Applying for jobs can often feel like sending a resume into a black hole. Have you had the experience of not being selected for an interview, or never hearing from the employer at all? Here’s what’s likely going on:
- Each time you apply for a job, chances are that the employer is receiving hundreds of resumes for the same job.
- To help sort through all those applications, many employers automate the first stage of candidate selection by using applicant tracking systems (ATS), software that scans resumes for keywords and calculates the strongest matches for a particular job.
- Once the top applications are chosen, a recruiter and/or hiring manager will review that pool and narrow it down to the candidates they would like to interview.
With all that competition, how can you improve your odds of being chosen for an interview where you can shine and seal the deal? Making the right strategic resume changes can make a big impact. Here are the key approaches that can maximize your job search.
The three most impactful updates you can make on your resume
1. Match keywords from the job description
Including keywords from the job description will present you as a strong match for the position. If a particular keyword appears frequently in the job description, you should also repeat that keyword throughout your resume in a natural, organic way. Avoid “keyword stuffing” or repeating a word too many times in the same section–this can appear unnatural and is sometimes flagged by the ATS.
Incorporate the words naturally into the flow of your resume, and just once per job (only if applicable and relevant) and once in other sections such as Summary of Qualifications.
Q: How do I know which keywords to include?
A: Focus on functional terms related to technical skills (hard skills), such as “software development,” “financial analysis” and “B2B sales.” You should also include any software, platforms or coding languages listed as required in the job description. Soft skills are also important, such as “leadership,” “problem-solving,” and “negotiation.”
2. Highlight the benefits of your work
Most job seekers will list basic descriptions of their responsibilities, such as:
- Answered phone calls from customers
- Organized inventory
- Audited reports
Phrases like these don’t necessarily help you stand out from the hundreds of other job applicants. To take your resume to the next level, add the benefit, impact, or result of the work you did. This will go a long way to show a recruiter or hiring manager what kind of value you would bring to their company if they were to hire you.
Here’s how the above phrases might look with the addition of the impact:
- Answered phone calls and provided excellent customer service to improve customer satisfaction.
- Organized and reviewed inventory to ensure efficient ordering, accurate reporting, and lean spending.
- Audited reports to resolve discrepancies, improve accuracy, and increase compliance with regulatory requirements.
Notice that adding some additional context and detail to these descriptions also allows you to incorporate some of those keywords as discussed above.
3. Showcase and quantify your accomplishments
To truly set yourself apart from the rest of the pack, include specific, measurable accomplishments that demonstrate the scope and impact of your work. These show real results and feel more authentic to the reader than a general statement about skills or responsibilities. You don’t necessarily have to win an award for something to be considered a resume-worthy accomplishment. If you can demonstrate the impact of your work, you can impress an employer.
Here are some questions to help you brainstorm some of your own accomplishments:
- Have you ever helped your employer earn more revenue?
- Have you ever helped your employer save money?
- Have you ever helped speed up or improve a process?
- Have you ever helped save a client relationship or improve customer satisfaction?
- Have you ever had any ideas/solutions or taken action to benefit or improve the company?
- What positive feedback, positive reviews, awards, special recognition, or thanks have you received from supervisors, colleagues, subordinates, customers, and/or business partners?
Now, let’s add some numbers to quantify those accomplishments and help employers understand the scope, complexity, and impact of your work. Here are several ways to do that:
- Dollar amounts ($): How much more revenue did you help bring in annually? How much money did you save the company and over how many years?
- Percentages (%): By what % did you increase the efficiency of a process? By what % did you help reduce errors? By what % did you exceed your sales goals?
- Numbers (#): How many employees did you manage? How many calls per day did you answer? How many offices/locations did you coordinate with on a project?
Note that sometimes it makes more sense to use the actual raw numbers, and in some cases, it makes more sense to show the change (year over year growth, change from before and after you took action to improve something, etc.). It will depend on how your industry or role typically reports or looks at numbers to determine success and growth, or it may be a matter of what looks more impressive.
Let’s look at some examples of how to update some of your resume statements into measurable accomplishments by revisiting the sentences we wrote in the previous section and adding some numbers:
Before: “Answered phone calls and provided excellent customer service to improve customer satisfaction.”
After: “Answered 100 calls per day and provided excellent customer service, helping increase customer satisfaction scores from 78% to 89%.”
Before: “Organized and reviewed inventory to ensure efficient ordering, accurate reporting, and lean spending.”
After: “Organized and reviewed inventory valued at $2M to ensure efficient ordering, accurate reporting (reduced errors by 25%), and lean spending (saved about $20,000 annually).”
Before: “Audited reports to resolve discrepancies, improve accuracy, and increase compliance with regulatory requirements.”
After: "Audited reports to resolve discrepancies, improve accuracy by 18%, and increase compliance with regulatory requirements (avoided $15,000 in penalties).”
Following these steps will help you transform a basic resume into one that stands out to both applicant tracking systems and employers.