5 Ways To Rescue Your Rotten Résumé

If you're anything like my friends, your résumé is probably a little stale and perhaps a lot rotten. I'm sure your skills are not rotten and don't deserve to be trashed as rubbish. But honestly, very few job hunters know how to write a résumé that lands them a job interview. Since having income is an important step towards getting rid of debt, putting money into your online savings account, building an emergency fund and getting rich slowly, it pays to review your résumé for rottenness before sending it out.

I've been on both ends of the résumé game. I've reviewed hundreds of résumés as part of a hiring team. I've also applied to numerous jobs in various fields using countless résumé types. Over the years I've discovered why few résumés stand out and why most could use a rescue. If you're looking to land a job interview and haven't had much success, then grab a life preserver and try these five ways to rescue your rotten résumé.

Tip One: Match Your Skills to Employer Requirements
News Flash: Your résumé isn't about you. It's about how well your skills and experiences match the employer's job requirements. If your résumé reads more like a personal history book then you're heading to the rotten résumé pile. Sorry. The most effective résumés are clearly focused on a specific job title and address the employer's stated needs.

How to make a match:

  1. Find a job posting that interests you. Highlight the essential points and skills for the position.
  2. Make a skills list. List your skills and qualifications that correspond to those in the job posting.
  3. Make a Match. Write a series of customized one-sentence statements, starting with a verb, outlining how your skills meet the points in the position.(For example: Wrote training guides for accounting software customers.)

Linking customized examples that demonstrate your experience, skills, and knowledge to a specific job posting helps you:

  • Decide if a job is actually a good fit for you.
  • Tailor your cover letter and résumé to the position.
  • Communicate your fit with an employer in a job interview.

Need some examples and help? Download my Make Your Match worksheet to rescue your résumé from the rotten pile.

Tip Two: Add Action Words!
If your résumé seems dull and lifeless, chances are you need to activate it with some action words. Action words, or verbs, bring life to an otherwise rotten résumé by setting your skills on fire, giving your credentials authority and power. Verbs are important to include since they show hiring managers what actions you've taken in previous jobs. You're being hired to do something, so show what you've done by preceding your skills and experiences with action verbs!

Example verbs in action:

  • Job: Administrative AssistantPlanned and scheduled company-wide meetings for teams of senior managers.
  • Job: Software DeveloperProgrammed web-based financial applications in Java and C++.
  • Job: Technical WriterWrote and edited instruction manuals for award-winning accounting software.

Can't find the right verbs to match your skills? Learn how to word your résumé right by adding the 6 action words that make your résumé rock.

Tip Three: Use Your Keywords
Where action verbs activate your résumé, keywords are the nouns that explain to hiring managers what things you performed the actions on. Employers want to know the skills and qualifications you offer, so explain what skills you possess with the right keywords and get yourself onto the interview list!

To find qualified candidates, some employers use software programs, internet job boards, and résumé databases to search for those applications matching the keywords they target. In today's world of keywords and search engine technology, if your résumé doesn't contain the right mix of job-specific keywords, then your résumé may stay buried in the digital dungeon that is a candidate database even if you're fully qualified for the job. Now that's rotten!

Keyword nouns tend to be the hard skills and industry-specific qualifications that employers look for in a job candidate. Here's where to find your keywords:

  • Degrees or certifications
  • University or college names
  • Job titles
  • Product names
  • Technical terms
  • Industry jargon
  • Job-specific buzzwords
  • Company names
  • Service types
  • Professional organizations
  • Software or hardware packages
  • Computer lingo

A great place to get keyed into your keywords is to review five to ten employment ads with similar job titles and see which words are repeatedly mentioned. Once you see a pattern, highlight and list these keywords and be sure to include them in your résumé and cover letter.

Tip Four: Choose the Right Résumé Format
Struggling to format your résumé isn't much fun — I think we've all been there — but choosing the right format for your résumé is actually easy. Aside from academic résumés, there are two common résumé formats, they are: chronological and functional.

Chronological Résumé Format
The most popular résumé format is the chronological résumé. The chronological format lists your most recent employment history (or education) first, ordering your jobs by date in a time line. This is the traditional method of formatting a résumé, and places more emphasis on your job titles and your employment history over your skills. Chronological résumés can work best for job seekers with a stable career progression in one or two fields.

Use the chronological résumé if:

  • You have a steady work history with few breaks in your employment.
  • You're staying in the same field.
  • Your job titles show increased responsibility and higher position levels.
  • Your past job titles match employer job requirements.

The chronological résumé is the type most hiring managers expect to see. It's quick to read, easy to follow, and provides a ready-made template for interview questions.

Functional Résumé Format
The functional résumé focuses attention on skills and achievements, rather than job titles and places of employment, making it a winner for career changers or new college graduates. Functional résumés give you the platform to showcase only skills and experiences of which you are most confident – which means your work experience is described by showing the transferable skills you mastered in a Relevant Skills section.

For example, if you developed skills through a hobby or volunteer work and you now want to use those skills in a paid job, those skills might not show up in a chronological résumé but they could stand out in a functional format where you're not limited to describing your skills under job titles.

Use the functional résumé format if:

  • You want to highlight your skills, knowledge, or abilities.
  • You're re-entering the job market after an absence.
  • You're looking for your first job or are a new college graduate.
  • You're making a major career change.
  • You have a wide variety of different or unrelated work experiences.
  • You have large gaps in your work history and lack a continuous record of employment.

A small word of warning: Many hiring managers are highly suspicious of candidates boasting their skills in functional résumés since this format can often hide questionable employment records. But despite this negative, the functional résumé can land you the job interview if you do it right by grouping your relevant skills into sub-sections and have the right qualifications to match the job requirements.

Tip Five: Remove These Rotten Résumé Words
Using the wrong words on your résumé can really make it rotten. You may be surprised with these rotten words though, especially since these words are common, they are accepted, and they litter the average résumé with buzzword badness. Here's how to rescue two rotten résumé words and turn your application into one solid winner!

Responsible For
Of course you're responsible for something. But how many? How long? Who? What? When? Rather than waste the hiring manager's time reading a vague list of responsibilities, be specific and use quantitative figures to back up your cited skills and accomplishments.

Employers want the numerical facts. Write percentages, dollar amounts, and numbers to best explain your accomplishments. Be specific to get the point across quickly. Prove you have the goods to get hired.

BAD: “Responsible for writing user guides on deadline.”
GOOD: “Wrote six user guides for 15,000 users two weeks before deadline.”

The résumé that avoids vague responsibilities and sticks to facts detailing figures, growth, reduced costs, number of people managed, budget size, sales, and revenue earned gets the job interview.

Detail Oriented
What does detail oriented mean? Give the specifics to the details with which you are oriented. Please, orient your reader to the details!

BAD: “Detail oriented public relations professional.”
GOOD: “Wrote custom press releases targeting 25 news agencies across Europe.”

If you have the details, do share them with the hiring manager. Give the facts, the numbers, the time lines, the dollar figure, the quantitative data that sells your skills and disorients the competition.

Looking for more rotten résumé words in need of a rescue? Avoid these 6 words that make your résumé suck.

Rotten Résumé Conclusions
Résumé writing is not rocket science. But your résumé must impress the reader in seconds to be effective. Otherwise, your skills and experiences will be recycled faster than you can say “paper shredder”. But if you follow these five simple rules you too can stay out of the hiring manager's trash and land that job interview.

Also, be sure to update and edit your résumé frequently so you're ready for every job opportunity. If you're still feeling stuck then check out these free résumé examples to get going. It's a lot easier to see what makes a résumé awesome and then do the work to rescue your own.

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Gordie Rogers
Gordie Rogers
10 years ago

This is one post which is packed with extremely useful information that I hope I have to never put into practice. I’m on my way to being my own boss. I’ve lost the urge to work for others. 🙂

Four Pillars
Four Pillars
10 years ago

Great summary – hopefully I won’t need any of this advice in the near future, but if my luck turns rotten – this page will be the first place I go to. 🙂

Jeff Carter
Jeff Carter
10 years ago

Great post with lots of good tips. A good rule of thumb to remember when writing (or re-writing) your resume is to keep your focus on the reader.

Think from the perspective of a hiring manager. Too many resumes read like “This is what I’ve done” versus “This is how I can help your company.” Using quantitative figures is a great way to show your value to a company, as you mentioned.

EscapeVelocity
EscapeVelocity
10 years ago

Like the advice on tailoring the resume for a particular job–I’ve mostly been on the hiring side, and the shotgun approach is REALLY widespread out there. So are spelling/grammatical/punctuation/capitalization errors, even in applications for jobs where written communication is one of the major job responsibilities.

Meghan
Meghan
10 years ago

Very useful post. I keep a CV instead of a resume, but this is still useful information.

Nancy L.
Nancy L.
10 years ago

Objectives? Really? IME, objectives hurt a candidate far more often than they help one. If you put something too optimistic, you either sound delusional or give the impression that you won’t be satisfied with the position you are applying for. If you put something at a level nearer to the job you are applying for, you may come across as not very motivated. And if you put a different goal then the normal career path for a particular company, they may assume that you aren’t the right person for that position, since you ultimately want something “different”. A summary is… Read more »

Sunandshine
Sunandshine
10 years ago

Most important–Always proof read your resume. I have seen so many resumes that have numerous typos and thats a clear turn off for anyone!!

Eric J. Nisall
Eric J. Nisall
10 years ago

I think the most important thing about a resume is missing from this list: being honest! Too many people stretch the truth when writing their resume in order to give themselves an edge over others. What ends up happening, is that they look the part of the fool should they actually get the job and be unable to do what they said they could in the resume. In reality, a resume is simply an advertisement for yourself. It is a way of getting a potential employer to notice you among all of the resumes submitted for a specific job in… Read more »

Neal Frankle
Neal Frankle
10 years ago

This is a very useful post. I do think that if someone is looking for a job, a resume is crucial but it won’t do the heavy lifting.

You have to go out there and network. My fear is that some people might focus all their attention on a perfectly sculpted resume and expect the job offers to come pouring in.

Ain’t going to happen.

Brent
Brent
10 years ago

I don’t want to be too negative, but I was hoping for something a little more practical. A resume is meant to be general about you in your field, A cover letter that highlights things specific to an opening is going to get you more bang for the buck in time. Also, just how many ways can you use action words? I have programmed nearly every thing worthy of being in my resume… right now I have managed, developed, written, programmed, facilitated, maintained and configured… I flat ran out after that. Thirdly, as far as the “responsible for” rotten words,… Read more »

mewithoutdebt
mewithoutdebt
10 years ago

Very helpful post. I have also seen that many people still list everything on their resume. Resume is not a complete work history. For example, you can choose not to write that fast food job you had (if it’s not relevant). However, it does not mean that you can lie about it if asked.

Craig
Craig
10 years ago

Always create the resume based off the job applying to. Alter the skills and highlight what you want to be seen for your interview and what specific skills, projects you worked on.

David@DINKS Finance
10 years ago

There are a number of companies I am in the process of applying to for jobs. I have never been completely happy with my resume, yet I’ve tweeked it a couple time. You make a good point, though – change the resume depending on the job. If I’m trying to get a corporate finance internship/job, it should look a lot different than a stock brokerage job. I do like the point that #9 made. My mom was unemployed for an extended period of time and applied for many jobs. But she ran into a guy at the state fair at… Read more »

Dustin | Engaged Marriage
Dustin | Engaged Marriage
10 years ago

I really enjoyed this post. I have had a stable engineering position at a consulting firm for more than eight years, and I hadn’t given much thought to updating my resume. Based on your article, I can see the value in always have it reasonably up-to-date, and you have helped me see how a non-traditional resume can be structured. Good stuff!

Torrey
Torrey
10 years ago

I have had the most success showing my accomplishments versus just stating my job description.

Jane
Jane
10 years ago

A timely post. We are about to lose our only income and are having to learn home to write a US resume (each country has it’s own way of approaching the resume or CV.)
Very interesting points about how technology affects the processing of resumes now. However, networking seems to be a major force wherever you live in the world and is often the reason your application sits at the top of the pile and not at the bottom.

Aleriel
Aleriel
10 years ago

Yeah, the objective field can be more harmful than helpful. Let’s face it: everyone knows that your objective is to find a job. Everything else is fluff and buzzwords.

Let your resume highlight your qualifications and describe your passion and goals in a cover letter.

brooklynchick
brooklynchick
10 years ago

I am a professional recruiter, so I have to chime in! 1. List your ACCOMPLISHMENTS, not your tasks. “Re-organized purchasing process,” not “managed purchasing.” 2. Help the reader understand the SCOPE AND SCALE of what you did – how big was the team, how much revenue did you bring in, etc. 3. NEVER use a functional resume. No hiring manager wants to read it – they can’t make sense of it. If you are right our of school you’ve already worked, I hope. If you are a career-changer your cover letter and your summary statement can help the reader understand… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
10 years ago

I love it when I can comment as a reader instead of as a writer… 🙂

I’m another who thinks that “objective” in a resume is worthless. It’s junk. I haven’t hired a lot of people, but I have reviewed resumes for various positions, and the objective has always been useless to me. I would never include it on a resume of my own.

Avistew
Avistew
10 years ago

I think it’s also important to remember to adapt your resumé to the country where you apply. If you move countries, be sure to check how it’s done where you moved to. For instance, in France your resumé won’t be given a second glance if it doesn’t have a picture. No picture is ever required, but people started including them to their resumés, and nowadays if you don’t you’ll probably be the only one, and that won’t look very good. However, in many countries you’re not supposed to put a picture. Similarly, in France your birth date and status (ex:… Read more »

An
An
10 years ago

Nobody writes objectives any more. The average time a hiring manager spends on a resume is 20 seconds. It is unreasonable to waste any of that time with a stale objective.

Greg
Greg
10 years ago

I have to agree with Eric (#9) – be honest. Over the last year, I have interviewed dozens of people. Our HR team screens the resumes, and then the “professionals” do the technical portion of the interview. I am astounded at how many people cannot speak to the content of their resume. And and over, I interview people who have all the right words in their resume but can’t give one concrete example of their work to back up their claims. It’s getting to the point were I’m now inclined to hire people just for being honest. It’s that bad.… Read more »

Patty
Patty
10 years ago

Great post and important in these times.

Probably not your readers – but please – add a cover letter that speaks to the job/positon. Otherwise why are you applying for the job?

We (client & I) just interviewed for an open position – we received 120 resumes and only 12 had cover letters! Sad state of affairs – bottom line – only six of the 12 came in for an interview and we did hire the greatest person for the job!

Sara
Sara
10 years ago

I always have a really hard time applying the tips from resume-improvement articles to my own resume. In particular, it’s hard to state my skills and experience in terms of “numerical facts,” as this article puts it. I really don’t deal directly with growth, reducing costs, budgets, sales, or revenue. Plus, my job requires a lot of industry-specific skills, and things that are impressive to people in the same industry would mean nothing to people in other industries. I’d like to improve my resume, but it’s hard to find tips I can use!

April
April
10 years ago

I edit a lot of resumes and took resume and interviewing courses in college. I also used to review and filter out resumes in my last job. A few of my tips and pet peeves: 1. I, too, find the “objective” section to be pointless. The objective is to get the job, the rest is drivel. Anything you think need to say here can be included in your cover letter. 2. Stop using a thesaurus to find “bigger” words. It doesn’t make you sound smart. “Utilize” is not necessary when “use” is a perfectly good word. For more on this,… Read more »

MLR
MLR
10 years ago

Beating a dead horse, but not including an objective won’t do you any harm. But adding it in COULD harm you, so it seems to be a no-win situation. I would suggest (and I do this personally) keeping a “master resume” that has all of the jobs you’ve ever had with the description of the job and your accomplishments. Then when you go to apply to a job, or at least an industry, you can choose whether you want to go chrono or functional. You have all of the jobs right in front of you so it will minimize the… Read more »

Nancy L.
Nancy L.
10 years ago

@April (#25) OMG, some people have no clue how creepy they are! We had one candidate start mock kick-boxing and throwing punches to show how “strong” she was, and then talking about how she didn’t always sleep well because her brain kept talking to her. At the time she was sitting with some of the team members who would have to work with her–they were so freaked out that they immediately came down as a group and begged us not to consider her. Another candidate was introduced to someone who was extremely well-known in our field. The candidate made a… Read more »

Dave C.
Dave C.
10 years ago

re the Objective section of a resume: A friend who had his own business (now retired) confided in me years ago how he hated this. As he pointed out, most were drivel such as “desire a challenging position with strong rewards” Well, duh! Nobody ever says “desire mindless, boring position with minimal pay”, do they? Even when the objective is more focused: “desire software engineering position that utilizes my skills” it is still pretty much a duh! That is, presumably, the position you are applying for after all. I haven’t used that on my resume for years. One note –… Read more »

Katie
Katie
10 years ago

About objectives: I think some people are missing the point. You shouldn’t just be looking for a job to make money (ideally anyway). There are characteristics of some jobs and workplaces that you want that aren’t universal. For instance, I’m a librarian and I prefer to work in a library that takes children and teen services seriously. So, I put things in my objectives about expanding teen programming and dynamic youth services. When you’re looking for a job it’s easy to panic and just hope for anything that will keep you afloat. What you really want is work that can… Read more »

Keith Morris
Keith Morris
10 years ago

This blog entry was chosen for the September 09 issue of the LifeTuner Chat Carnival: http://www.lifetuner.org/users/kmorris/blog/posts/135

Slinky
Slinky
10 years ago

I think having a functional resume as illustrated here is a bad idea, but for some industries it can be a really good idea to include a brief summary of key skills. I’m thinking primarily of computer related jobs. For someone that does tech support, it can be helpful to list the different programs they’ve supported and had experience with. Programmers may want to mention that they know these languages and have experience with object-oriented and WCF services and they’ve had experience with agile development. This should obviously be tailored to the job description. If you’re applying to a home… Read more »

Meaghan
Meaghan
10 years ago

Excellent resume tips! These are very helpful!

UltimateSmartMoney
UltimateSmartMoney
8 years ago

Great resume tips! I would like to add that your resume should not be more than 2 pages long. Interviewers do not have time to read a long resume. So, the format of your resume is important. I use one column on right or left side to list key skills and attributes.

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