Grabbing an interviewer's attention requires matching your skills and qualifications to the job description. A hiring manager spends an average of only six seconds per resume to screen candidates, notes Quintessential Careers associate publisher Katherine Hansen. In such a hotly competitive environment, a well-written cover letter and skills summary makes or breaks your prospects of getting an interview. Both items should instantly tell an employer if you're a viable candidate worth considering for the job.
Brainstorm Some Rough Ideas
Consider how your experiences, skills and qualifications fit the ones listed in the job description, then jot down some rough statements to revise for brevity, clarity and wording, the Indiana University Alumni Association recommends in its bulletin, "How to Create a Skills Summary." Start with a headline-style phrase in bold type to grab interest right away. For instance, you might begin your resume with the phrase "Experienced Grad," followed by four bullet points that detail your most important achievements, such as two promotions and a leadership award. Save any supporting details for the remainder of your resume.
Focus on Accomplishments First
Keep skills summaries and cover letters free of vague words or phrases that don't sell your candidacy to an employer, Hansen says. Avoid using such expressions as "duties included," "responsible for" or "responsibilities included," for example. Your aim is to show what sets you apart from other candidates. If you feel stumped, look at examples like those posted on the Indiana University Alumni Association website, where in example 4, applicant "Eva Eventplanner" focuses on figures like her experience with budgets of $500,000 or more. Such statements are also more likely to score well in a keyword search if the company uses resume screening software.
Pay Attention to Formatting
Make your resume reader-friendly by using bullet points, which is the second most-commonly preferred format among employers, according to Hansen. Be consistent, though. You can bullet point the skills summary or save it for the remainder of your resume. List accomplishments from most to least important, unless you're in a field where education is more important than experience. Keep your biggest achievements in past jobs -- whether it's attracting new customers, expanding the business, solving specific problems, or saving money and time -- within the top third of your resume.
Write a Compelling Cover Letter
Highlight major leadership positions, awards and skills at the beginning of your cover letter, but don't just rehash your resume. Hook your reader's interest with a simple descriptive opening statement, something like, "My track record at companies X, Y and Z is only one reason why this position is a good fit." Also, remember that employers love numbers, so mention any significant revenues and savings that you achieved in previous jobs.