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Follow these tips to take resume writing from the ultimate challenge to the ultimate opportunity

Published on

January 4, 2023


Raise your hand if you struggle with writing resumes. We get it, talking about yourself can be a real challenge and trying to write about your experience in a way that appeals to recruiters and hiring managers can be harder still. The good news is, with the right advice, resume writing can go from the ultimate challenge to the ultimate opportunity. We tapped Stacey Mallory, our Managing Director of Professional Services at Altis Recruitment, for some insider information to help you present your best self on your resume so you can stand out from the crowd and land an interview. Remember, you've got this!

How much time do recruiters spend initially scanning a resume?

I'll usually give each a minimum of 30 seconds—which I like to call the “shuffle to the side” timeframe because it’s generally enough time to review formatting and make sure the job titles truly reflect what the candidate has done. If the resume is formatted poorly or the titles are too specific or don’t reflect the candidate’s industry, then the recruiter will likely shuffle it aside and move on.

Stacey's 4 steps to get your resume through the shuffle

  1. Be consistent. When I'm reviewing candidates, I always look for consistency between their resume and LinkedIn profile. Inconsistencies could leave you out of the running so make sure you update your resume and LinkedIn at the same time. You get bonus points if you have recommendations on your LinkedIn that match the experience presented.
  2. Use generic job titles. When the job title is too specific to the actual role or company, it can be difficult to understand what your role was and could prevent you from showing up in searches. For example, if you were a receptionist but your company gave you the title ‘First Impressions Specialist,’ change the title to a more generic term that accurately reflects what you were doing. For example, Receptionist or Front Desk Officer. Bonus tip: Avoid giving yourself a promotion when adjusting your past titles—for example, don’t make yourself a VP if you were a manager. The goal is to adjust past job titles to the most generic, industry-standard version of what you did while keeping the same level of seniority.
  3. Explain gaps, changes and career shifts. Career gaps and shifts are normal and there are many plausible reasons why they happen. When addressing these in your resume and cover letter, transparency is so important to help recruiters and hiring managers understand the why behind these changes. For example, why would a teacher suddenly switch to an entirely new career? I always recommend including a short explanation in a cover letter and, if you get to the interview stage, be ready to answer the question and be forthcoming with the information.
  4. Include the specific dates you were employed at a company, not just the years. Not being specific enough leaves room for misunderstandings. For example, if you write ‘2021-2022,’ the recruiter won't have clarity on your employment history. Were you there for the full year or just a month? Remember, clarity is your friend when writing a resume so be sure to include the month and year when each role started and ended (particularly for roles held within the last five years). Key takeaway: The more information you include in a resume, the more time you will have in an interview to talk about things that matter, rather than spending time confirming details of your employment.

How has the pandemic changed your opinion on employment gaps?

Since the pandemic, I don’t have the same knee-jerk reaction to gaps—many candidates have them—but I want to see an explanation. Was it because you worked in a sector like hospitality that was heavily impacted during the pandemic? I always coach candidates to avoid leaving anything unanswered in their resume, and if there is a gap, try to explain it in their cover letter, if possible.

That said, I still think that people stand out stronger if they continued to work in some capacity rather than have a gap in their employment, especially candidates who are earlier in their careers. For example, if you were an admin assistant and were laid off during the pandemic, it says a lot about your character if you secured employment as a delivery driver. I would see that and think, ‘This is a resourceful, resilient, humble person who wants to contribute.’ I wouldn’t expect this of senior leaders like managers, directors or above. In their case, I would expect them to leave the gap and explain how they used the time to pursue other relevant opportunities, did market research, took online courses to improve their skills, and so on.

Here's a template you can adapt when explaining an employment gap: I really enjoyed my time working at X but when challenging financial times hit our sector due to (the pandemic, recession, marketplace etc.), I was part of a group that was laid off. During my time in that role, I contributed X results to X projects and while it was hard to say goodbye to the team, I'm proud of the work I did during my time there. I used this employment gap as an opportunity to expand my skillset by taking a course on X (or I took a part-time job doing XYZ to continue building and honing my experience). I'm confident that what I learned during this gap will have a positive impact on my work going forward.

Should candidates address job-hopping on their resumes? Or has the gig economy and the decline of traditional 9-5 employment changed that?

Gone are the days when an employee stays with the same company for their entire career. Managers understand that people have to leave if the company can’t offer them the growth opportunities they need to continue developing and moving forward in their career. Whether it’s for professional growth, to change industries or if it’s a contract role, I don’t see job-hopping as an issue if it’s explainable. Are you seeing a trend here? Telling your story is essential when it comes to career shifts and job changes.

"I think if everything makes sense in the resume, and each career move is within the same industry and contract-based, it’s usually not a red flag."
- Stacey Mallory, Managing Director of Professional Services at Altis Recruitment

How job-hopping is perceived also depends on the seniority level, the nature of the job and the number of transitions the person has. For example, if it’s someone at the manager level or above whose resume shows a pattern of moving every two years or less, that’s a flag because, in my view, it takes at least two years to fully understand the nuances of a senior role and make an impact. On the other hand, if someone at the director level moves after eight years, it’s understandable; they’ve learned all they can and need a new challenge.

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