You know the statistics: a study by The Ladders has stated that hiring managers and employers spend only six seconds on average skimming your resumé, and that’s if you can manage to get through the automated computer screenings and algorithms to get your resumé seen by an actual person. When you do make it to a person, you want to lock down that phone interview, and the best way to do that is to spell out your accomplishments and the myriad reasons why you’re amazing.
Sometimes, that’s not so easy. When you’re in the midst of a job search, picking out the parts of your work history that might appeal to employers and land you a job interview can be tricky. You might have a transferable skill that would be difficult to relay to a prospective employer unless you’re very careful about how you’re relaying it.
You probably have a lot of questions: Do I need a resume objective? Do my social media skills matter? Should I include my black belt in karate? What counts as “relevant” work experience; should I include the summer that I spent as a tourist guide on an Alaskan fishing boat? What do I do about the unemployment gap on my resume for the nine months after college?
Here are answers for your unusual resumé questions and some skills from your work experience to include to get the hiring manager’s attention.
Every job seeker should use personal development to cushion the discussion of any unemployment gaps in their career.
Analyze any time spent between jobs or after receiving your degree. While you may not have held a formal, full-time position, your hobbies or a particular hard skill or soft skill may have improved your time management and multitasking skills or developed your ability to prioritize. Perhaps you spent time in the youth community, volunteering at the public pool or in local youth organizations. Communicate to any prospective employer or hiring manager that you’ve spent the unemployment period developing yourself or your skills in a meaningful way.
List (and briefly describe!) rare honors and awards.
Work a good action verb and keywords or buzzwords into descriptions of employment or research experience.
Screening algorithms can now tell the difference between a keyword in a list versus a keyword in the context of a sentence, and listed keywords aren’t scored as highly.
Include hobbies like painting, musicianship, gardening, or stargazing, which take time and effort to cultivate—they’re also great discussion points.
Find ways to incorporate a unique ability or unusual life experiences, even if they don’t connect to a formal position you held or your work history.
If you do land a job interview, these kinds of experiences will be sure to garner a question or two, and the stories you tell in response will make the interviewer remember you.
Highlight important cultural experiences, like study abroad and bilingualism, which show an employer that you can handle travel to a foreign country and be considerate of a variety of cultures.
Include internship experience that you complete during your educational career.
Internships are the practical, real-world application of education—they take independence and initiative. Show them off!
Mention projects where you worked with or (even better) led a small team to show your accomplishments with teamwork and collaboration.
Volunteer experience gives your employer an idea of how you give back to your community and further highlights your strong work ethic.
Remember that your soon-to-be employer likely has a “public face,” a social media account with polished pictures and select charity events that they sponsor or support. Volunteer experience can show that you’re a good fit with the company culture.
Presentations! Conference posters, technical talks, a research defense, an art exhibition—each is an opportunity to show your communication skills and stand out when you job search.
Be sure to list the skills that the employer specifically requests in the job description.
It sounds like a no-brainer, but many people actually forget to mention the abilities that the employer lists in the job description. This is a must!
Include publications and written contributions to blogs or magazines (as long as they’re not NSFW).
Academic and technical applicants know to include papers published in peer-reviewed journals, but if you’ve been invited to publish blog articles online or have shown your work in a magazine or newsletter, these examples can also be used to show off your writing skills.
Any certification that you may have trained for or keep current as part of your professional skillset is always worth mentioning.
Two words: Microsoft. Office.
Are you a whiz kid when it comes to sorting Excel spreadsheets? Are you a master of margin manipulation in Word? Microsoft Office is still the gold standard of office computing, and managers appreciate when they don’t have to train new employees on this commonplace program package.
For that matter, provide details about **any computer skills.** There’s no technical skill that’s not relevant these days.
If you can program in C++, build a database, navigate your way through a Linux operating system, or any other useful computing skills, list them—they could come in handy one day.
Membership in professional organizations and fraternities is great to mention, since you never know when you’re going to run into a fellow member.
Rare technical skills, like working with a specialized scientific instrument or piece of equipment, should be listed and explained.
Other examples could include experience handling or restoring an ancient piece of art, time spent working with a culinary master or training in a specific type of cuisine, and techniques learned while shadowing a doula or midwife prior to a med school application, among many other possibilities.
Highlight any distinctions you received upon graduating high school or college, like a GPA at or near 4.0 or participation in an Honors Program.
Military service is another unique way to communicate your strong work ethic and your dedication and experience working in a team environment.
Many military training programs may also provide certification for the specialized skills that are sometimes required—if this certification is still current, include this as well!
Finally, be sure to individualize each job application (and cover letter!).
A generic resumé and cover letter tells the hiring manager that the job seeker is average and has put no additional thought into the needs of the company or organization. To avoid this, use that generic resumé as a template and tweak it to suit each application. Hiring managers will appreciate the time that you spend addressing their specific needs.
Wondering whether you should be using a resumé or CV? For more help, take a look at "What is a Curriculum Vitae, and When Should I Use One Instead of a Resumé?" ...and, while you’re at it, spend a couple of minutes reviewing a resume template (or 17!).
Dr. Amanda G. Riojas is a Scientific Computing Researcher living in Austin, TX. She is also the Advice Section Editor for the Scientista Foundation Advice Blog, Liaison to the Corporation Associates Committee of the American Chemical Society, and Chair of the ACS Central TX Local Section Women Chemists Committee. Amanda basically spends all of her time trying to tell everyone that women are awesome — because she has a daughter now and wants her to know that girls can do anything.