Resumes & Cover Letters

How to Build Your Resume With Expert Louise Fletcher

Written by Joanna Hughes

Writing a resume has changed substantially over the years, and no one knows this better than resume expert Louise Fletcher of Blue Sky Resumes. She spoke with us about how resumes have changed and how job boards can help job hunters do a better job.

What are some common misconceptions around resumes you see online?

Oh, so many! I’ll just choose a few, or we’d be here all day.

There are some myths that persist despite there being no evidence for them. One is that all resumes should be one page long. This is rubbish – in fact, if you have more than three to five years of experience, it’s usually not possible to tell your story on just one page. Most of the resumes we write are two pages long – occasionally for a very senior person, we will stretch to three.

Another misconception is that using very formal language with lots of big words makes you sound professional and serious. We find that the most successful resumes are simple and direct.

Finally, I’d say that lots of people think they have to hide their personality when they write a resume, and stick to just the facts, but I think the best resumes give the reader a real sense of the candidate’s personality and character.

What’s the first step for a new job seeker who hasn’t written a resume in a while? What should they focus on?

Two things:

Focus on what the employer needs. If you don’t have a specific job in mind, you’ll still be able to find out what’s important to employers in your target profession or industry. Look at job postings and talk to people and build a list of valued traits, skills and experiences.

Look at your own background and find the strongest match between your traits, skills and experiences, and those sought by hiring managers. Choose no more than two or three key selling points based on what you’ve learned and focus your resume on these. For example, a marketing manager might choose to focus on his ability to deliver results on a tight budget, his creativity on social media, and his strong Google analytics skills. He can now shape his whole resume around these three messages, writing a powerful headline and introduction, and telling compelling stories of success related to these three skills.

How can job board managers encourage their applicants to submit better resumes?

I think most job boards do an appalling job of helping candidates. Some have no information at all on resume writing, and some have a few generic articles. I think all job boards should have free courses or eBooks similar to the one I created for Blue Sky Resumes. A resource that walks people through the basics of creating a strong resume would make all the difference in terms of quality. Most people want to create a good resume – they just don’t know what’s expected.

Increasingly, job applicants can have their resumes scanned and used to fill in blanks on an application. What are the dos and don’ts of formatting your resume to make this easier?

Some employers still use old scanning systems to store resumes, but most have now moved to automated applicant tracking systems, where the candidate completes an online form and then uploads his or her resume. With these automated systems, formatting of the actual document doesn’t matter except for the key point that you must submit in the file format they request. If you don’t, their system may not read your resume correctly. The other key tip is to include as many important keywords as possible because recruiters will search the system using these keywords.

What are some resume mistakes that will get it put straight in the round file?

People often answer this question by saying typos or grammatical errors, but I don’t think that’s actually true. If a resume arrives on your desk and the candidate is perfect, you’re not going to toss them out just because of a typo. Not that people shouldn’t be careful, of course!

No, I think the reason most resumes get tossed out is that they don’t speak to the needs of the employer. It’s not enough to just tell your career history in chronological order. You have to market yourself and your skills by showing how you’ll add value.

What trends in resumes and applying for jobs should we be keeping an eye on?

I think a lot of people are trying to find alternatives to the resume – things like video resumes and online portfolios – but none of them have take off because they fail to take HR departments and recruiters into consideration. A recruiter just doesn’t have time to watch 100 video resumes – he or she wants to skim quickly to get the information they need. However, I think it’s becoming more common for companies – especially forward-thinking tech and new media companies – to look for ways around the resume. One alternative is using LinkedIn and asking people to apply directly through the site using their profiles rather than a resume. Another is to set up tests that have to be completed online and to judge applicants by their performance. Both are relatively new but something to keep an eye on.

It’s also amazing how fast social media has become a vital hiring tool. Surveys show that huge numbers of recruiters are Googling candidates’ names before calling them in for interviews, which makes it very important to have a strong, professional online presence that supports what you’ve said in your resume.

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About the author

Joanna Hughes

Joanna Hughes is a freelance writer who specializes in business, human resources and the job market. She lives with her family in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire.

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