Like many hiring managers across the country, several years back I was faced with a common scenario: A stack of resumes a mile high for a single job opening (in this case, an entry-level QA technician).
First of all, the stats you hear are true — you really do only have a few seconds to make an impression with your resume. As I quickly scanned the resume of an applicant named Joe, things were looking good. He had held jobs that were relevant to the position, he had a strong educational background, and I sensed from his cover letter that he was chomping at the bit to prove himself. Then I saw the final item on his resume:
Interests: Competitive bodybuilding, ice hockey, ballroom dancing, alligator wrestling
Hold on a second. Bodybuilding and ballroom dancing? Alligator wrestling??
After a long day of sifting through dozens and dozens of resumes, this brought a smile to my face and upgraded him from the “Yes/Maybe” pile into the “Bring him in for an interview” pile.
After meeting him in person, my instincts were correct. He excelled at the standard interview questions, was a perfect fit for the position, attacked his job with incredible focus, and we remain close friends to this day.
So what about when I asked about those crazy interests? He responded:
“I’ve always been very much into fitness, and just started training for my first competition. It requires intense discipline and hard work, the same skills I will bring to this job. I played hockey in high school, and recently took a ballroom dancing class with my girlfriend and was surprised how much I enjoyed it.”
And the alligator wrestling?
“Well, I can’t say I’ve ever done it. But it interests me, so I put it there under interests.”
“Strange” Can Be Good
Am I recommending that everyone add a strange hobby on his or her resume? No. But here’s what I am saying:
- First and foremost, the first 99% of his resume and his interview is what got him the job, but the last 1% got my attention
- What works for an early-stage startup looking to blend technical skills and a fun culture (as in this case) might not fly at a financial services firm
- You’re taking a chance at the person looking at your resume. Will they view this as clever, or immature?
What’s definitely true is this: in a sea of competitiveness, you have to find a way to stand out. After all, what is a resume except a collection of bullet points, all categorized nicely under job headings or templated categories.
As you progress throughout your career, your goal should be to accumulate the best possible bullet points under each category. So, where do the bullet points come from? Try these five tips.
5. Include Specific Numbers
When looking at resumes, the mistake I see the most is not having enough numbers under work accomplishments. Sometimes it’s just adding them in, thus:
- Oversaw yearly offsite training courses for team members
- Oversaw $200,000 training program for 8 offsite courses for 300+ team members
Sometimes you need to go out and grab the numbers. Pretend your company is working on a new iPad app, and you’re looking to get some mobile experience on your resume. If you’re not involved, don’t just wait for an opportunity to happen. Volunteer to help out the team in any way you can, through marketing, design, promotion, or other skills. You might not get paid extra to do it. You might have to put in extra hours and work late for a few months. You might not get the recognition other team members received.
However, you’re doing it for a crucial bullet point on your resume:
- Mobile experience: Worked on newly-formed emerging media team to help market and promote ABC Corp’s premier iPad app, which was downloaded 33,000 times in the first 14 days and has driven $120,000 in revenue
4. Include Special Skills
What skills are most relevant in your industry? Better yet, if everyone in your peer group has the same skills, what complementary skills might set you apart? Whether you’re a newbie entering the workforce, a baby-boomer trying to stay current, or a poetry major getting into the business world, there are specific skills that can stand out on your resume.
Of course, some bullets take longer than others to attain. “Published Author” are two simple words, but might take years and years of time and effort to accomplish. On the other hand, “Self-published author with a positively reviewed children’s e-book on Amazon.com” might take a few months and hold the same type of credibility that you are looking for within your niche.
Photoshop. Video editing. Computer programming languages. Public speaking. Web analytics. Financial modeling software. Any one of these can be a valuable bullet point on your resume that sets you apart from the competition.
3. Include Awards
Are there certain awards in your industry for which you are eligible? While some are certainly highly competitive, you’d be surprised how often you can outwork your opponents. Sometimes only a handful of applicants try for an award, giving you a 1-in-4 chance of winning right off the bat.
Within your company, if the race for top salesperson is pretty even, but you were the one who specified it as one of your key goals for the year when you sat down with your boss in January, maybe that is enough to sway them. Suddenly with a little extra work, you have “2012 Salesperson of the Year” on your resume for as long as you want.
2. Include Relevant Coursework
The world of education is drastically changing. Having a big-name institution like Harvard or Stanford on your resume will certainly give you a leg up on the competition. However, there has been an explosion of online learning sites in recent years that will allow you to take classes on most any topic – even ones taught at Ivy League schools.
So while you might not have a Stanford degree, showing that you are taking relevant coursework to further your education can set you apart. This is especially important for say, an older worker who got a degree in accounting back in 1980, who is able to show that their skills are up to date by taking online, evening, or certificate courses in relevant areas.
1. Include Lots of Interests
In a recovering economy, the competition for jobs can be fierce. In many cases, HR is choosing from several qualified candidates that all have similar skills and experience. Considering that employees will often spend more time per week with their co-workers than with their family, it makes sense to pay close attention to the intangibles when building out a team.
All things being equal, wouldn’t you want to hang out with the person that also loves to cook, can talk about sports at lunch, or volunteers in the community?
Translating Bullet Points Into Money
Building a strong resume and accumulating valuable skills can only help you when it comes time for your performance review. Employers generally base raises on two levels: meeting expectations or for top performers. By emphasizing the additional skills you have garnered above and beyond your peers, you can push for the higher level.
And as we discussed, when it comes time to look for a new job, you can outrank the competition — and argue for the higher end of the salary range — when you can show specific skills that make you a valuable hire.
So get out there and start improving that resume line by line. Just be careful of the alligators.
Let Salary.com Help You Earn More
Once you’ve impressed the hiring managers with your bullet-pointed resume and received a job offer, it’s time to negotiate. And that’s where we come in handy.
The first thing you should do is research, so you’re able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizardbelow to find out what’s a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.
How much are you worth?