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career 5 min read

5 ways to make sure your résumé gets noticed (for the right reasons)

By USQ 13 Mar 2019
Office scenario showing employer reading through resume while applicant waits with hands clasped

Sick of reading conflicting advice about how to write the perfect résumé ?

Wish there was a way to get access to the best, most trustworthy and up-to-date career advice possible, and that you could find out what employers are actually looking for?

Understanding what employers and HR staff are actually looking for when assessing your résumé will help increase your self-confidence, ability to apply for jobs and, ultimately, improve your chance of landing the jobs you apply for.

So, to help you, we talked to USQ’s Human Resources and Careers and Employability teams to find out the five things employers wish they could say about your résumé.

1. I saw it

Sounds basic, we know. But did you know that many organisations, both in the public and private sectors, use software like Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to filter and select relevant résumés? That means your résumé may not even make it in front of a recruiter or the employer!

That’s why it’s important to structure your résumé so it can be ‘read’ by the software.

Here are some tips to make sure your résumé gets through automated systems and in the hands of the people who matter:

  • Avoid the use of photos or pictures.
  • Keep your text font plain, simple and consistent.
  • Use a simple, clean and clear design. Don’t use borders, colour or text boxes!
  • Use keywords relevant to the job, organisation, and industry you’re applying for throughout your résumé and your cover letter.

The software ‘scans’ the résumés for pre-set criteria, such as keywords, previous employers and job titles. For graduate positions, organisations will use ATS to also scan for things like GPA, work experience, and involvement in extra-curricular activities.

To ensure you’re using keywords that will get you noticed, read the selection criteria for the position and use the (exact) same words to target your response. For example, if the organisation is looking for someone with experience in Microsoft Office – the keyword the ATS software is looking for is Microsoft Office. If you only have Microsoft Word listed on your résumé, your application might get missed.

Statistic - There are more than 1000 different occupations in Australia

2. I read it

If your résumé is difficult to read, chances are, employers won’t bother. This means your résumé needs to be clear and concise.

Use these tips to increase the likelihood of an employer actually reading the résumé you’ve spent time creating:

  • Use subject headings to make your résumé easy to navigate.
  • Use a simple, easily legible font (e.g. Arial).
  • Limit the length to two pages.
  • Focus on highlights and use bullet points and short paragraphs to make it easier to read.
  • Depending on your professional and personal circumstances, choose a chronological or functional résumé, or a combination of the two.

What’s a functional résumé?

A functional résumé focuses on skills and experience, as opposed to chronological work history. It is generally used if you are changing careers, if you have gaps in your employment history or if your work history is not directly related to the job you’re applying for.

This format can be very useful if you don’t have much work experience to include in your résumé, particularly if you need to draw on other transferable skills gained through study, extra-curricular activities or voluntary work to demonstrate their suitability for a job.

When it comes to the ideal length of your résumé, Michelle from USQ’s Human Resources department says there are no hard and fast rules. While two pages may be sufficient, don’t use two pages if just one will do and don’t cut out important pieces of your résumé to make it fit into two pages. Michelle says, ‘Ask yourself the question: have you provided enough information to convince the reader that your application is worthy of shortlisting and an interview?' Demonstrate your ability to perform in the advertised job by using examples and statistics to show improvements you were responsible for in another role, or how you were able to deliver on project targets, and by listing any relevant certifications and professional development courses you’ve completed.

Watch this short video to learn how to make your résumé stand out from the crowd.

3. I understood it

Did you know it’s important to tailor each and every résumé you send out for the specific job you’re applying for? Every job is different, and all employers are looking for different things. It’s integral that you modify each of your résumés to ensure it is really obvious to the person assessing it why you’re applying, and why you’re the best person for the role. Sometimes the tweaks you need to make will be quite minor and could involve simply using different keywords; sometimes your résumé might need a complete re-write.

One way to make sure prospective employers understand why you’re applying for a position is to include a career summary at the top of your résumé, in which you summarise your most relevant education, experience, and skills. Think of this like an abstract to a research article. If this is all the person making hiring decisions reads, it’s important that your career summary clearly and succinctly explains why you’re applying, why your skills and experience are relevant, and why you’re the best person for the advertised job.

But what if I’m not 100% qualified for the job I’m applying for?

It’s totally acceptable (and common!) to apply for jobs you are only 60% qualified for. The best way to handle this in your résumé is to address the selection criteria as best you can and follow up with a phone call. While you might not get the job you’re applying for, there could also be other opportunities that come up that you may be suited to. Employers are always looking for enthusiasm and a ‘can do’ attitude!

Statistic - When you train or work in one job, you develop skills that can be applied in 13 other jobs

4. I remembered it (for the right reasons)

Make sure your résumé stands out and is memorable … for the right reasons!

One way to do this is to emphasise and highlight your study and work achievements as they relate to the position you’re applying for. Don’t just list off duties from a position description; demonstrate your value by showing what you’ve accomplished in undertaking daily activities and use numbers to quantify your achievements. As Michelle says, ‘Employers are increasingly wanting to see what you have accomplished and what value you can add, rather than reading a résumé with a list of generic duties. Many organisations are looking more towards how employees will ‘fit’ or add value to an organisation. Can you demonstrate your personal alignment with their values and organisational purpose?’

Don’t use a cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all résumé. Your résumé should be written in such a way that clearly shows how you fit the position in a specific organisation. Tailor the skills and experience in your résumé so that it speaks directly to the job you’re applying for. Use the keywords that have been used in the job ad/posting and, if you know the person responsible for receiving applications, address your cover letter to them.

Another way to do this is to include hobbies and interests, but only if they align with the values of the organisation you’re applying to and add value to your application. For example, being a surfer is great if you’re applying for a job at Billabong. While including a relevant hobby or interest in your résumé could make you stand out, remember that the focus of your résumé should remain on your skills, ability, knowledge, and experience.

Check, check, and re-check for spelling and grammatical errors. Think of the perceived conclusions an employer may make about you, based on an application full or spelling or grammatical mistakes (e.g. lack of attention to detail, unable to communicate effectively, lack of care etc.).

5. I wanted more

While it’s important you include as much relevant information as possible in your résumé in order to demonstrate your accomplishments and experience, you don’t have to give everything away in your résumé.

Two of the more common things you might think you should include that you really don’t need to are your referees and your salary expectations.

With your referees, it’s always best to use previous employers. However, if you haven’t told your referees that you’re looking for a new job and don’t want to tell them until you absolutely have to, you can just add the line ‘Referees available upon request’, and that’s acceptable.

Michelle says:

'If you are working for an organisation and applying for another role within the same organisation, then you would need to have a conversation with your manager. Otherwise, you may choose to word your cover letter in such a way that the reader understands why you’re applying, for example, looking to make a career change, seeking an opportunity to start or progress your career in your chosen profession and/or area of study. Employers need to treat your application confidentially and therefore cannot make contact with your current employer without your consent.'

While some applications (such as those on Seek) will ask for your salary expectations up front, you wouldn’t normally discuss salary outside of a final interview. If you’re not sure how to answer the question of salary expectations and want to prepare just in case you are asked this in an interview, it can be useful to do some research on sites such as www.payscale.com and www.hudson.com or ask people in your professional network who would have this insight.

If you’ve followed each of these tips and have succeeded in making the employer reading your résumé want to hear more from you, it only makes sense that you follow up with a phone call. Make sure you include your name and contact information in the footer of each page and include a link to your LinkedIn profile so the employer or recruiter can get in touch with you.'

Bonus tip!

When attaching your résumé, consider the filename you use. Make sure you have your name in it and check to make sure you haven’t used details from a previous application e.g. the employer’s name.

Have more questions about your job applications or want some advice on your résumé?

The Careers and Employability team offer USQ students (and alumni, up to one year after graduation) free one-on-one appointments where they will provide you with feedback on your résumé and answer any career-related questions you may have.

Make the most of this helpful service while you have it, and get your résumé noticed by the people that matter … for the right reasons!

Learn more about Graduate Employability and what it can mean for your future career.
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