As a job applicant, you must highlight your skills to potential employers to be called back for an interview. But how can you ensure that your resume stands out from the crowd?
The first step is to find job opportunities that match your goals and experience. Next, you must convince the hiring manager that you are the best person to take on this role.
In this article, you’ll discover how to focus your job search, cover letter, resume, and take some additional measures to help land your dream job.
Searching for the Best Opportunity
Before polishing your resume, you must make sure that you are applying to the right positions. That means reading detailed job descriptions very carefully.
For example, a network administrator works with hardware and software systems, whereas a network manager may be coordinating a healthcare system. Confusing the two on an application wastes time and energy and can make you look bad.
Other times, employers improperly title their jobs. For example, one company that advertised for a content manager was looking for a data entry specialist and interviewed many mismatched candidates. Make sure the description falls in line with your work experience.
You’ll also need to understand how to get your resume past an applicant tracking system (ATS). This is a tool that many employers are now using to help hiring managers screen a large number of resumes by tracking keywords for the position.
That means you’ll need to include those words in your resume several times over. The job description will inform you exactly what those terms are.
Next, let’s discuss how to craft your resume in more detail.
Crafting a Convincing Resume
If you already have a resume formatted, that’s a good start. You may simply need to tweak it a bit to get it in shape.
For those of you who are starting from scratch, choose your format for writing a resume wisely. A chronological resume lists jobs by date, starting with your last job and working backwards. You should always include start and end dates for any position to ensure you pass through the ATS.
Functional resumes begin with a highlighted list of your skills. You can summarize your expertise with these skills at the top.
Combination resumes combine those two formats, although most functional resumes will follow the skills list with chronological job posts. This is the best choice if you keep the skills section brief and to the point.
Once you determine the type of resume, you’ll need to choose your verbiage wisely. Include the following:
For a free, straightforward CV template, Google Docs is worth checking out. Google Docs is easy to use, and most people are fairly familiar with the platform.
Some are put off by the lack of template options, though. Because Google Docs is so frequently used, there’s a good chance other applicants will be using it. This means it may be harder for your CV or resume to stand out.
Power words are a good way to highlight skills on your resume. These are active verbs that demonstrate your experience. For example, instead of “managed team,” you can use “mentored” or “inspired.”
Hard and Soft Skills
While it’s important to know the technical or hard skills required for the position, it’s equally important for your potential employer to understand your soft skills. These skills showcase who you are, how you fit in their corporate culture, and how you work with others. Soft skills almost always come up during a job interview.
Highlight your top soft skills in your skill summary. A great example to add to your resume is adaptability at the office. If you are known for keeping calm during a work or business crisis, are flexible to take on additional responsibilities, and can handle the unexpected, employers are more likely to be interested in your application.
Finally, show how you accomplished goals for your prior company, rather than for yourself. Did you save your organization money? Did you bring in a lucrative contract? Did you solve a difficult challenge?
Prospective employers want to know what you can do for them. Position your resume to answer that question.
Addressing Unemployment Gaps in Your Resume
There is one more major issue to address in your resume: unemployment gaps. In the past these have been frowned upon by hiring managers, however, the pandemic of 2020 left many people without employment through no fault of their own.
Your unemployment job search may be more successful if you show that any gaps in your work resume were put to good use. Some ideas include:
- Take on additional new work. Even if it was not related to your position, actively staying employed demonstrates your ability to take initiative and adapt to a crisis. If you’ve completed freelance projects, we’ll discuss how you can highlight that work below.
- Learn new hard skills. This includes online coursework or education or any new technical skills you’ve learned.
- Rebrand your soft skills. While at home, you may have added or developed soft skills through things like caregiving loved ones, remote schooling your children, managing working from home, etc. Consider how these can be rebranded to benefit your prospective employer.
The next step is writing a stand-out cover letter. This should be adapted for each company, however, you can create a personal template for the position you are seeking.
Be sure to address it to the hiring manager by name, whenever possible. Search online for the person’s name if it has not been provided to you.
A good cover letter:
- Follows a professional format.
- Is scannable and easy to read. That means short, clear paragraphs that are to the point.
- Has an eye-catching introduction. Start with why and how you can uniquely help the company achieve its goals.
- Highlights specific and/or measurable evidence that you can get the job done.
The best cover letters also show that you understand the company, its culture, and its mission. You’ll need to do some research. Be sure to understand their recent ups and down, who’s in management, and how you would make a good fit for their business.
Adding Bells and Whistles
A great resume and cover letter are the basics that every successful job applicant needs to succeed. However, you can go above and beyond. Here are more tools that you can use to highlight your skills so that potential employers take notice.
Adding Freelance Work
Freelance work is a great way to make money in between full-time jobs. In the same way you would use your resources to get new freelance clients, your existing clients can provide excellent references for potential employers as well. Here’s how to can you highlight your work as a freelancer:
- Create a portfolio of your work, if it has a creative aspect. This can include presentations, writing projects, graphic or web design, speech writing, etc.
If you have had only one or two clients, you can add samples of personal or schoolwork projects. Only include your best work to highlight your skills.
- Sometimes, a case study can be used in addition to or instead of a portfolio. Write out a summary of the problem and the primary steps you took towards solving it. This should highlight both your hard and soft skills.
Case studies are especially valuable if there was a challenge or unforeseen difficulty that may have held up the project.
- Testimonials help wrap up your portfolio and case studies on a positive note. While it may be intimidating to ask past clients for a testimonial, more often than not, they are happy to comply if you make it easy for them.
Many will ask you to write the testimonial. If so, position it with your prospective employer in mind, using all the techniques listed above (power words, keywords, etc.)
If you’ve ever been on a job interview and were asked if you knew anyone who worked in the company, then you know the value of networking. Making connections is a good way to help land a job as well as finding job opportunities.
Here are some ways to improve your networks:
- LinkedIn is a great tool for job seekers because it is commonly used by companies and HR departments to find talent. You can add your resume and skills as well as seek connections for jobs that interest you.
It also functions as a social media service, so you can share, post, and comment as well.
- Other forms of social media can be helpful too. Facebook is best for expanding your reach among friends and friends of friends. Twitter is a great tool to interact positively with companies that catch your attention. If your work is more visual, like graphic design, Instagram is an excellent tool for sharing images.
- Join a networking group. There many of these available via webcam or in person. You can find virtual networks on LinkedIn or Facebook.
For in-person groups, check MeetUp.com or your local chamber of commerce. Other organizations include Business Network International (BNI) and Toastmasters International for public speakers.
You can also seek out targeted networking groups that cater to your interests (i.e., technology, women in business, etc.)
If you’ve ever joined or led a networking group, particularly if you made any presentations, add these to your resume and/or portfolio.
Job seekers today need to make sure that their cover letters, resumes, and overall application catches the eye of the hiring manager to land an interview. If you are struggling to get noticed with your current resume, these tips can help you stand out from the crowd.
This article was contributed by guest writer, Amanda Winstead. Amanda Winstead is a writer from the Portland area with a background in communications and a passion for telling stories. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.