I estimate I have read at least 100,000 resumes over my decade in recruitment. That distils down to 40-ish resume per day.
In fact I read more than that, especially when I first started my recruitment business.
Despite the progress we had over the past ten years and I would have assume much more have been done by schools to prepare students for the job market, I was sorely disappointed to learn otherwise last week.
I was invited in my capacity as a career coach to participate in a career talk for a leading private education institution and it was partly to promote one of their MBA programs. I was assuming the crowd to be of certain strategic level and did a presentation along that line.
I thought it went well although I sense something was amiss halfway through the presentation. It was towards the end that I realized what was wrong.
They approached me to ask about their resume layout, is it comprehensive enough and how do they fill up the experience column.
One guy even asked if JobStreet (a job board) would charge him if he finds a job through them.
So in view of the amateurish questions posed to me, I will be dedicating this blog post on creating the perfect resume.
It’s my own sexy term but in essence it is a resume that works and give you results.
I just can’t stand another resume that looks like a report that your boss asked you to churn out 5 minutes before you are knocking off or one that carry the overused template that everyone in your HDB block is using.
So start up that Microsoft Words. We are going to construct your perfect resume.
Number of Applications Received
Let’s check out the competition before we go to the deep end of the pool. I’m using JobStreet as it allow you to see how many others have applied for the same role. Jobs Bank have the same thing but I remain unconvinced that Jobs Bank provide the best sample size.
Here is a Marketing Manager advertisement by NUS. If you are one of the 70 applicants, you have 69 competitions to outwit and out market.
Another advertisement. This is a junior customer service role by Teledirect.
Average Time Spent Looking at a CV
TheLadder did an amazing study 3 years ago. They used eye-ball tracking technology and strap those devices onto a bunch of recruiters to learn how they read CVs
My career coaching clients typically assumed that a recruiter would probably spend about a min or so to read through a cv.
The truth is they spend an average of 5-7 seconds glancing through.
That means the first page and the way it is laid out could potentially make or break your application.
And if you noticed the numbers on the visual, there is a common sequence in how information from the cv is being processed. Aligning your cv to that sequence as much as possible will make the recruiter’s life easier and gain you a few more seconds to impress.
This is clearly obvious in a comparison done between two cvs with differing layouts. The first one is almost like reading a story book; whereas the latter is broken into clear sections with headers and a lot of white space to make it more visually appealing.
The heat map signature on the latter is also more than the comparison.
That help us to realize the best sequence layout would be:
- Current title and name of company
- Current position start and end date
- Previous title and name of company
- Previous position start and end date
- Education details
And this will be the layout you need to adhere to in order to pave a smoother job application.
What About Design?
“Visual design is a great way to differentiate yourself from other job candidates,” says Dodd Caldwell, cofounder of Loft Resumes. “Design in general is increasingly important in the business world.”
And I would think so too.
Remember the customer service example we see earlier? Imagine you are the recruiter and your day was probably spent scanning through 126 resumes. And that is just one vacancy. They usually have 5 to 15 at any one time.
Assuming you have 10, we might possibly be looking at 1,260 resumes.
Let’s piece things together. If all the resumes looked like this and recruiters are spending only 5 – 8 seconds scanning through before deciding yes-or-no, how is your resume going to stand out from the pile for their attention?
But what if yours looked something like this:
If you are wondering, it’s the same content.
Just like how Apple is leading the market by emphasizing on design, the same concept could be applied into the marketing brochure that you send out for job applications.
Unless you are in the creative industry, don’t go overboard.
The evil Applicant Tracking System
Best explained in an ATS-related blog post by JobScan, an Applicant Tracking System is a type of software application that handles the recruitment process, namely by sorting through thousands of resumes, to determine which ones are the best fit for the positions for which they were submitted.
To do their job well and to cater to the convenience of
lazy time-tight job seekers, most good ATS only require the online applicant to upload their resume or LinkedIN without the need to fill up any form.
The ATS depends on resume parsing technology to make sense of the content and tries its best to fill up the form with those content.
Although the technology has been around for more than 10 years, resume parsing is still not achieving 100% accuracy.
Many variables might cause it to recognize inaccurately, depending on which resume parser the ATS is integrated with.
Since you can’t control that, it is best that your resume is written and catered for the dumbest resume parser.
The key here is simplicity. This doesn’t mean you eliminate all design element and make it look boring. It is possible to strike a balance between the two.
Importantly you have to make sure to keep formatting simple.
- Do not put in any content in the header or footer. Some ATS do not have the ability to read content from that two areas.
- ATS is very sensitive to special fonts, font treatments and colors. Stick to common fonts such as Arial and Calibri. Use only true black color and avoid underlining words as that has a tendency to mess up the legibility of lower case letters such a g, j or y.
- The ATS may not be able to read data placed in images, tables, and text boxes, so it’s best to avoid them altogether.
- Title your resume with your name and targeted title – something like “Your Name – Customer Service Manager.”
- Stick to common resume headings like Summary, Work Experience, Education and Skills.
- Remove special characters and avoid creative or fancy bullets that are often illegible to an ATS scanner.
- Avoid spelling errors, since an ATS doesn’t know what you ‘meant’ to write.
- Save your resume as a basic word doc (.doc) or .txt file.
- When writing your employment history, present the information for each employer in the same order, i.e., company name, title, city, state, and date, and in reverse chronological order.
Identifying the right keywords
Now that we are certain your resume will get read by the ATS accurately, you need to make sure it stands out so that your application will be ranked highest against all other applicants.
This is algorithm driven and it can be distilled down to the presence of keywords and the number of times it occur. Very old-school Google.
So if you are applying for a role that require SAP experience and you don’t have this keyword in your resume, your application will not get ranked at all.
And even if you do have the keyword in, how do you make sure it rank high versus other applicants that have the same keyword in their resume?
A simple case of keywords appearing more times than other resumes.
That means you need to know the right keywords to own and ensure your resume is written around them.
The quickest way to find out is to use the resume analysis tool by JobScan.
Put in the content of your existing resume into the first box and the job description of a job you are keen in within the next.
On the Results page, you will see a list of recommendations. The keywords listed below are the most critical information you can take away from the tool.
The Perfect Resume Construct
The purpose of a resume is to effectively communicate your assets, convince prospective employers to interview you based on your qualifications, create a professional image of yourself and establish your credibility and also to provide a sample of your written communication skills
The resume is what a brochure is to a company.
Many people make the mistake of putting in too much information for fear that less equals worse.
Take a look at this brochure.
There are hardly any white space. It is just text after text to overwhelm the readers.
Keep it concise
Your resume (just like a marketing brochure) should say just enough to interest your reader so that they will be keen to learn more about you.
Keep your resume to min three pages, and don’t exceed eight pages. A short, concise representation of your work history, experience and education is most likely to be read.
Don’t be modest
A common issue many job seekers (especially the local ones) face is they don’t really know how to market themselves. And it is usually because they believe there is nothing much to shout about. The belittling mindset always kick in.
So since you can’t be relied upon to get information, check with your friends and (ex)colleagues and hear what they have to say.
Look back over old performance reviews or reference letters and look for common themes.
I had a career coaching student that wanted to make a switch from admin to events. But she is facing huge difficulty because she does not have any experience.
After much probing, I realized she actually does a lot of volunteer work and one of her role was managing volunteers. There it is: Volunteers Management!
And it could be expanded in further details with info on the number of volunteers, the scale of the event, etc.
Dress up your skill set.
- Raw skill: I can cook
- After dressing: I can cook 24 kinds of cuisine – from Mediterranean to Japanese.
The right sequence
Use a combination resume combines the best features of the traditional chronological (where the dates are in reverse order) and Functional (where skills are listed up front) resumes.
Such layout works for everyone from entry level candidates to senior executives with 20 years experience.
And within that sequence, you should have these components:
- Personal Particulars
- Section Headings
- Professional Summary
- Work Experience
- Use Accomplishment Statements
- Education Section
- Skills Section
Begin with your name, address, e-mail and phone number(s) to make it easy for a potential employer to contact you. Other information such as IC number, height, weight, age are totally unnecessary at this infant stage.
And please(!) make sure you have a professional email address. I see this far too often from younger job seekers. They are using the email address that they created in P3. You get things like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. I even come across (true story) email@example.com
18 Tampines Road #04-01 Singapore 520018
+65 1234 5678
You know how you tend to scan newspaper headlines to decide which articles would be worth your time to read into? The same principles apply to your resume. You need a strong and convincing headline to provide context for the rest of the content.
Some examples could be:
- Digital Marketing Expert with 5 years of experience in SEO, analytics and leads conversion
- Customer Service Veteran with multiple exposure in call center and helpdesk environment.
- Award-winning Recruitment Pro with 11 years’ experience in sales, operations, targeted marketing, negotiation and staff management
Make sure it is represented obviously by the size and style fonts, formatting, sequencing, and style.
Remember not to write this about you. Write down what you believe the hiring manager wishes to see.
This usually become a space filler for many and gets filled with statements that seem a lot but say nothing substantial (e.g., “seeking a challenging position with potential for growth and advancement”).
Make full use of this space to let the reader know the alignment of your objective and theirs
Old objective statement
“Highly motivated professional with excellent customer service skills and a strong ability to turn complex problems into solutions. Accomplished sales leader with a track record of success.”
This objective statement could appear on anyone’s resume for any job. It’s not specific to his career in medical sales and uses empty rhetoric (“accomplished sales leader”). Don’t TELL people you’re “accomplished.” SHOW them.
New objective statement:
“Experienced medical sales professional who provides surgical supplies to hospitals throughout Singapore and Malaysia; manage 18 accounts and in 2014 grew sales totals 22% to $1.3 million.”
- “Highly motivated professional” becomes “Experienced medical sales professional”
- “Excellent customers service skills” becomes “manage 18 accounts”
- “Complex problems into solutions” becomes “grew sales totals 22% to $1.3 million”
This is the best section for you to game the ATS ranking algorithm by maximizing the relevant keywords that would help you rank higher in a search.
In most ATS system, recruiters would be using Boolean search string to find the results (candidates) they want.
So if the role requires someone in HR with SAP experience, a degree holder and with a bit of talent management experience, the recruiter’s search string would be:
(HR or “Human Resources”) AND SAP AND (Bachelor or Degree) AND Talent Management
So your professional summary could be in the form of:
An experience Human Resources (HR) executive with strong focus in Talent Management. Currently the champion for organization’s SAP HRIS system. Wrote a paper on ‘Talent Management in 2020’ for my bachelor degree in Human Resources (HR) Management.
Could you see the keywords within that paragraph?
An experience Human Resources (HR) executive with strong focus in Talent Management. Currently the champion for organization’s SAP HRIS system. Wrote a paper on ‘Talent Management in 2020′ for my bachelor degree in Human Resources (HR) Management.
I even manage to squeeze in two of the terms (HR and Talent Management) twice. That would help to be ranked higher in the ATS.
One common thing most job seekers do here is simply copy and paste the job description to fill up the space. So you get something like this:
- Organise and run a fully functioning contact centre;
- Managing the daily operation of the contact centre to meet SLA’s on a local as well as a global scale;
- Recruit, manage, coach and develop a team of Team Leaders to ensure quality and productivity targets are met, as well as being overall responsible for the development of the contact centre agents;
Chances are many of your competition would be doing the same thing. It is NOT going to help you get better attention.
Instead rephrase it via this framework:
JOB TITLE | COMPANY NAME
Month Year – Month Year | Location | www.companyname.com
Paragraph 1: an overview of the organisation.
Paragraph 2: why you were hired
- Accomplishment 1 with quantifiable figures
- Accomplishment 2 with quantifiable figures
- Accomplishment 3 with quantifiable figures
CUSTOMER SERVICE MANAGER | BOOKING.COM
Jan 2010 – Jun 2014 | Singapore | http://booking.com
Booking.com was established in 1996 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and has grown into the world’s leading online hotel and accommodation reservations company. Booking.com is still operated from Amsterdam and supported by more than 150 offices.
I was hired to organise and run a fully functioning business-critical contact centre and ensure the daily operation of the contact centre to meet local and global service level agreements (SLA).
- Consistently ensure up time of 99.95% over 5 years (1,825 days)
- Fulfill and exceed base criteria set out by IDA by at least 25%.
- Reduced department attrition rate from 40% to less than 8%.
Make sure there are no gaps between employments. If you don’t address them or your readers will with their own imagination.
Unsure how to write accomplishment statements?
Use the PAR or A+B=R structure. PAR stands for Problem, Action & Result and A+B=R stands for Action + Benefit = Result.
Use the “so what” rule to validate your achievement, prove why this achievement was valuable and/or what the benefit was.
- Resolved employee grievances by introducing dispute resolution process, lowering grievance rates by 30% in the first year.
- Reduced overall purchasing costs by 15% in 2013 by implementing product locator, and cost comparison solutions.
- Recruited, screened and hired 10 technical and sales positions for a start-up company. Successfully organized team in 3 months, exceeding expectations and allowing company to launch new product line 4 months earlier than expected.
Include relevant coursework if you feel that your cert may not appear directly related to the position.
A skills section should include specific and accurate words that match the skills sought by the potential employer. You should only list the skills that you can actually perform. Avoid listing every skill you have – especially if the skill is not relevant to the targeted employer or position.
Not quite done yet
Make sure you check and double check for typos and do not overlooked your volunteer work, hobbies, and involvement in teams or organizations. These are life skills that could be transferable to your new work.
Many people tend to belittle their experiences they pick up from sports and hobbies. But this is the best stuffs you should tap on as your career might not provide you with that avenue to collate those experiences.
E.g. you gain leadership if you were captain of your basketball team. If you love team sports, it teaches you about competitiveness. Social work? You should be an expert in volunteers management and fund-raising.
Article written by Adrian Tan. Adrian is a former headhunter and director of 2 recruitment firms. He was voted HR Entreprenuer of the Year by the Singapore Human Resources Institute.