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Resume Best Practices with Margaret Buj

Resume Best Practices with Margaret Buj

Margaret Buj is an experienced recruiter and interview coach who specializes in helping professionals to get hired, promoted, and paid more. She has 17 years of experience recruiting for global technology companies and tech start-ups across Europe and the US. In the last 16 years, she's successfully coached over a thousand people to get the jobs and promotions they wanted.

Recruiter and interview coach Margaret Buj
Recruiter and interview coach Margaret Buj / Photo courtesy of Margaret Buj

Good Resumes

What can job seekers do to craft resumes that help them stand out from the crowd, and why?

Many resumes I receive in my recruitment job are very “duty-oriented. Job seekers have long lists of what they’ve done but not enough tangible achievements. To increase your chances of being called in for an interview, you need to give concrete examples of what you’ve done in your current or previous job that will be relevant to your potential employer. The more relevant quantifiable achievements on your resume, the better tailored your resume is to the specific role, and the easier it will be to stand out amongst others, perhaps equally qualified candidates.

How important is it to include achievements using numbers, metrics, dollars, and quantities wherever possible, and why?

Very important as this is what makes you stand out and proves you can deliver the results. Anyone can put on their resume that they are “highly accomplished” or “highly motivated,”  but it means nothing unless you can prove it.

Try to quantify your experience as much as you can. Numbers easily impress people, so think of something you’ve done that has increased sales or saved time or money.

Ask Yourself, “How do I know I’ve done a good job?”

Ask yourself this question for every bullet point you write. This will help you focus on the results you’ve achieved and will help you get called for an interview as well.

When you quantify your resume, the numbers don’t have to be focused on just revenue. For example, perhaps you’ve trained over 200 people on a particular system at work or successfully closed 25 cases per month as a social worker – mention that on your resume.

Also, be specific with business situations when describing your responsibilities. For example, if you’ve managed a team of 25, mention that, or if you’ve managed a budget of £3m, you might also want to put that number on your resume.

Don’t ever think you didn’t make an impact just because you weren’t in a sales role. There are other ways you might have contributed to your employer, for example:

  • Increasing the loyalty or satisfaction of existing customers
  • Solving a problem or challenge
  • Saving money (e.g., negotiating a better deal from suppliers)
  • Saving time (e.g., suggesting a new time-saving process, streamlining procedures)
  • Developing an idea your employer acted on
  • Increasing the company press coverage or market recognition

How targeted should resumes be to the job for which a candidate is applying, and why?

You should always tweak your resume just a little bit before applying for every job, especially the summary or core competencies/skills section. This is because you want to make it easy for anyone looking at your resume to understand that you have the skills required in the job description.

Tailoring your resume for each job you’re applying for might sound like a time-consuming task, but it can significantly increase your chances of securing an interview.

A big mistake I see many job seekers make is using the same resume for every job vacancy regardless of the industry or job title. It’s a strategy that will get you nowhere fast.

As a recruiter and interview coach, I see many job seekers who keep sending the same resume for jobs they’re not entirely qualified for and have no idea why they’re getting few to no interviews.

They don’t understand that if their resume is cluttered with information irrelevant to the position they‘re applying for, it won’t get a lot of attention. Yes, tailoring every application is a lot of work. But it’s worth the job when you get noticed by the right employer.

You need to understand what the company is looking for (e.g., what one company defines as “Account Manager,” may be entirely different from what another company thinks the role encompasses), so you need to read the job description thoroughly.

You also need to fine-tune your keywords

Many companies use tracking systems, which mine data from your resume by looking for relevant keywords or phrases. Therefore, you will have to make small modifications to your resume to ensure the applicant tracking system identifies your resume for further inspection.

Highlight the keywords in a job description that interests you. If you look at the job posting and say to yourself, “I’ve done these things,” you want to ensure those skills are reflected in the same language in your resume.

Next, tweak your resume so that it contains keywords that correspond with the description in the job posting, especially if they’re industry jargon. Examples of keywords might include specific computer programs or words like “social media strategist,” “management,” or “accounts payable.”

Remember, though, that a personal profile that just contains a load of buzzwords is useless and a waste of space on your resume; you should avoid the “team player with great communication skills” clichés. If this is all you have to write in your profile or summary, leave this section off your resume as it will not add any value.

I’d also recommend tailoring your summary to match the job description.

Your summary of qualifications or skills should be different for each job you apply for. Look at the job description, find the most important qualification the employer is looking for and write your summary showing that you have the skills and experience needed.

If you’re applying for a technical role, your technical skills (software, databases, programming languages, etc.) should appear in this section of your resume.

And finally, highlight your relevant accomplishments.

Tailoring your resume is one of the best ways to show prospective employers that not only do you have the skills and experience they’re seeking, but you’re also the right candidate for the job. They’re likely to see you as more qualified when everything on your resume is relevant. In my experience, many hiring managers are impressed that you took the time to tailor your resume, which bodes well for your interview prospects.

Many people add that they are “results-driven on resumes.” Does this help candidates when evaluated? If yes, why? If not, how can candidates demonstrate their results-driven mentality on resumes without explicitly saying so?

Just adding that extremely overused phrase won’t help anyone get more interviews. I see many resumes of people who are “results-driven.” I’d suggest adding some information that PROVES your drive for results. In what ways has your performance outpaced that of your peers? Perhaps you’ve earned three promotions in 18 months. If so, put that information on your resume. Maybe you’ve over-exceeded sales targets by 20%, or your customer satisfaction score was 98% for six months in a row. Think of what you can do on your resume to demonstrate your drive for results. You need some numbers on your resume.

Often what job seekers call ‘achievements’ are their daily responsibilities.

If you’ve kept customers happy or finished reports on time, you were simply doing your job.

When looking for a new job, you must have several accomplishment stories to use on your resume and during job interviews. It is also essential that the achievements you share are relevant to the jobs you’re applying for (sometimes, I see resumes with great accomplishments that have ZERO relevance to the job they’re applying for!)

You want to be able to quantify your experience as much as you can. If you’ve done something that has increased sales or saved time or money, it is likely to impress potential employers.

Perhaps you’ve coordinated team events at best yet most economical locations, saving expenses by 30%, or you’ve increased sales by 25%.

You might have introduced a user-friendly electronic filing system that reduced file retrieval time by 40%, or you’ve attained the title of ‘Best Employee of 2014’ by providing excellent customer service.

Tell the story. Paint the picture of how you’ve turned a situation around/what would have happened if you hadn’t taken action and how you’ve made it a success.

Applicant tracking systems are often used to streamline the hiring process. How can job seekers position their resumes for the best chances of success when such systems are being used by the companies they are applying to? 

Many companies use tracking systems, which mine data from your resume by looking for relevant keywords or phrases. You will have to make small modifications to your resume to ensure the applicant tracking system identifies your resume for further inspection.

Highlight the keywords in a job description that interests you. If you look at the job posting and say to yourself, “I’ve done these things,” you want to ensure those skills are reflected in the same language in your resume.

Also, if there are specific things mentioned on the job description that you’ve done, but they aren’t on your resume (or they aren’t immediately visible), ensure that this information is included on page 1 of your resume.

I recommend tailoring your Summary and Skills/Core Competencies section primarily - you wouldn’t be changing your work experience section with every application, apart from maybe adding or removing a sentence here and then.

Is holding an executive position for a long time or demonstrating a strong progression and career over time more important, and why?

Most employers would be looking for someone who can demonstrate a career progression that shows that the person is results-driven and that they have the skills and tenacity to deliver. However, there is also such a thing as too much tenure. If you work at the same job for too long (say 8-10 years in the same job - it’s different if you’ve had different roles in 10 years in the same company), prospective employers may assume that you are not motivated or driven to achieve. Other employers might think you are most comfortable with the familiar and would have difficulty adapting to a new job, leadership style, or corporate culture.

If you remain in the same job for too long, employers might think you have a less diverse and evolved set of skills than a candidate who has mastered a broader range of jobs. Be prepared to demonstrate that you’ve continued to build your knowledge.

How important are specific keywords in resumes, what do these keywords look like, how should they be used, and why?

Your resume keywords should include specific job requirements, including your skills, competencies, and relevant credentials. Keywords should be words that, at a glance, will show the hiring manager that you are a good fit for the job. The keywords or phrases will be sprinkled throughout the job listing and in the “qualifications” and “responsibilities” sections. Incorporate the popular keywords into your resume.

You’ll want to be specific and include keywords that are as closely related to the specific job as possible. The more focused and specific you are in your language, the better the chance you'll show you are a good match and get picked up by resume scanning software.

Keywords should be a mixture of hard skills, soft skills, and industry buzzwords. I recommend incorporating these words into your resume summary statement, past job descriptions and the skills section, and any other appropriate part of your resume. I also recommend having a “core competencies” section at the beginning of your resume, right after your resume summary statement. This will help the keywords to “pop” on the page.

How should resumes be designed, and why?

You don’t need a specific design for your resume; a simple Word document or PDF would be acceptable. Many ATS (applicant tracking systems) cannot accept resumes with tables and fancy formatting, so the formatting gets lost when the candidate applies.

I’d recommend for the following sections be included:

Contact information - your name, phone number, location, and email. You can also include links to your LinkedIn or GitHub profile.

Resume summary - these are 2-5 sentence pitches on your top experiences and achievements or your skills and career goals.

Work experience - list your work experiences in reverse-chronological order, highlighting your top responsibilities and achievements.

Skills/core competencies section - include your most relevant skills. Tailor this section to each role.

Education - enter your education history in reverse chronological order. You can leave your high school education if you’ve listed a B.A. degree or higher.

Optional sections - -f you have additional space, you can link sections like volunteering experience, personal projects, languages, hobbies, interests, etc.

What personal information should be on a job seeker’s resume, and why?

Name, phone number, location (you don’t need a full address, the city would be enough), and email. You can also include links to your LinkedIn or GitHub profile.

How long should resumes be, and why?

I’d say one to three pages, depending on experience. One page would be suitable for someone who doesn’t have more than a few years of experience. Most people should be ok with two pages, but if you have 15-20 years of experience, three pages would be absolutely fine. One page is more of a summary, and most recruiters prefer two pages so we can understand what you’ve achieved and if your experience is relevant to the jobs you’re applying for.

Bad Resumes

What are three common mistakes job seekers typically make when applying for jobs, and how can these mistakes be avoided?

Not including quantifiable achievements (so lack of evidence of achievement), not tailoring their resume when applying, and poor formatting or spelling errors. The advice on how to avoid the first two mistakes is already listed in previous answers. As for formatting/spelling errors, use Grammarly and get someone else to proofread your resume.

When do resume templates with excessive colors, graphics, and multiple columns start to work against job seekers, and why?

Applicant tracking systems don’t appreciate the colorful text, creative border designs, columns, or any other tricks you might consider for your resume template. Instead, the typical ATS wants to see clear, basic resumes filled with text and white space. Don’t ever include charts, graphs, columns, tables, or infographics. Including any of these can make it difficult for an ATS to screen your resume.

Avoiding Toxicities

At what point do job seekers out of work become toxic in the eyes of recruiters, and how can they reduce their likelihood of becoming toxic over extended periods?

This is all very individual. If you have a good reason for being out of work, have excellent references, great quantifiable achievements, and sell yourself well in job interviews, you won’t ever be perceived as toxic. In general, not working for a few months is normal. It can easily take 6-8 months to find a job at a senior level. But it’d worry me if someone has been actively looking for a job for over a year and not getting hired.

Responses provided by Margaret Buj, Senior Talent Partner - EMEA, US and LATAM at Mixmax

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