Employers have clear expectations, and recruiters are looking for someone with the right skill set. Here’s what you can do with your resume to communicate that you will live up to their expectations.
1) Make a skills section
You’ve only got a few seconds to convince the recruiter that you’re the right person for the job. Listing positions you’ve held over the years won’t suffice.
With an abundance of guides on how to write a resume and neat apps that help you make a professional-looking resume, the playing field is slowly evening out. It’s time to refocus on what you write, i.e., what you can offer the employer-to-be.
Apply yourself to tweaking your resume, since it’s still the bread and butter of applying for jobs online. Here we go!
The first step you should take is to create a skills section. This is the most straightforward thing you can do to boost your chances of having your resume read.
a) No skill is obvious or implied (e.g., communication skills).
b) The more specific you are the better (e.g., if you can make pivot tables and are proficient at creating macros in Excel write that up instead of just typing “Excel”).
Requirements for hard skills (i.e., specific technical skills like software proficiency or being able to drive) may vary from position to position. On the other hand, there are certain soft skills (i.e., less technical, more people-oriented skills) employers like to see such as leadership and teamwork.
Again, no skill is obvious. You want to mention your ability to work on a team or lead one, especially if you can provide specific evidence.
Compare these entries for a skills section on a resume:
Right: Lead a team of 10 sales representatives who generated 35% more revenue than any other team.
Surprising as this may seem, even the most technical, specialized jobs require universal soft skills like communication skills, creativity, and relationship building (don’t just think networking, there’s also conflict resolution, motivational skills, and more.)
2) Use a combination resume format to highlight your skills
The combination resume format combines the classic reverse-chronological resume format with a more skill-oriented layout. See, when using a reverse-chronological format you group responsibilities from past jobs as bullet points in your experience section.
For the combination format, you split up the bullet points in your experience section with skill-based subheadings.
Front Desk Receptionist
Harriet’s Hotel (2009 – 2012)
Customer Service Skills
– Ran front desk, checking guests in and out of a 50 room hotel.
– Negotiated contracts and invoices with vendors cutting costs by 15%.
If you are looking for a new job, but more or less intend to stick to the position you are currently holding, you don’t have to switch over to this template. However, if you’re a job seeker looking to switch career paths, this format will work to your advantage.
Pro tip: If you’re still not sure whether this template is best for you, read up on types of resume formats.
The whole idea behind the combination resume format is that instead of merely listing positions you’ve held over the years, you also share information on skills you acquired on the job. To make things extra readable, make use of subheadings (e.g. Communication Skills) to group similar skills. Bullet points will be useful for listing each of them.
Don’t forget that a resume should provide easy-to-read information — it’s not a self-involved letter of praise, so make sure you’re familiar with these tips for resume formatting.
3) Give your skills a plug in the resume summary
A resume summary is an important addition to a resume. It’s a brief but specific introduction which showcases your career progress and highlights your skill set.
Brand Manager with 7 years of experience in the fast-paced market of FMCG — energy drinks. Developed and deployed successful strategies to improve image of X-Drink. Results-driven and meticulous, with an MBA in business management.
Don’t go over the top, you don’t want to come across as a spambot adding buzzwords and skills to each and every sentence. However, as you can see, merely adding the resume summary to your document lets the recruiter notice relevant strengths. In this case — a solid number of years in the business, success at a difficult task, specific traits, and an impressive education.
4) Beyond the resume template
Recruiters usually give each resume just a few second scan — they look up the contact information, where you’ve recently been employed, and where you got your education. If all this checks out, they’ll have a look at your skills section. To draw attention to your abilities, you’ll want to pepper your resume with skills whenever possible. Easy, now! You don’t want to overdo it — pepper is just a spice after all!
But what exactly should you be highlighting?
A few skills called for in job ads are universal. It makes sense to list them in the skills section and mention them in descriptions of your responsibilities. Just to recap — these skills include communication skills, creativity as well as relationship building.
You’re looking for a job, not the other way around. Since employers have specific requirements, you should make sure you can live up to their expectations. What’s more, you need to communicate that you’ve read the ad, understand what they need and that you will deliver.
Carefully read the posting. Pay attention to any words and phrases indicative of what the employer is looking for. If you possess a given skill or trait, make sure you mention it in your resume.
Some information is crucial, i.e., skills keywords. You should be extra scrupulous to list them in your resume. In case you’re wondering, skills keywords might include phrases such as:
a) “good communication skills — can conduct workshops and webinars”
b) “able to learn new software programs quickly”
In the first example, the employer tells you specifically what they require — good communication skills. Don’t just copy-paste that phrase. Rather, make it a subheading and list more specific skills with examples under it.
The second example can be rephrased as “quick learner” and “tech savvy” and added to your list of adaptive skills.
5) Optimize your resume for ATS
All these steps are all the more important in the light of applicant tracking system (ATS) software. Recruiters use this special software to automate their work and sieve through large numbers of resumes.
ATS software is like a quick and automatic keyword scanner. If your resume doesn’t provide appropriate information, it’s pretty much flagged “ignore” and rejected.
This makes focusing on skills all the more important — robots are pretty good at what they do, but they’re a bit knuckleheaded and won’t read between the lines. Help them help you by explicitly telling them what you can do.
If you’ve got what it takes, help the recruiters out by explicitly communicating your abilities, skills, and competencies. If you fix these things in your resume, you’ll slowly but surely start getting replies.
After all, the endgame for them is to hire the best candidate. If that’s you — they’ll pick you.
Bart Turczynski is part of the team over at Uptowork, an online resume-building tool and career advice resource.