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Write a Resume That Gets the Interview

While this is a job interview advice website, you have to first get the interview before you can apply the advice, right? And what is the biggest factor in determining if you get an interview? Simple – your resume.

Sure, networking and knowing insiders can also get you interviews, but the majority of interviews are still a result of applying for a job with an excellent resume.

Consequently, I thought it would be good to take some time to cover the two most important aspects of a resume that will get you more interviews.

I’ve been a Hiring Manager in several companies, big and small, as well as both the private and public sector. Over 30 years I’ve probably hired around 300 people, give or take a few. I typically will read somewhere between 12 and 20 resumes per opening, so I’ve read several thousand resumes over the years.

Of these thousands of resumes, I would say that 80% of them weren’t worth the time it took to read them, they were that bad. Does this surprise you?

Many things go into creating the perfect resume and I’m not going to cover them all. There are excellent resume writing sites on the Web that can show you the right format, the different types, the right font to use, etc, etc.

I’m now going to reveal the two most important things that your resume should contain to increase the chances for you to get that elusive resume. These two things are:

…Customize your resume for each job to which you apply

…Highlight your accomplishments, not your activities.

If you do nothing else but focus on these two things, you should see a big improvement in your ability to get an interview (assuming, of course, that you are otherwise qualified!).

Customize Your Resume for Each Job

As a Hiring Manager, to me this is common sense. However, a surprisingly large number of the resumes I read are generic and obviously intended to be used for multiple applications. The biggest giveaway is they don’t focus on the specific job skills in my job posting and frequently include experiences and skills that have nothing to do with my position.

When people tell me they’ve sent out dozens of applications and ask me why they can’t get an interview, I usually tell them it must take a lot of time to write that many custom resumes. I want to hear how they respond.

I’ll frequently get a surprised look and an answer something like this: “I spent my time perfecting my resume so that I can use it for any job application. This way I don’t have to waste time rewriting it and then not getting an interview anyway.”

They just answered their own question. 

It’s no surprise that they aren’t getting interviews. Instead of customizing their resume to show why they are a good fit for that specific job, they’re leaving it up to the Hiring Managers to figure that out for themselves.

You have about 20 to 30 seconds for your resume to grab my attention. If it’s not quickly obvious that you have the specific experience and skills I’m looking for, your resume – and your chance for an interview – is tossed aside. I have too many other resumes to read.

The 80/20 rule applies here. While it’s important to have a proper format without grammatical or spelling errors, that’s the 20%. The other 80% that determines the effectiveness of your resume in getting a response is how well you relate your qualifications to that exact position.

To do this, you need to thoroughly analyze the experience and skill requirements in the job posting. Using this information, customize your resume to emphasize as many of those specific requirements as you can legitimately claim.

Here’s how to do this.

First, at the top of your resume, it’s important to include references to your specific skills and accomplishments as they relate to that specific job. Do this by listing a few bullet points that match your qualifications to the job requirements. Then follow with a brief paragraph that reviews your overall skill set and experience as they apply to that position.

Make this the first thing at the top of your resume, right below your name and address. You want it to be the first thing seen by the Hiring Manager.

Below is an example of what this can look like. This is actually right off my personal resume, a version that I created several years ago when I applied for a Director of Operations position (and yes, I did get an interview and ended up being hired. I knew you wanted to know!).

  • Reduced expense ratio by 25%, saving $11 million annually in operating expense.
  • Increased employee productivity by 56% on a unit basis and 300% on a dollar basis.
  • Managed operating budgets to within one percent of plan.

Visionary operations/business manager accomplished at strategic planning, expense analysis, and control, developing and implementing process improvements to business operating systems, high-level project and systems management. Excellent communication, organizational and interpersonal skills for managing to measurable, bottom-line results.

The bullet points focus on accomplishments, while the paragraph underneath addresses the exact qualifications as shown on the job posting.

You want this to be the first thing the Hiring Manager will see in that critical first 20 to 30 seconds, which is why it’s at the top of your resume. This is where you have your best shot at having your entire resume read, so be certain to refer to the required qualifications exactly as shown in the job posting.

You should have no problem identifying the job requirements because they are right there in the job posting. The most common job posting format is to give a short overview of what the job entails, followed by a list of the specific requirements.

In other words, they are telling you exactly what they want to see in your resume! Give it to them and you will find greater success in getting job interviews.

What I did was print a paper copy of the job posting. I then highlighted the specific experience and skills that were required and used that exact wording throughout my resume, but particularly at the top.

As an example, let’s say that an opening for a software engineer includes the following requirements: “experience with Object-Oriented Design (OOD)”, “experience working with cloud architectures”, and “ability to do UI/UX design”.

In your resume, you’ll need to specifically use the terms “OOD”, “cloud architecture”, and “UI/UX” in the bullet points, as shown in the example above. Then, incorporate as many of the other job requirements that you possess into the paragraph below the bullets. 

This ensures the person reading your resume immediately sees that you’re specifically qualified and your resume deserves further review. As a Hiring Manager, if I don’t see this quickly, I’ll stop reading and go to the next resume.

Most Hiring Managers simply don’t have the time to plow through each entire resume searching for something that tells them the applicant is qualified. You have to hit them in the face with it right upfront.

If you show me immediately in your resume that you meet my qualifications, there is a good chance that I’ll put you in the “to be interviewed” stack.

Show Accomplishments, Not Activities

The second important aspect of your resume is my favorite: State your skills and experience in terms of accomplishments. Too often, I read resumes that show a long list of skills and responsibilities, but nothing about what was accomplished using those skills.

Here’s an example.

Say you’re a sales or marketing representative for a manufacturing company. You’re looking for a new job and have written your resume. It lists several bullet points about your experience and one of them is worded like this:

“Responsible for sales and customer service in California and Nevada. Provide technical support and service to over 60 customers for 11 different product lines.”  

Wow, that’s a lot of responsibility so you must be good, right? The problem is it tells me what your responsibilities are but doesn’t tell me if you are successfully performing those responsibilities. It says nothing about your accomplishments.

Now, look at the following rewrite.

“Increased sales last year by 21% in California and 18% in Nevada. 9 of my 11 product lines grew 45% faster than the company average in all territories. Added 7 new customers and had the highest percentage of “completely satisfied” customer service ratings for the past three years.”

This is a far more powerful statement. It tells me that you not only have the experience, but it’s successful experience. I estimate that over the years only about 25 percent of the resumes I’ve read included specific accomplishments in the requirements for my job opening. The rest merely gave laundry lists of responsibilities with nothing to indicate they were performed well.

The Bottom Line

If you’re applying for many jobs but getting few interviews, give your resume a tune-up by customizing it for each application and including accomplishments. You just may find it makes the difference between an interview call…and silence.

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