Even before the COIVD-19 pandemic upended jobs and the economy, around 70% of workers were searching for new career opportunities. Last year, those opportunities diminished as the pool of entry-level jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree shrunk by 40% between March and May. As author Vince Thompson recently explained, “Thanks to COVID-19, if you’re in college right now or recently graduated, you’re facing the toughest job market in our lifetime. With so many people unemployed and displaced, people will be willing to take a lesser job for a lesser salary just to get back in the market.”
So, in 2021, competition is fierce. Hundreds of resumes arrive for each posting. Over 90% are never even seen by decision makers. Against those odds, you need to stand out. Which is why I’ve made a list of the best resume tips and tricks for 2021.
1. Start Fresh
Chances are if your resume was printed out, it would be covered with dust and cobwebs. Instead of just updating, open a blank document and get to work. I know, it’s exhausting to contemplate. If you’re working already, nothing feels like added work more than creating a new resume. It’s just starting fresh this year with a brand new rezzie will make your quest feel fresh and exciting as well. View it as a bit of spring cleaning. Marie Kondō it –– as you type in details about previous jobs and skill sets, ask yourself “Does this spark joy?” In other words, are you describing what you did in a way that stands out? While you’re at it, chances are your LinkedIn profile could use a bit of refreshing as well.
When and if a human being actually sees your resume, make sure it is easy to read. I borrowed one of the best resume tips and tricks from thriller writers: white space. That means don’t cram tons of info onto a single page. Give the reader’s eyes a chance to rest. Use bullet points and a manageable font like 12; never use a font less than 10. point. No one wants to struggle through a Faulkneresque resume.
2. Get a Second Opinion
Although working on your resume can feel like drudgery, you can make it fun. If a friend or family member is also on the quest, schedule a get together. You might find a paper notebook helpful or even a printed out resume. Over drinks or coffee, read each other’s first efforts. Try to not only offer tips on what is written down but ask questions about the roles in each job and any standout achievements. Take notes. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Stay in touch as your mutual search goes on during the next few weeks or months so your resume can remain vibrant.
3. Leave the Dated Material for Archeologists
Unless you discover a posting asking for 15 years of experience, you should cull anything from before 2005, even 2010. I know this advice doesn’t apply to many of my readers, but age discrimination is real. In fact, one of the downsides of social media and sites like LinkedIn is they now let hiring managers see exactly what you look like before you meet. Which makes discrimination of all types more possible. Besides enabling prejudice, highlighting work from the turn of the century suggests you’re stuck in the past rather than focused on the future.
4. Fill Those Gaps
While you don’t want a resume that stretches back decades, you shouldn’t leave massive gaps between dates either. If your resume reaches a hiring manager, they’re likely to assume there’s a reason why you’ve concealed part of your life –- and it isn’t good. If your post-college years were spent bartending, I bet you learned some amazing soft skills like communication, empathy, maybe even curiosity. If you were working at all last year, it’s worth noting. if you weren’t, volunteer activities show initiative as well. Make sure you explain service work, gaps in employment, or job hopping in a tailored cover letter. Brief times in multiple jobs can make you look flighty. Just because over one-third of of job seekers start looking for a new gig less than two years after earning their present position, doesn’t mean your potential employer wants to risk investing time and money training someone who will bail quickly. In fact, tailoring your submissions to each posting is an important one of my resume tips and tricks to remember.
5. Not Optimizing for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
You may think you understand ATS but if you’re going by blogs published ten years ago chances are your knowledge is seriously out of date. Yes, your resume should be applicant tracking system optimized. However, it isn’t just about pugging in the right keywords. Some tips to remember about ATS: it can’t “read” text placed in headers , footers or text boxes. It also is more accurate with MS Word than PDF, so consider submitting resumes in this format (unless asked for a PDF, of course).
However, just because ATS doesn’t notice colors or bolded text doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them. Remember, if your resume passes the ATS test it will be forwarded to a real-live human being. So judicious use of one or two colors and carefully bolded or italicized text can help your resume stand out.
Few of us enjoy writing resumes. Still, to keep your job quest momentum a well-written, well-designed resume is vital. Consider investing in a career coach or professional resume service. Most of all, keep improving and submitting. If you do, then maybe you’ll look back on 2021 as the year your career dreams became reality.