Building an effective resume can be challenging. There are no hard and fast rules associated with writing a resume, which can make the process something of a guessing game. You’re trying to figure out what will get your resume noticed by a hiring manager or recruiter, but unfortunately, no one can give you the definitive answer to that question.
Let me start out by saying that everybody has a different opinion on what makes an effective resume. One person’s constructive feedback may conflict with another person’s, so be warned. This is what happens when there are no absolute guidelines! (If you’d like to learn more about what corporate recruiters have to say regarding what they like and dislike about resumes, you can find the results of an informal survey I took here.)
As a former recruiter and a current resume writer, I have my own notions about what might make your resume stand out. As mentioned above, some of my suggestions may contradict the feedback of others. I’m just letting you know what I’ve seen work.
1. Spell Check and Proofread
Typos and grammatical errors will likely kill your chances of landing a job. If you’re using a word processor, there’s no reason not to use the built-in spelling and grammar check feature.
Keep in mind, however, that this feature won’t necessarily catch misused words that are spelled correctly (i.e., the correct form of “whose” vs. “who’s,” or accidentally using the word “manger” instead of “manager”). Likewise, your word processor may flag proper nouns or corporate terms. To ensure you’ve caught every potential error, manually proofread your resume after you’ve let your computer do its stuff.
2. Consider Adding a Headline
A recruiter will only spend a few seconds reviewing a resume to see if it’s a match. If your resume has a headline just below your name and address that clearly spells out the solution to the company’s vacancy – such as “ACCOUNTING MANAGER” for an advertised accounting manager role – it may encourage the recruiter to keep reading.
3. Eliminate Content That Is Distracting, Irrelevant, or Not Supportive
If you’ve been a help desk specialist for the past 10 years and you’re applying for a help desk job, consider leaving off the details about when you were a professional landscaper. This can also apply to listed hobbies that don’t support your work.
Recruiters and hiring managers want to know what you can do in the job. Including unrelated experience may be interesting to you or the reader, but it can also invite questions – for example, “What line of work are you really looking for?” or “Will you be looking to leave the office at 4:30 p.m. to go surfing (or whatever your listed hobby is)?”
I’ve also seen situations in which a job seeker’s resume showed that they started as an administrative assistant and then grew into a senior management role, but the hiring manager wondered if the candidate was truly cut from managerial cloth. It’s an unfair bias, but it happens.
4. Pay Attention to Formatting
Do your columns line up? Are your tabs working properly? Is the resume attractive?
Microsoft Word can be a bear. If you don’t know how to maneuver the program well, hire somebody who can help you format your resume effectively. A misaligned column, for example, can be interpreted by the reader as a sign of carelessness.
5. Add Some Accomplishments
Listing what you do on a day-to-day basis in your job is a starting point, but including your accomplishments in each position shows what kind of value you’re capable of adding to an employer. Measurable accomplishments (i.e., “increased sales 40 percent”) are great, but also consider including some of the less tangible things you’ve done that changed your employer’s performance for the better. Did you create and implement processes where none existed? Were you able to help develop people on your staff through training and mentoring?
6. Avoid the Personal Stuff
In the United States, you shouldn’t include your picture, date of birth, or social security number on your resume. Likewise, leave out religious affiliations or anything else that invites illegal or inappropriate scrutiny by an employer. If you’re applying for a job that involves long hours or travel and you volunteer on your resume that you have three children, a biased reader may start wondering, “Geez, is this person going to miss a lot of work or regularly have to leave early due to daycare issues?”
A version of this article originally appeared on Insider Career Strategies.
Scott Singer is the president and founder of Insider Career Strategies LLC, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process.