It’s important to determine which hard and soft skills to include in your resume. But it’s equally important to know how to communicate them effectively.
How do you determine which skills to highlight and which skills to leave off?
Can you communicate your accomplishments concisely and simply so that they will be understood by recruiters and hiring managers alike?
The get the most accurate and relevant information for this article, I interviewed several senior technical hiring managers at top Silicon Valley companies like Google and Lockheed Martin. Their advice is culminated into the following top three tips below:
Tip Number One: Find a good balance
The hiring managers I interviewed screen thousands of resumes per year. One common resume mistake they see is that candidates’ resumes are either too long or do not have enough details that convey their most significant accomplishments. Therefore, it’s important to strike a balance in terms of having enough detail, but not including too much information.
To make this process easier I recommend tailoring a different resume to every position you apply for. This can seem daunting initially. However, once you’ve got a well-written draft of your resume that’s targeted to your field, you can simply do a “save as” each time you apply for a new position.
Use the job description as your guide in terms of determining which information to include and what to leave off. Highlight keywords from the job announcement and make sure they are sprinkled throughout your document.
Tip Number Two: Choose the best layout
A recent study by JobScan revealed that roughly 98% of Fortune 500 companies, roughly 60% of large companies, and 30% of small companies use ATS, or Applicant Tracking Software, to filter resumes. In other words, your resume will most likely be scanned initially by a robot instead of a human.
Using elements like columns, borders, fancy fonts, and text boxes can make your resume look stylish and pretty, but they also make it incredibly hard for a machine to read your document. Information can therefore become jumbled and unrecognizable. Therefore, it’s best to stick with a simple ATS-friendly resume template and keep the graphics to a minimum.
See related, Is Your Resume ATS-Friendly?
Tip Number Three: Craft effective resume categories
Hiring managers spend roughly six seconds scanning your resume, so it’s critical that you organize your document strategically. I’ve outlined the most common resume categories below and what they should entail:
Whether or not you include an objective statements is ultimately up to you. Some hiring managers think they’re antiquated. Hiring managers I spoke with at Google and Lockheed said that they are okay with objective statements, as long as candidates use them effectively.
It’s important to first understand why you might want to use an objective statement. One reason could be that you’re switching careers and you want to highlight transferable skills. For example, “To obtain an assistant instructor position at XYZ University using my skills in software development and project management.”
An objective statement can also be useful when you are seeking a very specific type of technical position. For example, “To utilize my technical, analytical, and communication skills in leading cutting-edge projects as a Systems Architect.”
If you are simply including an objective to take up space or communicate what you hope to gain from a job (i.e. “Seeking a challenging position where I can learn and grow”) it’s probably best to omit it and focus on writing a strong profile or summary (see below).
The summary or professional profile is a category that typically goes underneath your contact information. You can use this category to showcase your job title and / or a brief snapshot of your skills, credentials, and achievements as they relate to the job for which you are applying. You can also title this category “Summary of Qualifications” or “Highlights of Qualifications.”
Here’s an example of a well-written summary:
“Results-oriented Systems Engineer with over seven years of aerospace industry experience. Technical leader with proven track record of creative problem-solving and successfully taking products from concept to reality. Unique ability to grasp and break down complex systems and distill information clearly and concisely, both verbally and in writing. Takes initiative to identify and alleviate technical gaps in order to execute plans and exceed program objectives.”
Rather than listing every skill you’ve ever learned on your resume, you should only include the skills which are needed for the particular job for which you are applying. How do you accomplish this? It’s simple: print out the job description and highlight all of the skills that are listed. Next, you can create specific categories within your “Skills” section that reflect this information (for example, “Languages” and “Applications” and “Programming”).
Google hiring experts advise to try avoid listing company-specific acronyms and technical jargon. If you’re including common technical acronyms, it’s best to not only include the acronym, but also to write the term out. This way you will ensure readability with ATS software.
Highlighting your technical skills is obviously important, but it’s also critical for job seekers to highlight their soft skills, according to Google hiring experts.
How do you communicate soft skills on your resume?
One way to show a potential employer that you’re a strong writer is to have impeccable grammar and spelling on your resume. Your resume is an example of putting your very best foot forward. If your application is chalk full of typos, what does that tell a hiring manager about your potential level of attention to detail on the job?
You can have a professional resume writer edit your resume, or ask a friend or family member to proofread your documents before sending them out. At the very least, print out your resume and cover letter before hitting the send button. Even if you’ve proofed your resume a thousand times on your computer, it’s incredibly hard to catch errors when you’ve been staring at a screen for hours.
Other ways to demonstrate soft skills on your resume is to describe accomplishments related to working on teams, taking the lead on a project, or participation in meetings and presentations.
The most common resume question I get as a CPRW (Certified Professional Resume Writer) is how long should my resume be?
My answer is always the same: only include information that is relevant to the specific job for which you area applying. If you have unrelated work experience that dates past ten years, the general rule of thumb is to omit it. But let’s say that your most recent work experience is not your most relevant. Instead, you’ve got a position that is highly related but that is also 15 years old.
If you choose a chronological resume format, you can break up your work experience categories. For example, you can have a “Relevant Work Experience” section that you list first and that highlights your most applicable experience. Underneath you can include another category titled something like “Additional Experience” for less relevant experience.
Technical hiring managers recommend including both the big picture part of your job (i.e. leading a team to complete a big project), as well as your specific individual contributions (i.e. training a machine learning model to recognize cats vs. dogs) to give a well-rounded view of your capabilities.
Additional tips for crafting compelling, well-written content:
1. Avoid the “we” narrative whenever possible.
As a senior technical manager at Google put it, “I don’t care what your team members did. I care what work you did. It’s fine to touch on the results of the project, but the focus should be on what you specifically brought to the table to make it happen. At the other extreme, it’s also important to be honest and not take all the credit for a project that was obviously a team effort.”
2. Include quantitative, measurable results
Don’t just list your work tasks or functions . i.e. write quantitative accomplishment statements “Reduced unit costs by 20% over one year period and generated $2M in savings by streamlining production line.”).
3. Describe the before and after your contribution
If a certain project didn’t involve producing quantitative results, you can briefly illustrate where the project was before you arrived, what you specifically did, and lastly, the positive result.
4. Write make all descriptions clear, concise and most importantly, easily understandable without additional context
According to a Lockheed Martin hiring manager, the hardest thing to accomplish on a technical resume is to be concise and not to sound overly “technical.” His advice: “Pretend you’re talking to a room full on non-technical people. How would you, in ~2 sentences or less, with no acronyms, describe what you did and the corresponding result?”
5. Try to avoid using buzz words.
To quote my Google contact: “When I read something like ‘Proactively energized cross-functional teams to improve synergy and operational excellence,’ my B.S. meter shoots through the roof! It’s okay to include some industry buzzwords, but only use them sparingly and make sure each one is contributing to you telling your story and not just filler.”
A well-written technical resume won’t make it look like you’ve got skills that you don’t have. What it does is tell your story clearly and concisely, and it can push a hiring manager over the edge when deciding whether or not to set up a phone screen. The rest is up to you!