Quiz: Nine Questions to Improve Your Resume in Five Minutes

Eye tracking studies show recruiters spend an average of between 6-7 seconds evaluating a resume.

How will yours do?

Answer the 9 questions below to find out. Then read on to learn fast steps to improve your resume.

  1. Is your resume focused on you landing one specific job title?
  2. Is your resume focused on the skills you need in your next job, or does it include too many old/irrelevant accomplishments?
  3. Do you describe what you accomplished or only talk about what you were "responsible for"?
  4. Do you translate your accomplishments into the results that your employer cares about (make money, save money, save time, help people, etc?)
  5. Do you use action verbs?
  6. Is your resume format friendly to humans?
  7. Is your resume content friendly to machines (automated applicant tracking systems)?
  8. Do you have a summary at the top highlighting your top results?
  9. Have you included your most recent certifications and your formal education?


How to approach each question:


Q1. Focus your resume on one job title

Have you ever used a spork? That's one of those part spoons, part forks. They work okay. But the reality is, you would be better off using a separate spoon and separate fork. 

Don't have a "spork resume". Your resume should be built around one specific job title. If you are going after more than one type of job, you should have more than one type of resume.

The reality is, you will get hired faster if you can focus not just your resume, but also your entire job search around landing one specific job, instead of spreading yourself out too thin.


Q2. Trim the fat

If you're just starting the job search, you may have taken your old resume and added a small section to the job talking about your most recent job. Be careful!

Many details of what you did two or three jobs ago, will not fit with what your next boss boss wants. Delete what's irrelevant. Remember with less than 7 seconds to impress, you can't afford the distractions.

It can be hard to say goodbye, but don't worry, you've got more great stuff to talk about.

For our 40+ job seekers: As a rule of thumb, resumes should only focus on the last 10-15 years of work experience (no need to date yourself).


Q3. Don't be afraid to talk about the good stuff

It can feel awkward to say how fantastic you are. But the truth is, if you can't talk about what you've accomplished in your resume, there's no way for a potential employer to learn what you can do.

You need to build a case. Lay out the evidence for what makes you a great hire. 

While you're reading this, it may be hard to think about everything you have accomplished. But there's plenty of things you haven't thought about in the last couple of days that your next employer cares about.

Go back through each past year one-by-one. Think about what you've done and the projects you worked on. Read through previous annual reviews. Ask your spouse or friends who know you well or even co-workers to help you brain storm the list. You'll find more to work with.


Q4. Employers love tangibles

Do you sometimes have a hard time remembering what's on your to do list, but can remember a story told a long time ago?

There's a reason for that.

These stories have details that help them stick in your mind. Plus, unlike your to do list, that might look like many before it, the pieces of the story are unique.

You need to make your resume tangible: numbers and percentages, before and after's, vivid details, actions that are time savers, money savers, or people helpers, accolades from leaders in the space.


Q5. Optimize verbs to strengthen your case

Every bullet in your resume should start with a verb. Put it simply, strong verbs engage. These verbs should vary from one to the next, but they should all be relevant for the job you want.

What might this look like?

Are you leading, managing, overseeing, solving, optimizing, applying, guiding, advising, analyzing, collaborating, or closing? Or what other verbs would fit what your after? If you get stuck, don't be afraid to grab a thesaurus.


Q6. Get the most out of your 6+ seconds with solid formatting

Sometimes, in an effort to jam more stuff onto one page, job seekers make the font too small. Or they narrow the spacing between lines so the rows blend together and are hard to read. If you have a lot of good stuff to share after you trim the irrelevant fat (see Q2), you can put it on more than one page.

Create hierarchy on the page to make it easier to read. Use larger font and bold to make key details pop. If you'd like, you can vary the font type (e.g. using both Arial and Verdana), but be careful of overdoing it. It should accent it, not distract.


Q7. Ensure your resume passes the electornic gatekeepers

Many companies weed out resumes before a human ever sees them, using an electronic gatekeeper. It's called the ATS or applicant tracking system.

These systems use something like a primitive version of a Google search engine. They look for "keyword density" in your resume. And they use this keyword density to see whether you match the job description. For example, this system might review your resume and see that your resume content reflects: 20% leadership, 17% finance skills, 8% sales. If you are after a sales job, that wouldn't be a great result.  

What are the key words and vocabulary in your space? Do you use them to describe your past work and expertise in your resume? Do you highlight the 'soft skills' for the job you want too? Or are there a lot of irrelevant details that could confuse the ATS?

Note, while people love verbs, ATS love nouns. That's because nouns change less. It's a lot easier for an ATS to identify one word leader, than lead, leads, leading and led (though newer ATS have gotten better at this). 

Remember though, to keep your resume friendly for your human audience.


Q8. Include a summary at the top of your resume

Today, cover letters are a luxury. Many employers don't bother reading them. That means, you need to include in your resume the highlights of what you would want to put in a cover letter. 

You put these highlights in a summary at the top of your resume.

In just a few sentences, what are the most important things you want this employer to know? Below this short pargaraph, you can add a few highlight bullets of the value you bring. 


Q9. Don't forget your formal credentials

No matter when you graduated, you need to include your degrees on your resume. If you feel like including your graduation year is a liability, you can exclude all years from this section. But that is still a signal that you aren't a recent graduate.

Have you recently earned any certifications or accreditions that strengthen your candidacy? Don't forget to include these as well. They strengthen your case and show that you continue to grow and develop.

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Alan is the creator of Interview Success Formula, a training program that has helped more than 40,000 job seekers to ace their interviews and land the jobs they deserve. Interviewers love asking curveball questions to weed out job seekers. But the truth is, most of these questions are just asking for the same key pieces of information. Learn more about how to outsmart tough interviewers by watching this video.