As Tolstoy says in the first line of Anna Karenina, "Happy families are all the same," but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Resumes often work according to the same principle: each weak, messy, disorganized resume is flawed in its own way. But great resumes, the ones that grab reader attention and inspire trust, tend to have a few things in common. Here are five resume moves that almost always lead to an interview invitation.
1. They repeat very specific words and phrases from the post.
During the first round of reviews, most managers don't exactly read resumes; they skim them. Their eyes move over the page searching for a general sense of the candidate's attitude, interest, and readiness for the position. More accurately, they look for a "match" between what the candidate wants and what the role will entail. Very specific phrases and keywords that reflect the text of the post indicate a strong match.
2. They follow standard, recognizable formatting.
Some candidates like to do their own thing when it comes to resume formatting and the organization of subheadings. But if you feel the inclination to break the rules, resist. Resumes are written this way for a few key reasons: First, resume documents are often uploaded and pasted into a database by automated system that anticipates this type of layout (Contact information at the top of the page, then a summary, then an education section, then work history, then a summary of essential skills.) Second, this format makes it easier for human readers to compare each candidate with the others.
If you'd like to break the pattern and present yourself in your own way, create an online version of your document and include a link to the page in your "contact information" section.
3. They're tightly woven around a central purpose.
Effective resumes don't wander off topic. They present the candidate as a smart, competent, all-around terrific person, but specifically, they present her as a terrific person for this job. Great resumes acknowledge the difference between generically impressive accomplishments (like fast marathon times and stellar high school grade point averages) and accomplishments that relate directly to the position at hand.
4. They're easy to read and understand.
Great resumes are written in a fluid, concise way. They demonstrate a strong command of the English language, error-free grammar and spelling, and a precise vocabulary that serves the needs of the message. This means intelligent, appropriate word choices (no empty buzzwords, clichés, or excessive repetition of terms like "effectively" and "successfully").
5. They're honest and confident.
No candidate for a job is ever "perfect." There are no perfect human beings, and there are no perfect job candidates, either. In fact, candidates who are a little too close to a generic ideal are often dismissed as overqualified or assumed to be too expensive. Finding a candidate match is like dating—employers aren't looking for a supermodel fairy tale prince; they're looking for someone who's a match for a very specific role. That means a person who lives nearby, who holds the necessary experience, who can accept the best salary the company can offer, and who truly wants the job.
As you draft and polish your resume, don't try to leap over an imaginary bar of "excellence", especially if doing so might push you to exaggerate or misstate your background. Instead, just present yourself—your real self—with confidence and clarity. Turn to MyPerfectResume for tips and tools that can help you showcase your best side.