The time has come to look for a job. You’ve been editing your resume like a maniac, taking in all the advice on what to take out and what verbs to use. And after much tinkering and typo eliminating, you’re finally done—and it looks just like everyone else’s. How are you supposed to stand out now?
Fret not. Here are five ways your resume makes a recruiter’s eyes glaze over and, more importantly, smart ways to fix that.
1. You Have a Generic “Experience” Section
If your main resume section is “Work Experience” or the slightly better but equally forgettable “Professional Experience,” you’re missing out on a big opportunity to personalize your resume.
In place of “Work Experience,” consider customizing this section to “Event Planning Experience” or “Editorial Experience”—whatever is most appropriate for your skill set and the position you’re looking for. Having a keyword right in your section heading has a great branding effect on your overall resume.
This is especially useful if you have a diverse range of experiences, but really want to show off your experience in one particular area. You can have all of your relevant experience in one section at the top of your resume where the recruiter will first look and add an “Additional Experience” section for everything else.
2. You Focus on Responsibilities Instead of Accomplishments
I’m not even going to go into how facepalm-inducing it is to start a bullet with “Responsibilities include,” so let’s just go ahead and assume you start your bullets with great action verbs. Even so, you might still be falling into the trap of describing what you do day to day instead of the projects you’ve completed or the results you’ve contributed to. Here’s an example of how to distinguish between the two:
Bullets on Responsibilities
- Coordinated artist press releases
- Managed customer mailing list
- Handled photo and press releases to media outlets
- Assisted in radio copywriting
- Performed various other duties as assigned
Bullets on Accomplishments
- Coordinated 8 artist press releases that contributed to an increase in annual sales by 14%
- Compiled and maintained a mailing list of 12,000 customers, the art center’s largest ever
- Organized photo and press releases to CNS Television and Yorkville Daily News
- Collaborated on a team of 3 editors on the copywriting of promotional radio commercials for 16 events
See the difference? The first one shows what you did—while the second details exactly what kind of impact you’re sure to make in the future.
3. You Use Tons of Clichéd Buzzwords
Are you a “go-getter” who “thinks outside the box” and is all about creating “synergy” in organizations? That’s great, but recruiters hate seeing these overused buzzwords on your resume.
Instead, think of examples of how you’ve demonstrated these traits in your work. (Need help? Here are a few great cliché-free ways to show off your soft skills.) Adding results and accomplishments to your resume is a much more interesting way to show off who you are—and ultimately, makes you much more memorable.
4. You Sound Like You Have No Life Outside of Work
If you are a marketing professional with five years of experience, how are you setting yourself apart from all the other marketing professionals with five years of experience? How do you show your passion for your field or that you have other attributes to bring to your position?
One way to do this is to include a section on your resume for “Community Involvement” or “Leadership.” Alternatively, you could expand your “Skills” section to “Skills & Interests.” Whatever you intend to include, whether it’s the event planning you do for your professional organization or the volunteer math tutoring you do on weekends, make sure to show that you do more than show up at work and do as you’re told.
While you don’t want to take this to an extreme—anything you include should be relevant to the job you’re applying for—it’s a great way to show off who you are as a person.
5. You Didn’t Include a Cover Letter
Do you hate writing cover letters? Well, so does everyone else. Which is why few people put in the effort to write a really outstanding one, if they write one at all. Some job applicants think, “Well my experience should speak for itself” or “Everything I have to say about my qualifications is on my resume.”
In some pretty specific cases, that could be true. Even still, in the rigid structure of a resume, your personality just has a much harder time shining through. The cover letter is your chance to really introduce yourself as person and not just as a set of skills.
The next time you have to write a cover letter, try Alexandra Franzen’s approach: imagining that you’re writing to someone who already believes you’re qualified. Take that confidence and go from there.
It’s so important to be open to advice and feedback as you’re creating or updating your resume, but be careful not to take out what makes you special. It could be that extra sparkle that gets your foot in the door!
Photo of resume courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author