Create and review a checklist by asking yourself the following questions about each of your previous positions: What was your impact on your projects, company and group? What would not have happened if you hadn’t been there? What are you proudest of during your time with the company?
One good source can be a spouse or close friend. Ask him or her what work accomplishments you bragged about or expressed pride in the most. You can also ask colleagues, business associates and vendors for their input.
Use job evaluations for great résumé content. Dig through your old annual reviews and take note of what your supervisors praised you for. Reading some of the strengths they identified may help you think about how you used these to meet goals. Letters of recommendation and company newsletters in which you were recognized by management may serve the same purpose.
Measure your results with specifics. Think about your performance history, and apply numbers where possible, using percentages, dollar signs and time quantifiers. If you have increased profitability or decreased costs, list these accomplishments. If you exceeded a goal, note the original objective. If you didn’t hit your target, don’t mention it, but use the number you did attain. After all, saving a company $100 million, for example, is still a noteworthy feat, even if the goal was $200 million.
If your employer has recognized you with an award, cite it on your résumé, as well. Give an indication of the its criteria so recruiters can see why you were selected. If you were chosen to receive additional training or head special projects, these can also be considered achievements, but make sure any award you cite is based on merit.
Insert keywords for your niche. Each industry and career field has its own jargon, and you’ll likely see these terms – or “keywords” – show up in job ads over and over again. Be sure to include them exactly as they’re written in your résumé. If they’re abbreviated, do the same, and if they’re written out in full, do so as well. Likewise, if a job says candidates must have a bachelor’s degree, be sure to include the words “bachelor’s degree” in your résumé.
Also, while many keywords are industry specific, certain phrases are important to almost all companies. For example, these include problem-solving, teamwork, leadership, business development.
Job seekers should prominently list computer skills on their résumés if they have these, because some employers may make an assumption that older applicants are not as tech savvy as their younger counterparts. Using phrases like “led a team” or “built a team” instead of “worked with a team” can make a subtle but important distinction to a recruiter as well.
Still, don’t go overboard. As important as keywords are for getting noticed, littering your résumé with buzzwords that don’t accurately reflect your career experience may work against you. Cluttering up a résumé with keywords, whether you have the skill sets or not, also can backfire. This trick might get you noticed initially by a computer scanning a résumé database, but an experienced recruiter will see through it.
And the keywords you use in your résumé won’t help if it can’t be read by scanning software. Short of submitting a hardcopy résumé on an unusual color of paper, there’s not much a job hunter can do to foil a résumé scanner. However, when job hunters are asked to submit a résumé electronically, they often can choose between uploading a text or HTML file. While the latter can be formatted to look more aesthetically pleasing, most recruiters recommend going with a text file.
(This article appeared in the Wall Street Journal.)