Making your resume work as hard as you do
BY MARK F. JOHNSON
As a recruiter, I look at hundreds of resumes every week, mostly from technical professionals. It is my job to separate the "golden" resumes from the mountainous haystack. The Internet has transformed virtually every aspect of business, including how you will land your next great career adventure.
Given the Internet's influence on the hiring process, it is surprising that so few resume writers have made the transition from the analog era of paper and ink to the digital era. Ensuring that your resume has been transformed to suit the contemporary online job market is difficult but essential. In a soft job market, it is absolutely critical.
Resumes past vs. present
Not long ago, companies and candidates were brought together in a series of relatively well-defined and commonly accepted steps: A job was advertised, resumes were sent in, and a labor-intensive manual screening and interviewing process took place.
Today, many companies most likely use a computer interface in the hiring process. Systems used for recruiting typically include an in-house digital resume database and the means for searching it as well as Web-based resume databases for required skills and abilities. Companies still advertise job openings, but the vast majority of the advertising appears on the Web, not in the help wanted section of the Sunday paper. The market has shifted from human- to machine-driven.
The good news for you is that this new digital job market presents an incredible number of ways to market your resume. Huge employment portals like Monster.com are well known. Lesser known are the niche sites that exist for every industry and profession. Increasingly, professional organizations and alumni associations have jumped on the Web employment bandwagon.
There are dozens of resume distribution services that send your resume directly to recruiters subscribing to their mailing lists. Outplacement agencies offer robust resume posting and distribution services. For any candidate, there are dozens of Websites and services that should be used for maximum impact. The bad news is that unless your resume is suitable for the worldwide digital job market-or is "digitally friendly"-it may never be seen.
Digitally friendly resumes
What is a digitally friendly resume? Basically, it is designed to anticipate the many ways employers find and search for resumes in the digitally oriented job market. Fortunately, you don't need a separate resume for each of the many Web resources you might use. Employers are likely to pull your resume from a variety of databases using a similar set of search and filtering tools. What you need is at least one resume specifically designed for Web posting.
The hardest resume you will create is intended for posting to resume databases. Most corporate employment pages that allow resume posting operate similarly. For candidates, access is simple and quick, which presents a dilemma. If your resume is just one out of potentially millions, how do you ensure it shows up in the search results of the employers you want to be employed by? Solving this riddle means violating sacrosanct rules that have come to govern resume design.
Most of us were educated that the standing rule for resumes is brevity-one page, limited detail, lots of white space, clean, quick, and to the point. This kind of conventional resume, when thrown into the digital milieu, is rarely seen again. It includes too little information to be found with conventional search tools. For example, an employer searching the Web for an Excel user by using the term "Excel" will overlook resumes that include the terms "Spreadsheet" and "Office '98" but not "Excel."
While recruiters possess the intuition to know that "Excel" and "Office '98" might be synonymous, search machinery does not. And in this case, the machine is all that matters. If a recruiter finds good resumes in the first pass, they move on. Time spent in the search is costly. To ensure your "digitally friendly" resume gets found, it must include as much information as is practical, stated in as many ways as possible.
Creating a digitally friendly resume is difficult at first. However, like all resumes, once you have a viable template, updating is easy and should be done at least as frequently as you change your smoke alarm batteries. Key design considerations for a resume that you post in the digital job market include the following:
- Size is less important than content. The more information in your resume and the greater the diversity of ways you state it, the better.
- Formatting does not matter. Create a resume that is left-margin justified, uses a common font like "Courier," and has no graphical augmentation. If you need bullets, use asterisks. If indentation is required, use spaces rather than tabs. Doing all that ensures your resume can be fully accessed by any machine anywhere.
- Over-explain and over-define. Be sure your resume tells exactly what you did in terms that everyone will understand. Don't use clipped language. Spell out your degrees and include the acronym. Include enough information for any reader to clearly understand your many contributions and why you matter.
- Use industry jargon and job titles. Use job titles that are consistent with the industry. Industry acronyms, terms, and phrasing are often the basis for searches-use them liberally.
- Use a standard reverse chronology for work history. Companies are vitally interested in so-called soft skills like "communication" and "team work." Include all skills that enabled your success in your descriptions, not just your technical competencies.
- Make your objective/summary statement specific to the job and as sales-oriented as possible. After job history, this frequently banal element is most important.
- Include a keyword summary. This new element of resumes is intended only for the machines that will perform the initial searches. Recruiters know that and pay no attention to text at the end of the resume clearly labeled "Keyword Summary." A keyword summary is composed of a term, followed by a semicolon, followed by another term, etc. This device is used to ensure that all possible search terms and synonyms of these terms are included in your resume. If you used acronyms in your resume, include them again in the summary and spell them out. Include all possible titles for all jobs you have held. Include acronyms and complete spellings of professional organizations, certifications, and degrees. Most important, list as many synonyms for specific skills as you can.
Finally, ensure your resume actually makes sense-easy to scroll through and logically ordered and that each section is clearly labeled. Do not include references or personal data. The first sentence of each job description should be a brief summary of that job. If your resume seems too ponderous, it likely is. Consider putting up a resume section on a personal Website that includes versions which are conventional, more amplified, and interactive. A link in the Web-posted resume will carry through.
There are many more relevant design considerations you can incorporate. A Web search for "+electronic +resumes +format" or "+scannable +resumes +format" provides many resources that detail the fine points of formatting such a resume.
Mark F. Johnson is a senior recruiter/human resources consultant for Tektronix Inc. (Beaverton, OR). He can be reached via the company's Website, www.tektronix.com.