To learn the latest, most accurate information on what makes a resume really grab attention, ask the folks on the other side of the desk: hiring managers and human resources professionals. A recent survey asked HR specialists and hiring managers to give their insights on the mistakes job hunters make most often, plus what approaches really impress them. Here's their advice:
1. Use the "action = results" formula
Content is imperative, so specific information that demonstrates your abilities, accomplishments and past experiences is crucial to making your resume stand out. A beautifully designed resume that lacks substance won't earn an interview.
Carefully analyze your background to illustrate the right information required to successfully do the job. Stress the action, then be sure to follow it up with the result of that action, such as "Managed the entire financial restructuring of two subsidiaries, which decreased staff and overhead, saving $550,000 annually."
2. Be visually appealing
The appearance of your resume can't be overemphasized. It should catch the eye. Watch for spacing and margins, allow for lots of white space and borders and emphasize your important points with text styles such as italics, CAPITALS, underlining, boldface, indentation, and •bullets•.
Also, use a computer and get a laser-printed copy of your resume to give it a sharp, professional look, and use high-quality linen or woven paper in colors such as white or cream.
3. Be brief, concise and use a one-page format
Employers scan resumes and decide in less than 30 seconds if you're worth a call, so one-page resumes work best. Long careers often translate into numerous pages, but by focusing on the substance of the past five-to-seven years, you can create a stronger impact with employers and not lose them on less-important experience. Be a skillful editor, deleting portions that aren't relevant.
4. Target your resume
Employers want specifics on how you can do the job for them. Vague, general resumes that cover many possible job options often get lost among the competition. Target each resume to the job you seek. Although you may qualify for several different positions, it's better to create a different resume for each job and incorporate only the information pertinent to the specific job title. This will alleviate the tendency to crowd your resume with too much non-related information. Employers react only to related specifics.
5. Use a summary of qualifications
This is the most important part of your resume. The "Summary of Qualifications" section powerfully illustrates your top selling points in five to six sentences. Few job candidates include this information, but employers say this is an ideal way to get noticed — fast.
6. Show accomplishments
Employers like proof that you can do the job. Be sure to demonstrate results of your work and how your former employers benefited. Include evidence of your productivity by noting any cost or time savings, and mention innovations, changes or actions that show you actively produce desired results.
7. Be accurate
State your skills, qualifications and experience as positively as possible without exaggerating or misstating the truth. Be sure your job responsibilities are adequately described by your job title, and indicate the true level of your abilities. Also show dates of employment and the companies where you've worked.
8. Use action verbs
Descriptive action verbs — such as established, analyzed, implemented, created, streamlined, organized — add power to your sentences. Start each sentence using an action verb.
Hands down this was numero uno with every hiring manager and HR person in the survey. They hate spelling mistakes and typos. Many said, "I stop reading when I find a spelling mistake." Also, typos scream, "Don't hire me!" Employers say typos reflect the poor quality of work they can expect from you. And many said they've seen mistakes even from high-level executives.
Proofread! Perfection is a necessity to remain competitive, so don't trust computer spell checkers. Read every word to be sure it's correct.
10. Don't include personal data or references
It's no longer considered professional or wise to include information about marital status, gender, height, weight or health on your resume. This information violates discrimination laws and most organizations are pleased when you don't include it.
Employers know you'll provide references upon request, so it isn't necessary to say so at the end of your resume.
11. The final test
Be sure that your resume answers the following questions: Does it clearly and quickly communicate to employers that you can do the job? Do your strengths come across? Does everything support the job you're targeting? Should anything be removed? Does it really sell your skills?
Keep working on it until you're completely confident your resume will reflect your talents in the best possible light.