My 9 Top Resume Tips to Get You in the Door

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John Tarnoff

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The resume tips you got when you were younger no longer apply in the digital era. Your resume is no longer your primary job search tool, nor is it the best way to tell your career story. It’s still a vital part of your toolkit – but in a new way.

Hiring has become too crowded and noisy while also getting incredibly specific. This means that recruiters aren’t spending their time fielding and sifting through applicants – no matter how many resume tips you follow. They’re actually bypassing the applicant pool and going straight to the candidates they research on LinkedIn to discuss open positions.

In my 35 years as an entertainment business exec and film producer, I never used my resume to apply for a job. It was all via my network.

The rest of the career marketplace has caught up with the competitive and relationship-driven Hollywood job market. And it makes sense. We’re all one or two degrees of separation away (on LinkedIn) from the person who can hire us or refer us to the person who can. Online job boards have essentially broken the system, making it imperative that you focus primarily on your network.

So Is Anyone Reading Your Resume?

The short answer is no. Have you heard of ATS? It stands for Applicant Tracking System. If you go to digital resume help sites like rezi.io, you’ll learn about how software is being used on the employer side to scan and parse the 250-500 resume submissions that come in (on average) for each open position in today’s job marketplace.

So companies like rezi.io have sprung up to give the job applicant the technology to hack the ATS and submit a resume that has a better chance of scoring high enough to make it through the digital gatekeepers.

Even with teams that aren’t using an ATS, the average recruiter spends 6-7 seconds glancing at your resume. What do you think the chances are that they’re going to understand the value you provide in 6-7 seconds?

This is especially frustrating and problematic for older workers who have so much value to offer, and so much nuanced experience in their background.

Where Your Resume Still Fits in the Puzzle

So how does your resume fit into this mix if no one is actually reading it? Can resume tips actually help you?

Think of your resume as a satellite document to your LinkedIn profile. As such, it serves as a way of referencing the more complete profile and career story that you already (should) provide online.

That’s good news because it allows you to only include the most targeted and high-impact information on your resume without being afraid that other important and insightful information will get lost. You can highlight the key accomplishments and capabilities through your resume. Then, the reader can go to your LinkedIn profile to get the full picture.

Perhaps the most important use for your resume is as your “leave-behind.”

Once you get through the initial culling process for a given position, your resume becomes your virtual presence inside the company or the team. It’s the quick reference that everyone can use to identify you and remember you. In today’s flatter, team-based workforce, you’ll be interviewing with more than the hiring manager. This is so that they can build consensus internally and figure out which of the candidates is the best fit.

Just like a casting session for a movie or a TV show, they’ll get together and discuss the merits of their top candidates, and refer to the resumes as placeholders – just the way a casting director would use actors’ headshots. They’ll talk about their interview experiences, and refer to the resumes to refresh themselves on the candidates’ backgrounds.

Tip #1: Make it a Script for Your Interview

This process makes your resume is a great place to list only the most important, most “hire-able” details about you and your prior career – and the ones that you want to highlight in your interview.

One of the challenges of creating a concise two-page resume (more on this below) is figuring out what goes in and what stays out. By gearing your resume toward your interview, you’re actually putting your own script in the hands of the interviewer.

They’ll look through the list of positions and experiences and pull out the ones that you have already pre-cleared as talking points you’re prepared for. If you really want to be smart about this, you’ll also include challenges and potentially awkward experiences that might be tough to talk about.

These difficult questions are going to come up anyway. They’ll start with the dreaded “Tell me about a time in your career when you…(made a mistake/blew a deal etc.)”

Structure the resume so that you’re cued-up and ready for these questions.

Tip #2: Anti-Ageism Hacks Won’t Work

Has someone told you to leave your dates off your resume? How about not showing more than ten years’ job history? These are lousy resume tips, and will only work against you.

As I have shared elsewhere on the blog, if they want to find out how old you are, they will. Leaving your age off your resume fools no one. It immediately says that you have something to hide. Do you think hiding or misrepresenting yourself is a good way to build trust with a prospective employer?

Similarly, be proud of the breadth and depth of your years (decades!) in the workforce. Include as much of your job history as possible, but do be mindful of the length of your resume. While a prospective employer is indeed mostly interested in your most recent positions, you want to figure out a way to summarize the earlier part of your career.

Use the final section of your resume as a summary section to bullet the most significant positions and achievements of your earlier years.

Tip #3: Keep It to Two Pages

Even if you feel that you have very important positions and experience to share, you have to keep it to under two pages. This is simply non-negotiable. Otherwise, you can expect that it won’t even get read.

Here are a few ideas on how to create a summary for that final section of your resume and come in under the limit.

  1. Give the summary section a descriptive title. While the other bullets in the resume will be your job title and the name of the company you worked at, this bullet should be called “Summary of Early Positions,” or “Various Companies,” or something similar.
  2. If you’re only talking about three or four positions, make each one of them a separate one-line bullet with job title and company. Unless you have the room, don’t add any details.
  3. Another way of doing this is to make the bullets more descriptive and non-specific, e.g.:
    • Various marketing positions with companies including X, Y and Z
    • Responsibilities included: account management, creative supervision (etc. etc.)
    • Key takeaways: led team at Company Y that created the well-known ABC campaign.
    This works particularly well if you had a lot of jobs through your 20s and 30s. Being descriptive and non-specific lets you include only what’s relevant without focusing too much on your early history.

Tip #4: Get In Sync With LinkedIn

Do you have your LinkedIn profile address on your resume (along with your email address, phone number, and (if applicable) website URL)? If not, fix that right away.

These days, your resume and your LinkedIn profile are and should be inextricably… linked. LinkedIn is likely going to be the first place people look when they hear about you. Interestingly, LinkedIn will likely be the first place people go when they receive your resume. After they take that 6-second look, you want to hope that there’s enough that has sparked their interest that they check you out online.

They know and expect that your LinkedIn is going to be far more informative than your resume. And it should be. Your profile and your resume are two complementary documents.

You should key off your LinkedIn profile, and in particular the Experience section, for the information that is going to go on the resume. You can include everything on LinkedIn, but only a subset on the resume. Make sure that all the information matches up, down to the spelling or punctuation of your titles, the companies, and of course the dates.

Tip #5: Write an Objective Statement

I see arguments pro and con regarding the value and the approach to posting an objective statement or “Summary” paragraph at the top of your resume. Personally, I think it’s a good idea. But it has to be razor-sharp and give the reader an instant (positive) impression of what you do and the value you provide. It should also be consistent with what you’re saying in your LinkedIn profile.

Make it no more than two concise sentences.

Make it about the value and the results you are looking to deliver, not about the position you are seeking. Remember that the mindset behind your resume (and your LinkedIn profile) is about delivering the value your employer or client or customer is looking for. It’s all about them, not about you.

Never talk about your accomplishments for their own sake. The only way they serve you is if you can connect them to results.

Tip #6: Use a Portfolio Approach

Many people are concerned about the number of jobs they’ve had. They think this makes them look flighty or like there must be something wrong with them. This is old-school thinking. Remember that in a fast-changing world, your ability to understand multiple work environments and different businesses (or sectors of your primary business) are marks of resilience. The diversity and richness of your experience is something you want to celebrate, not hide.

There’s a theme to your career story. Your task is to figure it out and express it.

As you look back over your many positions, what stands out for you? Is there a thread that runs through all of them? Perhaps it’s the way you interacted with your co-workers. it could be the fastidious way you managed projects. It might be that you loved mentoring colleagues. There might be a special skill set that you developed and used over and over again.

Whatever commonalities you find, make sure you highlight them in the bullets you write about in the resume. This will create coherence to your resume, even as dry and as bulleted as it might be. The reader will see that you have been growing and developing your skills, or using the same successful methodology, through all of your prior positions, even if you worked in different fields.

They will be able to trust that you will bring the same strengths to the position you are applying for.

Tip #7: Use Active Verbs

This is one of the resume tips I share mostly with my graduate students, but it applies to everyone. Always use active verbs to describe your accomplishments. Crack open the thesaurus and collect an appropriate set of verbs. It will help your resume stand out if you do. Verbs like “activate,” “initiate,” “dedicate,” “solve,” can go a long way towards energizing the sense of your value and contribution.

Never use less active verbs that put you in a more subservient or secondary position. For example, never say that you “helped,” or “assisted” someone or something. While “facilitated” is a good description of a seminar leader, it is not as dynamic as “drove” or “directed.”

Take some time to go over your resume to polish your verb usage.

Tip #8: Write Just One Resume (and Then Tweak It)

Many people believe that they need to have a different resume for each job application.

Given the slim chance of your resume actually getting read for the position you’re applying for, don’t waste your time. Instead, write one all-inclusive resume that reflects a balance between your different professional interests and accomplishments – including your “extra-curricular” volunteer or pro-bono work.

When you apply to a particular job that is geared towards one specific skill set or experience set, underline or bold the positions that you want to call their attention to.

One of the big problems with having multiple resumes is that unless you keep meticulous records, you may not remember which resume you sent where. Worse, if you’re applying to a number of positions simultaneously, you might make a mistake and send the wrong resume to the wrong position.

Remember that at the end of the day they’re going to look you up on LinkedIn anyway.

Tip #9: Draft a Compelling Cover Letter

Your cover letter is the place to highlight the specific reasons you are the best fit for the position. Use it to make your one-sentence elevator pitch and try to put the recruiter or hiring manager in the right frame of mind so that they read your resume (and LinkedIn profile) in context.

Stress the one or two things from your background that best prepare you for this position. Include a strong positive emotional statement. They want to know that this is the job you really want, not just one of a dozen you’re applying to.

You want to make your cover letter memorable. Make it conversational. Make it personal but not overly familiar. Address the recruiter or hiring manager the way you would talk to a colleague you’ve met a few times but don’t know well.

Bonus Tip: Make Everything a Networking Opportunity

In a perfect world, your resume is like a message in a bottle. You never know which beach it’s going to land on. If it’s well-formatted, clear, results-oriented, and tells a story, the chances are it will be forwarded to another colleague who might have a gig for you. The hiring managers and recruiters who will be handling your resume are people you want to stay in touch with. They know people, and those people know people.

If you get turned down for a job, don’t think of it as a defeat. It might actually be the beginning of a longer process that gets you a job.

Every resume submission is much more than a potential springboard into a single job. It is another node in your networking strategy. It is part of a larger web that you are weaving to meet more people, build your reputation, and ultimately find your professional tribe.

Don’t make the mistake so many people make once they’ve been turned down for a gig. Don’t cross the recruiter, hiring manager, or company off your list. Don’t think that if you didn’t get the gig, it means they don’t like you, don’t want you, or will never hire you.

It could mean just the opposite. They may have chosen someone else for the position, but they may be considering you for another position that hasn’t been announced yet. Or they could have already referred you to another recruiter at another company to try to help you out. Stay in touch!

Action Tip: Don’t Wait Until You Need It

This may be the most important of these resume tips. Pull out your most recent resume right now. Read through it and look for the places where you can adopt some of these tips to make it stronger.

If you’re happily working in your current job, don’t blow off this opportunity. You are in a much better frame of mind right now to think clearly about how your resume should read. When you’re between jobs, for whatever reason, you’re going to be more anxious and less objective. Right now, imagine that you are the hiring manager and this person (you) is applying for a job. Would you hire yourself?

Keep working on your resume (and don’t forget your LinkedIn profile) until the answer is a resounding “Yes!”


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About 

John...

John Tarnoff is a career transition coach, speaker and best-selling author who helps late-career professionals transition to meaningful second-act careers beyond traditional retirement. Following a successful career as a Hollywood film executive and tech entrepreneur, he reinvented his own career at 50, earning a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology to focus on professional development and training.

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  • John you know me I am a skeptic about resumes in the era of mass unemployment. Yeah I still use a resume but I think an online portfolio with former supervisors on video, references former clients talking you up on online or social media channels might be a better option. I notice more people viewing for online credibility like how can you teach technology classes if you don’t know how to upload a video?? Health to you John.

    • I don’t disagree, Phil. But you also know that resumes are still part of the process and need to be addressed. It’s a much smaller slice of the pie than it used to be. Companies like Rezi.co, and the whole Applicant Tracking Software industry are a testament to the persistence of the resume.

  • Great points, John, and thank you for helping me get my rez to 2 pages. I tell artists that i’m working with to update their resume annually, even if it never leaves their hands. It’s rewarding to track accomplishments, esp. in the entertainment industry, where projects/gigs can come and go so quickly.

    • That’s a great strategy, Julie. I like the idea of using the resume as an opportunity for regular reflection, not just as an “as-needed” utility. Career development is 24/7 these days…

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