A mildly terrifying, but true, reality: A hiring manager spends 15 to 30 seconds, maximum, looking at your resume before deciding whether it belongs in the "yes" or the "no" pile (and some say they can do it in fewer than 6 seconds. Which means that no matter how qualified for your dream job you may be, none of it matters if your resume can’t prove it in less than a few blinks. Scary, right?
Thankfully, there are a few tweaks you can make to your CV's content and formatting to help it stand out the way you know it deserves to. Here are 11 tried-and-true tricks, care of the experts, that have actually worked to get a resume into the "yes" pile.
1. KEEP IT CLEAN.
"I've spent most of my time in corporate settings, so a format that has clean lines and is easily scannable is best," says Casey Carr-Jones, PHR, Founder of JumpStartResume. "Remember: A recruiter or hiring manager may only spend 15-30 seconds looking at your resume, so if it's a big jumbled mess they'll toss you into the 'no' pile without a second thought."
2. TAILOR YOUR RESUME TO THE JOB YOU'RE APPLYING FOR.
Make sure your resume fits the role, whether it’s corporate or creative, and edit it as you see fit. Resumes that stand out in a bad way, says Carr-Jones, could cost you a job. Her examples? "A cringe-worthy funky design for an accountant position. A three-page resume for a recent college grad with no work experience. An objective statement that reads for a position with Google, not my company." Don’t let yours be a document that gets discarded simply because of inappropriate formatting (or worse, for listing the wrong company!)
3. UPDATE CONSTANTLY.
The best thing you can do for yourself, just in case your dream job opens up? Keep your resume current. "I've seen many friends and colleagues scramble to update or put together a resume last-minute for a dream job," says Carr-Jones. "Plan ahead and try to revise your resume at least once per year to save yourself the stress and likely sloppy rush job."
4. SHOW OFF WHY YOU'RE A PERFECT FIT FOR THE ROLE.
Use the structure of your document to make your main qualifiers really pop off the page. "Organize and customize your resume to highlight the transferable skills and experience so they can tell in 10 seconds that you are qualified," says Carr-Jones. "Focus on the job posting's terminology and reflect that in your resume and cover letter."
5. ENLIST AN EXTRA PAIR OF EYES.
After staring at the same objectives and skills for hours (or in some cases, years), you’ll wind up seeing what you want to see, and won’t necessarily be able to recognize any faults. "Send it to a friend or relative who you trust along with the position to which you're looking to apply," says Carr-Jones. "Have them proofread for spelling and grammar, and ask for their honest opinion on the content."
6. USE HARD NUMBERS.
Hiring managers ultimately want to know how you’re going to save them money, so the more you can hit them with facts, the better. "What’s been very successful for candidates I’ve placed with prominent businesses is using hard numbers," says Mark Rubick, a Cincinnati-based Regional Developer with Patrice & Associates. "A hiring manager will spend 15 to 30 seconds looking at your resume, so put your quantifiable numbers up front and give them a reason to interview you within the first 15 seconds." Include things like your conversion rate and how much revenue you’ve brought in with your past roles to show how much you could really be "worth" to the company.
7. SEND SOMETHING PEOPLE WANT TO KEEP.
Your resume doesn’t necessarily need to be a traditional one-page document. "Create something people will find hard to throw away—something that can't be added to a pile of other resumes and forgotten," says graphic designer Jon Ryder, who cheekily sends his resume on a pill box. "Send something that they think is worth keeping on their desk, even if it's only for a few days longer than all the other resumes before it's chucked in a drawer." Especially if you’re applying for a job in a creative field (we wouldn't necessarily recommend this route for lawyers or bankers), consider spicing things up a bit with an outside-the-box resume, like one of these.
8. MIRROR THE JOB DESCRIPTION.
If it’s in the job description, it should be on your resume … in the right way. "Using a specific job posting, structure your current or most recent position to reflect the language and responsibilities listed in the posting—in order," says Jaclyn Westlake, a San Francisco-based career coach. "This trick works because it makes it hard for a recruiter to miss the fact that your experience lines up perfectly with what the company is looking for and shows that you took the time to tailor your resume. It'll help with keyword optimization, too."
9. LOAD UP ON KEYWORDS.
"Using word counting tools to scan job postings for relevant and recurring keywords can help you to figure out which terms you should include on your resume," says Westlake. "You can then create an 'areas of expertise' section where you can list each and every keyword you come across. Bonus points if you're able to weave them into the body of your resume. Loading your resume up with the keywords you find in a job posting will help you to get past those pesky applicant tracking systems and in front of a real live recruiter."
10. POP IN SOME EASTER EGGS.
Recruiters spend hours (and hours, and hours) reading through boring resumes, so sneaking in fun little "Easter Eggs," as Westlake calls them, can help you stand out. "It could be something as simple as hiding 'Crushed the office all-time highest ping pong score' between a bullet point about your project management and budgeting experience," says Westlake. "I've also had clients purposely include interests that they know the hiring manager shares or a pie chart with a breakdown of their day, in which 5 percent of every day is spent 'being awesome.' Just make sure whatever you’re including would still be considered appropriate for the job you’re applying for."
11. UP YOUR TEMPLATE GAME.
A little bit of design goes a long way. "Most resumes look pretty similar—adding pops of color, leveraging unique layouts, or designing creative headers can really help you to stand out from a sea of black, white, and boring," says Westlake. Just be sure you don't sacrifice readability for design.