For many of us, our first resumes were created with the guidance of a high school teacher or advisor. And however many years down the road you are now, you can still see remnants of that original layout in your current resume.
Unfortunately, as the workforce has developed, standards have changed for how a resume should look.
Applying to jobs with an outdated resume is doing yourself a disservice. Even if it's current and up-to-date as far as the contents go, if it doesn’t look modern, it’s probably also missing out on some fundamental elements that will help you land the job.
We will help you make a good impression just by the look of your resume. Follow these tips on improving your resume to impress the hiring recruiter that sees it.
In this article, we’ll cover
Simple tips to modernize your resume
How to get a higher score from applicant tracking systems
Adding a skills summary to make an instant good impression
What is a modern resume layout?
An outdated resume has contact information on top, then your education history, the main body is a list of jobs and duties, and below is a reference list. In a lot of ways, a modern resume can look similar. However, the small details that set it apart make a big difference.
From the get-go, if you are using a blank Word or Docs document to type a resume, using normal margins and with no formatting, then your resume is probably outdated.
Modern resumes optimize the entire page. There is more information, added sections, and new skills to promote. It’s nearly impossible to have everything fit on a page using basic margins.
You also want your resume to be skimmable, and easy to navigate. If sections are crammed together or not in a logical and strategic layout, you won’t impress a recruiter.
There are dozens of templates available online, search for the one you like and open it up to get a pre-formatted editable document.
Improve your resume: key sections to have
We will talk more below about the use of applicant tracking systems (ATS) and how they affect resumes. But for now, know that a basic modern resume should have some combination of the following sections. Ultimately, the nature of your industry and the use of your resume will determine which sections are going to be most relevant and serve you the best.
Sections you should always have on your resume
Optional sections, depending on how you use your resume
Areas of expertise
Skills and certifications
It is no longer standard practice that all resumes should fit onto one page. It is now appropriate to utilize two pages, so long as at least half of the second page is filled. Only executive-level candidates can have more than two pages of resumes, but should not exceed three.
How do applicant tracking systems (ATS) affect how I write my resume?
The uptick in the use of ATS scans has completely changed the game of how we need to write our resumes.
ATS scans allow resumes to be automatically filtered. When someone programs an ATS, they are entering keywords for the system to search for within a resume. You can find the keywords that an ATS will search for sprinkled throughout the job posting, specifically in the areas that detail qualifications.
Because of ATS, adding as many keywords as possible to your resume is a huge benefit. This is the number one way to improve your resume.
You’ll notice above, in the list of sections you should always have on a resume, tech proficiencies are named. A lot of people think that if they’re not in the tech industry or need to be proficient in certain tech programs for their jobs, this section doesn’t apply to them. That is incorrect.
If ATS scans are searching for qualified candidates based on keywords, and somewhere on the job posting you see “Use of Microsoft Word”, you will be scored higher if somewhere on your resume are the words, “Microsoft Word”.
After an ATS scans your resume, it will provide a score to the hiring manager that represents how well you match the job. If you write your resume for the keywords, you will get a high score.
What are the top 3 things to improve in resumes?
In addition to altering your margins and adding some strategic formatting, incorporating these three items into your resume is a surefire way to make a good impression.
Start with a skills summary or career highlights section
If your resume is being read by a recruiter, that means that you made it through any automatic filtrations. That’s great! Now that you have the recruiter’s eye, you want to keep it.
A simple way to achieve that is to have a skills summary, which is also called a career highlights section. It’s recommended to have this section placed somewhere near the top of your resume. It should be below your contact information but before your work experience.
The reason for this placement is that it’s the first thing the recruiter will review. There's only so much time someone will give to reviewing a candidate’s resume, and in those first few seconds, you don’t want them to spend time reviewing your certifications or education. You want to wow them with the achievements you are most proud of from the entirety of your career. That’s what's going to entice them to keep reading.
Keep everything on your resume relevant
Your resume shouldn’t have any information on it that isn’t pertinent to the position you’re applying for. Because of this strategy for improving your resume, it’s very common for people to have multiple resumes for different industries. Each time you submit a resume, it should be altered slightly to best reflect the keywords for that specific job posting.
To keep your experience relevant, only include work from the last 10-15 years. If you have an achievement from an older experience, you can still include it, but add it to a section titled “Additional Experience”, which should come after your work experience.
Quantify your achievements to improve a resume
A very obvious way to tell if your resume is outdated is if you are lacking quantified achievements. To best illustrate what we mean by this, take a look at the following example.
Plumeria Dentistry - 2017-2021
Customer Service and Administrator
- Answered phone calls
- Scheduled patients
- Greeted patients upon arrival
- Organized patient files
Plumeria Dentistry - 2017-2021
Customer Service and Administrator
Created a supportive work environment by providing effective customer service, including using concise language during phone and email correspondence, prioritizing customer needs when scheduling appointments and creating a positive environment through meaningful greetings and interactions.
- Drove patient retention, increasing returning customers by 15% quarterly.
- Organized patient files, digitizing an analog system, promoting overall position efficiency by 40%.
- Awarded employee of the month for effective problem-solving.
By referencing these examples we can begin to unpack the purpose of quantified achievements. In the top sample, the individual listed their duties within a position but doesn’t display their ability to achieve success by deploying those duties.
There are many tools available to help you quantify your achievements. It’s a crucial step toward impressing recruiters with your resume and making a good impression.
Avoid these common mistakes to make a good impression on your resume
If you have the following mistakes on your resume, it's recommended to modify them to better improve your chances of being noticed by a recruiter.
Keep it simple
Recruiters review dozens of resumes for any given position. You want them to really appreciate what you bring to the table. In order to do that, they need to read the entire document. Make it easier to skim to keep it a comfortable experience for them. Know that you will never be able to perfectly describe everything you achieved in a position. Stick to your best achievements, and save a few to talk about during the interview.
Use appropriate text
The body of your resume should be 11pt or 12pt, and only use standard fonts like Arial or Georgia. If you want to spice up your resume, you can add some flair to your titles and headings by using a larger size font, and a professional color like red, green, or blue.
Use the language of the industry
One easy way to promote yourself is to speak the language of the industry you’re pursuing. Even if you didn’t speak about yourself that way during the job, your qualifications deserve to be represented in a professional manner. Don’t just say you were a manager, describe how you oversaw seven direct reports and forty-two indirect reports. Speak the part you’re hoping to fill.
If your resume looks similar to how it did a decade ago, you need to update the format to a modern one.
The quickest way to improve your resume is to use keywords that applicant tracking systems will catch.
Make a good impression by adding a skills summary to the top of your resume.