The Definitive Guide to Having Your Resume Taken Seriously

The Definitive Guide to Having Your Resume Taken Seriously

“Can you take a quick look my resume?”

A word of advice: if you spend years sitting on search committees, and then decide to launch a career strategy business, plan on hearing this question.

A lot.

But if you’re not planning on becoming a career strategist, and instead, you’re looking to take your own career to the next step, please keep reading.

I want to talk about how to have your resume taken seriously by hiring managers.

And I have to tell you, it’s not as easy as taking a quick look at your resume. It’s about being prepared, organized and strategic.

And today, I’m sharing my observations from reading resumes, serving on search committees and my favorite strategies that I use with my clients.

Warning: this is a pretty lengthy post. You can grab the Guide Sheet below for your reference!

The Definitive Guide Sheet

Write your resume with confidence! Grab this Guide Sheet for my quick tips + strategies. It's a great reference for all job seekers!

Sure, looking at someone’s resume is usually a good way to get a sense of the sort of experience that they have. When I meet with a client for the first time, I like to have a copy of their resume so I can see what they’ve been up to, where they went to school, and what they studied.

When people ask me to take “a quick look,” they’re literally asking me to consider the following:

a) Are there any typos in my resume or cover letter?
b) Is this the format that you’d recommend?

The truth is that “tweaking” resumes isn’t *really* what I do with my clients.

Of course, there are people you can hire to edit your resumes and cover letters.

Career coaches and strategists are usually not these people.

I don’t obsess over whether there are typos (which you totally should, to some degree) and the format of your resume (after a while, they all sort of start to feel the same).

Instead, we focus on on high impact changes and strategies that you can make to show the readers of your application how strong of a match you are for the position that you’re applying to.

These strategies provide clients an inside peek at what goes on inside search committees.

This may include:

  • What the hiring manager is looking for
  • How to emphasize what matters using your resume
  • How to even figure what matters based on a job posting

(I have a free workshop you can download on this topic. You can sign up over here!)

Then I help them create a plan to get organized and create cover letters and resumes showcase their most relevant experience.

These strategies are based on the 100s of resumes I’ve reviewed as part of a search committee– both the fantastic ones and the ones that were discounted immediately.

I’m sharing which mistakes are the worst kind to make, which kind are more forgivable, how to tell what the hiring manager is looking for, and how to make it obvious that you’ve got what they’re looking for.

Your resume isn’t just your resume. It’s about your candidacy.

It’s about how to handle your cover letter, your correspondence and your interview so that you remain a contender for your next dream job.

These are not “tweaks.”

In fact, some of them require a lot of work. But I have seen these strategies jumpstart slow and stalled out job searches and turn demoralized job seekers into confident applicants.

Let’s go.

The Truth About Typos and The Worst Mistake To Make

You should definitely proofread your resume and cover letter and you should have a second set of eyes review them as well. I also recommend reading your cover letter out loud. This can really help you catch any awkward or incomplete sentences.

But the truth is, I have actually seen candidates move through the next phase of the search with typos. Typos alone are often not dealbreakers.

But some mistakes are worse than others.

Like addressing your resume and cover letter to the wrong institution.

If you think that you would never make this kind of mistake, think again.

This is the error that I have seen more frequently than anything else.

I have seen applicants submit application materials addressed to an entirely different organization in absolutely every job search that I have ever been apart of, from entry level positions to senior level positions (I’m talking high level positions at Very Prestigious Institutions, people.).

There are a couple of reasons this one will get kicked out of the pack early.

First, obviously, you’ll appear as disorganized and careless. In today’s crowded job market, it is truly too much to expect that the hiring manager or search committee members will forgive this seemingly small mistake to actually review your qualifications.

Secondly, when you write a cover letter, and you talk about how excited you are to work at X Organization when you’ve actually submitted this application to Y Organization, all the work you’ve put into making your application sound professional and enthusiastic will suddenly feel insincere.

To avoid this mistake, take great care to organize your resume and related files very clearly. I do recommend that people use templates, but be sure to customize everything and save the documents in separate folders so that you can easily cross check your work.

Follow directions.

Does the job require 2–3 writing samples? That’s how many you should submit.

Submitting five doesn’t make you look like an overachiever.

It makes you look like you’re not following directions or worse, that you think the directions don’t apply to you.

Some jobs will have special and/or specific instructions. If you want those jobs, you should follow the directions.

Truthfully, people ask for the amount of writing samples, references, etc that they ask for so that they can get a sense of your work. And also so that they can manage the workload of a search.

People likely won’t have time to review *all* of your work.

That said, if you really want to show the hiring manager or search committee *all* that you’ve got, you may provide a link on your resume to your full portfolio or your LinkedIn page.

Edit, edit, edit.

One issue that I see a lot, especially with young professionals and recent graduates, is this idea that everything needs to go on your resume.

Like, everything. High school awards, GPAs, hobbies, your first internship.


I don’t want you to just think of your resume as a list of all your professional experience. Think of it as a way to display your most relevant experience.

Put the most relevant jobs first and put the most relevant skills first in each job description.

In other words, use your resume strategically.

Which brings me to my next point…

Customize each resume and cover letter for each position.

It’s really obvious when a candidate has read the job posting carefully and created a cover letter and resume that addresses the needs of the position… and it’s obvious when they don’t.

Take a good look at the job listing.

What are they really looking for?
How does your experience fit their needs?

Tailor your resume and cover letter to address that.

I say this to clients all the time, “It’s not about you, it’s about your fit for the position and needs of the organization.”

Create a resume and cover letter that speaks to your ability to meet or exceed the needs of the hiring manager and you’ll land at the top of pile of applicants that they want to learn more about.

This is, by far, the most important strategy that I can share so listen (read?) up!

It sounds like a lot of work and, I’m not going to lie, it can be.

But once you get used to creating resumes and cover letters that address the qualifications and job description for each position, your applications will improve dramatically.

Actually, your job search will improve dramatically. I’ve seen it time and time again.

I see way too many people who think that most impressive about them is the sum of all of their experiences.

In some cases, this might be true.

But here’s the deal: the people reading your resume and cover letter care more about why you’re qualified for this particular job than everything you’ve ever done ever.

Customizing your resume and cover letter for each position is a way of saying to the committee, “Hey! I see what you think is important for this position and I have that experience!”

It’s a way to respect the time of your resume readers and it will make you stand out from all of the other candidates who submitted an autobiography.

(If you’d like to learn more about how to create knock your socks off, high impact cover letters and resumes, register for my new, signature workshop, Job Search Like a Boss. You can sign up right over here.)

Make it easy

Take a look at the qualifications for the job and search out the job description to see what seemed really important about that job.

I like to select 4–5 bullet points from my own professional experience that matched up with qualifications of the job (right below the resume header with your name and contact information and above your education and experience).

I call this “Summary of Qualifications.”

What’s the benefit of this approach?

Instead of sifting through my resume for what they’re looking for, I help my clients show the hiring manager right away that they have what the position requires.

Not only does this strategy help employers see how qualified the applicants are, but it helps my clients see how qualified they are.

They start approaching their job search with much more confidence.

Try it and see for yourself!

Say why you want the job, especially if it’s not obvious.

If you’re making a big career transition or if you’re applying for jobs on the other side of the country, your cover letter is a great place to share a little bit about that.

It doesn’t have to be all of the details, but if you’ve never applied for a job in a field before or if people see you’re not from the area, a little context can be helpful.

“After x years in the corporate world, I am ready to use my a, b, c skills in the non-profit world.”

“Though I currently work and live in Boston, I am planning to re-locate to Miami in the fall.”

Nothing too personal or dramatic.

Remember, your job is to make your fit easy and obvious to them.

If you live in Oregon and you’re applying to a job in West Virginia, it isn’t clear if you’d like to move or if you’re throwing your resume at every single job you’ve come across.

Make it easy for the reader to understand your story.

Treat everyone involved in the process like they’re the person making the hiring choice.

This should go without saying but I know that it’s worth repeating: be nice to everyone.

That means your correspondence with the HR coordinator or admin person should be professional, friendly and NOT demanding. Even if you’re talking to your future assistant, they are not your assistant right now.

Before I was sitting on search committees, I was the person scheduling interviews and visits.

And guess what? The people making the hiring decisions always wanted to know about my experience with the candidate.

Be nice, be polite, be professional.

To everyone.

(Even once you get the job.)

Be prepared with questions.

You should always ask questions at a job interview. I’m not sure why people don’t do this.

People think that not asking questions makes you look like you’re agreeable and listening

But it actually makes it hard to tell if you’ve been listening at all and we miss an opportunity to get to know you better by hearing what matters to you.

Here’s what I suggest: figure out what’s really important to you in a job and always ask about that.

Usually you’ll be asked if you have questions once you’re done being interviewed. That’s a great time to take a moment (and feel free to take a moment) to look over your notes or the job description.

Do you want to follow up anything that was previously discussed? Ask the questions that you always ask and ask about anything specific that came up during your conversation.

Follow up…appropriately.

Of course, you should follow up after an interview and say thank you to the folks that you met with and that helped you plan your visit. But what should you do after that?

I know a lot of people think that following up afterwards, either with HR or with the folks making the hiring decision, is a way of expressing enthusiasm for the job. But I really don’t recommend that you follow up ferociously.

A good interview will leave you with a sense of how they’ll follow up with you. If you don’t get that, definitely feel free to ask about their timeline for the search.

If you don’t hear anything after a week when you expected that you might, I think it’s fine to send an email that inquires about where they are in their process.

This email should absolutely be concise and polite.

For all you know, there are a half dozen other emails sitting in an inbox from candidates just like you. It’s not fun to have to manage that sort of communication during the process. Trust me.

There are a lot of reasons that a search can take a long time that have absolutely nothing to do with you or your candidacy.

If a particular department is really busy AND managing a search, the last thing anyone will want to do is respond to multiple emails from candidates.

I know it’s frustrating for candidates, but you won’t do yourself any favors by creating more work for the staff.

In conclusion…

The bottom line is that when it comes to your resume and your job search, you have to think big.

Focus on each position like it’s the only one that you’re applying for. Set yourself up so that you have 2 or three resume templates that are partially ready for jobs.

Make it clear why you’re applying and how you’re a good fit.

Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about how good of a fit you are for the position.

The Definitive Guide Sheet

Write your resume with confidence! Grab this Guide Sheet for my quick tips + strategies. It's a great reference for all job seekers!

2 thoughts on “The Definitive Guide to Having Your Resume Taken Seriously

  1. Jenn, I just used this to spruce up my resume and cover letter to apply for a job yesterday, and now I have an interview lined up!!! Thank you so much!

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