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Best Practices for Your Online Resume: Stand Out and Don't Get Lost in the Black Hole

2/12/2010 8:05:41 PM

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Best Practices for Your Online Resume:
Stand Out and Don't Get Lost in the Black Hole

Best Practices for Your Online Resume: Stand Out and Don't Get Lost in the Black Hole By Scott Szczesny, PharmaLogics Recruiting and Tracy Chandler, Vertex Pharmaceuticals

The continued growth of the Internet has impacted the way we approach many things in our lives and job searching is certainly among them. Limitless job postings are just a click away…it is now very easy to keep track of which companies in your region are hiring and for what types of positions. It is also much easier for Human Resource departments and Staffing firms to find resumes on-line as well as to store and track resumes in ever expanding databases. So how does an individual job seeker make the most out of the applications they submit? What are the best practices for ensuring your resume will stand out and not get lost in the black hole that many of these company resume databases have become?

The keys are to:
• Be selective about the positions that you choose to apply for.
• Be sure that your resume highlights appropriate experience for each specific position.
• Be diligent yet tactful in your follow-up.

Key Words: What are they actually searching for?

First and foremost, it is imperative that you create a resume that will both stand out upon first review and be findable once it is entered into the company’s database. The most important point when creating such a resume is the use of key words. It is crucial to identify the key words for the position to which you are applying. Recruiters source for candidates in their company’s database similar to the way you would search for a restaurant on Google. You enter your key criteria for a place to eat - “Mexican” “Boston” “restaurant” - and click search. The recruiter might enter - “PhD” “Chemistry” “HPLC” “Analytical” - and click search. Obviously, if your resume does not include the appropriate key words, it will not be found during the search.

When you find a position you want to apply for, look at the job requirements and highlight all of the key words or phrases. Take the time to research the company. Jot down a few words or phrases which seem important to the company (such as culture, values, therapeutic areas, etc.). Once you have done this make sure to highlight these in your resume and cover letter. Add as many key words as possible without misrepresenting your experience. The more detailed a job description is, the better the guidelines you have for customizing your resume and the more refined the recruiter’s search criteria will be. By adding as many relevant key words as possible for each specific position, you are increasing your chances of getting a response from the company. Repeat this process for each job you apply for, even if it is with the same company.

Formatting: Make it easy for them

Formatting is also very important when creating a searchable resume. Things like cells and tables can impact how a resume imports or uploads, which fields are searchable, and how a resume looks on the back end. When a resume with extensive formatting is uploaded, the likelihood for conversion mistakes increases resulting in a document that does not make sense or is hard to read. You should be subtle with your formatting and do everything possible to make the resume is aesthetically pleasing and easy to follow.

Save your resume in both text format and as a Word document. The Word document will look cleaner. The text version will upload into the system without a problem but not look as clean. Some databases allow you to submit your resume as an attachment which ensures a nice view of your resume when the recruiter first sees it. The uploaded version will allow a company to search for your resume using key words. You should submit a Word document attachment and upload a text version if you can. If you are not given this choice, submit a Word document.

Keep your resume simple. Be clear, concise, and to the point. Save any interesting personal fact that speaks to a company’s culture or values for your cover letter. When you complete your resume and cover letter, take a step back and really scrutinize your work. Have a trusted colleague review the document and compare it against the job description to be sure you are highlighting your qualifications appropriately.

How to actually submit… what are your options?

Once you have created a customized resume, you need to decide how to actually apply for the position. It is easy to apply on-line but you do not want to ignore your personal network in the process. If you have a good relationship with someone who already works at the company you are targeting, ask them to present your resume directly to the hiring manager and/or Human Resource representative along with a recommendation. A second option is to use a headhunter to submit your application and allow them to act as your advocate. This is a good option but only if you are confident that the headhunter has a strong working relationship with the company. If neither of these options exists, apply to the company directly via their website or job board posting.

Be proactive without being a pest

Many candidates have a difficult time deciding how and when to follow-up once they have submitted a resume. The goal is to achieve the proper balance between demonstrating your interest and enthusiasm for the position and coming across as annoying or desperate. Once you apply on-line, the Human Resource representative who receives the resume will scan it for key words to make sure that the basic requirements are met. If the resume passes the first screen it will be forwarded to the hiring manager for a more detailed review. The manager might:

(1) immediately request an interview,
(2) ask that the applicant be contacted for more information,
(3) put the resume into a “maybe” category,
(4) outright reject it.

The resume is added to the company database regardless of the decision. This process can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.

The best bet is to wait a week and follow-up to your submittal with a call to the Human Resource representative. Be prepared to give a short(less than 1 minute) presentation demonstrating your interest and qualifications for the position. This presentation will likely end up being delivered via voicemail so be ready to leave a concise, coherent message. If you do end up leaving a voicemail, you should also send a quick email noting that you just left them a message and would be happy to answer any questions they may have about your candidacy.

Now you need to be a little patient. Remember, depending upon the specifics of the position and the number of openings that the recruiter is responsible for, they are likely managing hundreds and sometimes thousands of resumes. If a full week passes and there is no response to your voicemail/email, send another email. Politely acknowledge in your note that you are following up for a second time in hopes of finding out where your application lies in the review process. If another week passes without a response, send a third and final email. If there is still no reply, you likely have to accept that you are not going to be considered for the position and move on.

Do not take a lack of response personally. It would be ideal if recruiters were able to reply to every applicant individually but that is simply not possible. You should continue to monitor new positions that become available at the company and should re-apply if a new job for which you are qualified pops up. Only apply for positions for which you are reasonable fit. Again, there is a delicate balance here. If a position requires ten years of appropriate experience and you have eight, give it a shot. However, if you only have two years of experience you should hold off on applying. Use common sense to avoid being labeled as a “serial applicant”, someone who keeps submitting a resume for every position regardless of the qualifications. This will lead to a black mark against you and your resume will be passed over even when a position becomes available that actually is a good match for your experience.

Stay focused on the end goal

Finding and applying for positions on-line can be both frustrating and rewarding. No applicant likes the idea of hearing nothing back from a company outside of an automatic reply message that your resume has been received and entered into the database black hole. But you need to remember that there are live people on the other side of the application system who are your gateway to a new job. They are reviewing and tracking your resume and are appreciative of your interest in the company. However, they are also likely managing a tremendous workload. By being reasonably selective regarding the positions you choose to apply for, customizing a resume that highlights your qualifications for each specific role you target, and exercising sound judgment in how and when you follow-up, you will improve your chances of sparking a company’s interest in your background.

Reprinted from the October 2009 issue of AAPS Newsmagazine; Copyright © 2010 American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

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