroom, remember to include volunteer and extracurricular activities.
At this stage, don’t worry about whether your work experience is relevant to your chosen field or not. Any job you’ve held, from fast food cashier to babysitter, can serve as proof of your reliability and industriousness.
For most recent graduates, your education section should precede work history, particularly if your institution has a strong reputation in the field you hope to enter. Use this section to describe relevant courses and projects. If your overall GPA or that in your major is 3.0 or higher, include it.