The average resume gets less than 10 seconds in front of a recruiter, before being cast aside—and that's assuming that a recruiter is reading it at all in an age where automated scanning software is increasingly being used to filter applications by keyword search before a human ever sets eyes on them. Here are three ways that you can trouble-shoot some of the most common resume problems.
Beat the machines
Automated filters that scan resumes are the bane of the job-seeker's existence. Worse, they're not even particularly effective in helping companies to find qualified candidates—all they do is limit the amount of candidates a firm will see to those who have the right combination of words on their documents. To ensure that you are among them, be sure to include keywords from the resume—both for personality fit (terms like "enthusiastic" and "organized") as well as for specific skills listed in the requirements. If the ad states that proficiency in a software package is required, you'd better believe that the firm is using the name of that package as a search term—and your name won't come out if it's not on your resume.
Lack of experience
Once it's made it past the robots, the next thing your resume has to do is convince a human that you're worth bringing in for an interview. But how can you do that, if you don't have the requisite experience for the position?
Volunteer jobs are great ways of receiving work experience in a field that you haven't yet been able to break into as a paid employee. The jobs can be listed exactly like regular positions (title, achievement list, dates)—there is no need to indicate that it was a volunteer position on the resume. If you do openly list a volunteer position on your resume, the question may arise of what you used as income during that period. If you're proud of your wage-earning position at that time, and believe it contributes to your job goal, list both, and indicate that your volunteer stint was a "concurrent volunteer position."
If the paying job you had while you performed your volunteer position was basically irrelevant to your career goal, you may, of course, omit it. You may also mention it in your description of your volunteer position, by putting "Concurrent with" and the position and company name of the job. You thus relay that information in an honest manner, while still downplaying its relevance to your job objective.
Age is an issue at every job. Your employer will often have a sense of their ideal candidate's age as well as qualifications. Yes, it's illegal, but nearly inescapable. So what are they afraid of? Well, let's look:
- Insufficient experience
- Lack of maturity
- Inability to demand respect
- Threat to the older and entrenched
- Professionally demanding
- Slow to learn new techniques
- Lack of high-tech knowledge
- Older than management
Whatever the reason, you need to know how to counter those biases by creating a resume that will get you in the door for the interview and allow employers to evaluate you on a personal basis.
Most readers assume that your earliest listed employment began as soon as your education ended. Since most applicants from graduate college at 22, employers will assume you did too. If you feel you are too young, listing jobs you had while you were still in school can wipe the water from behind your ears.
Choosing the functional form is also a good choice.
For those who fear they're too old, dropping your graduation date and some earlier positions from your resume will also seem to move up the starting date of your work history. The only thing you need to remember is that, from the date of your first listed position until the current time, all gaps in your employment history should be avoided.
If you are planning to drop earlier jobs to make yourself look younger, but still want to list some of those positions to reveal your wealth of experience, you can list those positions in a "Previous Experience" note at the end of your Work History. Avoid listing the years you held these jobs. Simply list the company name, your title, and the number of years you were employed in that position, as opposed to the actual dates you held the job.
Sections of this post were excerpted from the Vault Guide to Resumes, Cover Letters and Interviews.