Young woman smiling at an interview holding a resume

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Resume and Interview Preparation Tips to Help You Stand Out

Receiving a call back after applying for a job is an exciting and rewarding experience — but getting one can be difficult. You can have great skills and transferable experience, but if your resume and cover letter aren’t up to par, you might not get past a recruiter's initial review. It’s important to focus on the details because a solid resume can get you in the door of your next job opportunity, and strong interview skills will help you leave an impact on the hiring manager.

Below are some helpful tips for building a strong resume and acing the job interview.

The Resume is Your First Impression

The average recruiter reads approximately 500 resumes a week, so the ideal resume is concise and easily scannable. Many job seekers however make the mistake of retelling their entire work histories. Instead, you should tailor your resume to each job you’re applying for and aim to keep it to one page. Be sure to connect the dots from the job description to your resume by only including information that’s relevant to the position.

Start by reviewing the job posting for keywords and experience requirements. Recruiters often use resume-scanning technology to look for candidates based on keywords within their resumes, so it’s a best practice to use those keywords to describe your experience whenever applicable.

Overall, be sure to highlight the most relatable aspects of your work experience, and hone in on job tasks that align with what the employer is looking for. If proficiency with Excel is important, then be sure to call it out on your resume if you have the capabilities. Be honest, but feel free to include relevant experience — even if it isn’t a focal part of your current job responsibilities.

Another tip when describing your experience and qualifications is to avoid vague claims such as: “demonstrates exceptional leadership and sales skills.” Instead, include specific examples detailing how you demonstrated those skills. If possible, include performance metrics, such as: “increased regional sales by 15%”. Also, explain how you got it done and how you positively affected the company. That way you’re showing the true impact of your work and why it’s relevant for your (hopefully!) new employer.

Resume Formatting and Style Tips

The order and structure of your resume are also important to keep in mind. Most recruiters spend about six seconds reading a resume and focus mostly on headers, so be sure to provide the most relevant information near the top of each job and/or skill you have listed. Write succinctly while emphasizing keywords from the job post as they relate to your experience.

In terms of structure, the classic reverse chronological resume is a good format to call attention to your most recent employment. You can also consider a functional or combination resume format if you’re looking for alternatives:

  • The functional resume calls to the forefront areas of expertise instead of work history by using skill categories, such as “risk management abilities” (instead of job titles) as the main headers.
  • A combination resume is a hybrid between the reverse-chronological format and functional format. It highlights key skills, certifications, and education while including your most relevant employment experiences.

Finally, stick to the basic principles of writing well. Use the active voice when describing your skills and experience and keep descriptions concise and scannable. The majority of your resume will likely use the past tense, but current jobs and responsibilities should be written in the present.

In terms of pronouns, resumes are typically written in the third person (i.e., the she/he/it/they perspective). However, The Wall Street Journal points out that first-person (i.e., the I/we perspective) resumes are rising in popularity. Some recruiters however prefer that applicants exclude the use of pronouns (in which case you would write: “Seeking to pursue a career in finance” instead of: “I’m seeking to pursue a career in finance”).

Whichever approach you choose, make sure you’re intentional and consistent throughout your entire resume to enhance readability and showcase your professionalism.

Do Your Research to Ace the Interview

A great way to make an impression at an interview is to display your knowledge of the company. It shows that you're interested in the business and eager to learn more. Review their social media and website to learn about company history, goals and culture, and come prepared with questions for the employer.

You could start by asking about how the job opening came up and what changes they’ve recently experienced in their business, the role’s day-to-day responsibilities, or what departments you might collaborate with. The important thing is to show curiosity. You’ll stand out as an exceptional candidate if the employer recognizes that you’re truly seeking to understand the company, if the position is a good fit for you, and vice-versa.

It’s also important to understand what you can bring to the company by analyzing which areas of the position you’re most qualified for. You should also be aware of areas you’re less experienced so you can smoothly navigate through questions as they come up. You’ll be less likely to become caught off guard by tricky questions that assess skills or knowledge where you lack expertise if you’re aware of — and have practiced — speaking to any underdeveloped capabilities and highlighting your capacity for learning and growth.

Practice Makes Perfect

Even if you’re experienced at interviewing, you should practice common interview questions before meeting with the recruiter or hiring manager. Have an elevator pitch ready to master some of the more common interview questions, such as: “Tell me about yourself.”

The best way to approach this question is to talk about your experience in the same way you prepared your resume — by overviewing key details that are most relevant to the position.

You’ll want to talk about your work experience and briefly overview your educational background while starting to connect the dots to why they make you a great fit for the role. Then lead into your future goals by tying in how the job works into your plans for career growth. This question also provides a way to break the ice, so feel free to be personable and talk about some of your nonwork-related interests.

Practice with a friend if you can, and even if you’re alone, try speaking out loud in front of a mirror. It can be easy to become nervous or even thrown off by a question, so you’ll want to have some of your more straightforward answers memorized along with a few examples to provide for situational interview questions.

Mastering Difficult Interview Questions

You’ll also want to practice responding to some of the trickier behavioral questions, such as: “What would you do if you made a mistake and had to start a project over from scratch?” There’s no one right way to answer these questions but think about what the employer could be looking for in a response. They’re likely screening for someone who will stay cool under pressure with integrity, honesty and a strong work ethic.

If you’ve experienced a similar situation that you handled well, be sure to weave in the example while showing how you would take ownership of the mistake and do what’s needed to complete the project on time without sacrificing quality. A great approach to mastering these questions is to practice the STAR behavioral interview technique.

Finally, if the interview calls for it, prepare to bring or virtually show examples of your work to supplement your answers (especially those that pertain to your quality of work and attention to detail). If the interview is in person, bring your physical portfolio along with a USB flash drive to share. If you’re a writer, bring individual writing samples that might be relevant to leave behind. You can also email additional examples of work that pertain to questions that came up as a follow-up after the interview.

Be Polite, Authentic and Confident

Making a good impression by being friendly and polite is important to mastering an interview. Amidst concerns of the pandemic, social norms have changed, so you might not be able to shake hands upon greeting. But make sure you’re cordial to everyone you talk to — from the security guard at the door (if the interview is on site) to the person conducting the interview.

Be confident with your body language and smile before, during and after the interview. If you’re nervous, you could practice breathing or even simple stretching exercises to release any tension in your body.

During the interview, be authentic. An interview is a chance for the employer to get a feel for who you are. Don’t change your personality to fit what you think the company is looking for, and don’t be afraid to talk about your hobbies and interests if the opportunity arises. Employers want to know if you can do the job, but they often like to get an idea of who you are on a more personal level as well.

Although it’s completely normal to feel nervous, you can be confident as well. Remember that you’ve been chosen to interview for the job because the company is interested in you and what you could bring to the position. Use your responses to interview questions as a chance to show the interviewer that you’re proud of your professional development. Your confidence in your skills and experience will translate into assurance for the interviewer that you’re the right person for the job.

Follow Up

The initial follow-up occurs during the interview: Be sure to re-express your interest in the position and ask about next steps. Also ask for business cards or contact information from the interviewers. Within 24 hours of the interview, send a thank-you note or email to each interviewer. Make sure the letter is personal by overviewing important details that were discussed during the interview and reminding them why you’re a great fit. You can also use the follow-up as an opportunity to send over any additional work samples that would be relevant to back up your claims or showcase skills that came up during the interview.

The process of applying for a job can be difficult, but diligent preparation, understanding the company and practice in making the case for why you’re a great fit for the role will set you up to impress.

If you’d like to learn more about resume and interview best practices or to connect with a recruiter, contact Aston Carter today.