Guest blogger Derek Smith, Career Consultant, Ryerson Career Centre
As an Employability Counsellor here at Ryerson, one of the most frequently asked for services I get from a student is to look at their resume. Whether they come to me for help with the job search or interview prep, virtually all of my appointments want to talk about their resume, too. And this is understandable—repeatedly, students hear or read that a resume is a very important part of their job search; still, I would say that approximately 90% of the resumes I see need some form of major revision. It’s time to take a look at some of the basics of resume writing that will help you avoid the “BIG” Mistake.
What is a Resume?
At its most basic definition, a resume is a marketing tool. In today’s market, retailers understand a very harsh truth: they are not the only store that offers their product or service, and it is very easy for a consumer to go and spend their money someplace else. The job of the retailer, and their marketing team, is to create a marketing campaign to get you into their store—not the place next door—and spend money.
Just as the marketers have to face a harsh truth, so do most students. The truth is that in the vast majority of circumstances, you are not the only one applying for a position, and you are not the only one who can do the job successfully. The number of people applying for a position could be in the dozens, hundreds, or even thousands. With that kind of competition, how can you possibly get an employer to call you for an interview and not someone else? By having not just a resume, but an exceptional one.
The “BIG” Mistake
When it comes to resumes there are a lot of mistakes that a person can make. These mistakes range from spelling and grammar issues to having wrong and unattractive formatting. But from my research and experience, one mistake stands out more than the rest—sending out the same generic resume over and over again without changing anything. Many believe in the viewpoint that if you send out as many generic clone resumes as possible, you increase your chances of being noticed. But in actuality, you are limiting your chance of being seen. The students that tell me that they have sent out 150-200 resumes are also the ones that have not heard anything: no call backs, no interviews, not even a “thank you for applying.” With the most resumes out in the world, why aren’t these students being inundated with job offers? The main reason is that the screening process, designed to eliminate weak applicants, is filtering their generic resumes out.
As I mentioned earlier, hundreds of applicants can send a resume for one position. No organization has the time or money to hire someone to read them all, so they employ not a person, but a computer, to read everything in the first round. With the sheer volume of applications these days, a lot of organizations are now using computer scanning software to remove up to 80% of resumes that do not contain keywords defined by the recruiters. This is the main reason the generic clone resume does not work: the software just removes them.
So how do you get past the software? Read the job advertisement; it’s the key to writing an exceptional resume. The job ad is what the recruiter uses to determine who is a fit and who is not, but also to program the scanning software. Many of the individuals who get screened out are probably good candidates, but they haven’t listed the necessary, and specific, skills and qualifications as outlined in the job ad.
You can’t assume that what one company asks for in your industry is the same for all. Time must be taken to make sure you match your resume to each job you apply for as closely as possible. Use the same words and terminology found in the job ad (for example, does the job ad ask for “customer service experience” or for “front-line know-how”? They may technically mean the same thing, but one will get your resume to a person—the other will not). This is known as customization—a very important word for success in this labour market.
You may wonder, “Can’t I just copy and paste the job ad to get past the scanners?” Sure you can, and it would probably work—but the scanner is only one level of screening you’ll be going through.
The Human Screening
So the scanner does its job and the bulk of the candidates have been removed, but you copied keywords from the job ad and you made it through to Level 2—human screening. A person, likely a professional recruiter, can’t be fooled like the computer can. They are experienced, see a lot of resumes, and can tell who just copied the job ad and who went a step further. Understand that those who make it through the electronic scanners are likely to be similarly qualified. So now that you have passed the electronic stage, and you are one of 30 applications sitting on a desk, the question remains: why pick your resume?
Making the Difference
If candidates are similar in what they have to offer and to say about themselves, how do you stand out? Resumes can fall into two categories: those that just make claims about their qualifications and skills—and those that prove it. When I look at student resumes, I notice, regardless of their program, that they are all “great communicators who are team players and well organized.” It’s not that these are bad skills to have; they are great, and most job ads ask for them. But again, there is a difference between those who claim to have the skills (and sound just like everyone else) and those who prove it.
We call it that S.T.A.R method: Situation. Task. Action. Result. Resumes can lack highlights, accomplishments, and descriptions, and that is what they need. Instead of just saying you’re a great communicator, give a specific, detailed example of when you successfully used it. Same thing goes for technical skills/knowledge such as AutoCAD or C++; don’t just list it, prove your ability to use it successfully with a STAR statement.
This takes a generic skill and raises it to an accomplishment by showing tangible results. It is also very important to quantify your statements. Saying you “trained 15 new staff members over a 6 month period and increased customer satisfaction by 25%” has much more impact that just saying “trained new staff.”
Your classmates and competition may be able to claim the same knowledge and skills that you have, but they can’t duplicate your accomplishments or results. You need to start seeing yourself differently—not as just part of the crowd.
Does this mean, despite all this extra work, you’ll actually be sending out less resumes? Probably. But what this also means is that instead of sending out 150 carbon-copy resumes that don’t receive a phone call, you send out fewer, quality resumes that employers may take another look at. Good may be good enough other times, but only an exceptional resume will get you noticed, and through the door.