4 Steps to Create a Strategic Resume for Recruiters

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As you pull together your updated strategic resume, you may feel like you have the most important elements covered. You have nailed down your format. You’ve crafted a meaningful mission statement. You’ve summarized your most relevant skills and experiences, and double-checked everything for accuracy. You may consider the result your “master resume.” 

That’s an excellent first step in launching your next job search. And now it’s time to turn that master document into multiple customized resumes. This allows you to appeal to different recruiters with specific job listings. Your next objective is to fine-tune everything so it has the best possible likelihood of drawing the attention of computerized applicant tracking systems. Then get on to impressing the humans who’ll check out your qualifications once ATS systems single you out for candidacy. 

Why? In a competitive job market in which the selection process is digitized, you need to get employers to recognize you as a top candidate for job openings. One CareerBuilder survey found, in fact, that 60% of hiring managers consider a customized resume the best tactic for job hunters.

Good news for a Strategic Resume

The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to rewrite your entire resume to customize it. Often a few updates in key sections is all it takes to have a powerful effect on your outcomes. 

“While resume-scanning software has become increasingly popular, it has not replaced human recruiters,” emphasizes Amy Elisa Jackson on Glassdoor.com.  “It’s important to avoid the major resume mistakes that will cause an ATS to dismiss your application, but remember that a human being will ultimately look at your resume once it passes the ATS test. You want to craft a document that is visually appealing and helps the reader quickly find the most important information.”

In that spirit, here are four more steps you should take to ensure your resume will land you interviews for the positions you want. 

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1. Add your personal brand statement

This brief, attention-grabbing sentence should summarize your professional identity relative to the job. Shoot for 15 words or fewer. Place it near the top of the document, after your contact info; before you start to list your experiences. 

To start crafting your statement, ask yourself what you’d bring to the table if you were tackling your target job. Which of your qualities, skills, experiences or areas of knowledge make you stand out from other candidates? How would you add unique value to the role? Jot down a list of the primary points you want to make and adjectives that apply. Then, try out different sentence structures until you settle on one that summarizes your assets without being awkwardly worded. If your target job was senior marketing writer an example might be something like this: “Versatile, award-winning writer optimizing more than 30 years’ combined experience in marketing and journalism.”

“Pull out and curate the parts of you that you’d like to a potential client, employer or ideal audience to experience firsthand,” advises Celinne Da Costa in Forbes.

2. Target your accomplishments to the job requirements

Your first draft of your strategic resume should already include summaries of what you’ve accomplished in your education and career to date. Now, you’ll want to go over the text in those sections to determine whether it can be strategically reworded to better fit the job you’re applying for. Think about how you can avoid simple listings of your job responsibilities. Rephrase them to describe how you add, or added, value to the employer in question. Thus,  exchanging passive verbs for active verbs.  

Say you’re trying to get a job as a staff writer with a content marketing agency. But to date your writing experience has been limited to a part-time gig as a newspaper writer. You’ll want to do everything you can to help a recruiter see how you could thrive in a more demanding full-time writing position. As such, you may want to change a bullet point on your resume from: 

  • Completed 10 freelance writing assignments in the last year.

To something more targeted and descriptive like: 

  • Independently planned and conducted interviews for feature articles published in two major media outlets.

In other cases, you may wish to use the limited space on your resume by deleting accomplishments from your general resume that don’t apply to the job you’re targeting. Then replacing them with more applicable information. In this scenario, you’d remove information about former jobs that have no bearing on your writing acumen. You’d also remove versatility as a writer, ability to meet deadlines or ability to talk with story subjects.

3. Incorporate keywords from the job posting

Plugging relevant keywords into your resume is essential if you want it to be found by the bots that automatically find viable candidates via online tracking. The majority of today’s employers now employ applicant tracking systems (ATS). This is to take some of the heavy lifting off HR departments by scouring applications for resumes that include given sets of key words and phrases. The bots then funnel such resumes to human recruiters for further critiquing.  

So how do you know which keywords the bots are looking for? Your best bet is to start with terms used in the job listing itself, including the job title and the skills and experiences being sought.  Make a list of those that apply to you, then find ways to place these keywords in your resume. Focus on the top third of your layout for maximum search engine optimization (SEO) for placement, but don’t pack them to the point that your copy sounds forced or phony. 

After prioritizing words from the listing, see if you can also insert other keywords relevant to your target industry, certifications, hard skills, soft skills, and experience most important in that field. 

Once your resume is being read by human beings, keywords will do double duty by again drawing attention to the assets you offer that closely align with the job requirements.

4. Make your strategic resume easy to read

Formatting your resume for easy digestion by bots is key to getting it through to recruiters.  It’s important to note that the ATS reads from top to bottom (not left to right). It also tends to scramble info that’s presented in large blocks, images, charts, graphics or special characters. Therefore, you should avoid getting creative with those elements and stick to a simple, straightforward design. Stay away from elaborate borders and shading, maintain plenty of white space and use a 10- or 12-point font.

 The most recommended include:

  • Cambria
  • Garamond
  • Georgia
  • Palatino 
  • Times New Roman
  • Arial; Calibri
  • Helvetica
  • Tahoma 
  • Verdana

Other options

At the same time, you should be cognizant that recruiters are busy people even with the help of digital tools like applicant tracking systems. They can be bombarded with stacks of resumes to review for each job opening. As a result, one study found that recruiters skim any given resume for only 7.4 seconds. As they’re narrowing down candidates, it makes sense that they may remove you from consideration if your resume is too long, convoluted or hard to follow. 

  • Make sure that doesn’t happen by following these suggestions: 
  • Divide your information into easily digestible paragraphs with clear headers and itemized bullet points. 
  • Make strategic use of bold and italic typeface to make sections easy to differentiate. 
  • Use numerals instead of spelling out words. 
  • Limit your resume to one page by leaving out extraneous info such as references, hobbies, personal information or a career objective statement.
  • Create several different resumes so you can limit the info to details only relevant to one target job.

Optimizing your resume(s) to be easy to find and easy to review by recruiters will take some extra time, but your extra effort could make a major difference in your job search. Remove every possible obstacle that could prevent your application from being seen, so you have a greater chance of impressing employers in interviews. 

Bottom line: Job seekers should take these four steps for making their targeted resumes more recruiter-friendly and boosting their chances of scheduling job interviews.

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