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7 Ways to Help Your Résumé Stand Out

Before you submit, make sure you've got these bases covered

En español | A great résumé is at the heart of any successful job hunt.
While lots of job hunting advice, mine included, says that a LinkedIn profile is critical to getting noticed during your job search, it does not replace a traditional résumé.

But the older you are, the trickier it can be to create a résumé that's not only concise but also does justice to your years of experience.

Here are seven ways experienced job seekers can get their résumés noticed.

1. Use a simple format

Keep it to two pages, says career coach Phyllis Mufson. Anything longer will probably go unread. "In certain circumstances, it can be as much as three pages, but only make your résumé as long as you need to highlight your qualifications."

A résumé is reviewed in less than five minutes before it's decided whether a job candidate advances to the next step in the hiring process, according to a 2014 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Résumés, Cover Letters and Interviews Survey.

Select a traditional font, say, Times New Roman, Calibri or Arial. Stick to a 10- to 12-point size, and use black type against white paper for the body of the résumé. Your name, however, might be in 15-point size, all caps; your contact information and section heads might be in 12.

Be consistent in formatting. Use boldface type, italics and underlining sparingly.

Prepare the document in a plain Microsoft Word document format that can easily be viewed on most computers, Mufson says. You will also use this version to print out as a hard copy or to upload into an online job application form.

Put your contact information at the top of the résumé: name, email address, phone number (just one), a customized LinkedIn URL and website, if you have one. Skip your street address.

You might need a new email address. Using an AOL, Hotmail or Yahoo email address on a résumé can hold people back from landing an interview, says Mindy Thomas, a career development coach and professional résumé writer. "Yes, there is discrimination relating to the domain name of your email provider that you are using. "It says you are not up with the times, and you're not tech savvy."

Use an email address that includes your full name, such as johnsmith@gmail.com, or one that includes your own domain name, such as kerry@kerryhannon.com. You can get a free Gmail address by going to Google's site.

Below your contact information, list the specific title of the job for which you are applying — for example, type "Objective: [employer's job title]"

2. Cull your professional experience

"What employers want to see is your most recent 10 to 15 years of experience. "Think advertisement, not obituary," says Susan Whitcomb, author of Résumé Magic: Trade Secrets of a Professional Résumé Writer. "No one wants, or needs, to read every one of your employment entries over a four- to five-decade career."

Package your earlier experiences into "one nice, tidy paragraph at the end of your résumé's 'experience' section and omit dates," she says. And only use the work history that's relevant to the job you are applying for now.

She offers this example: "Prior Experience (Commercial Development, Business Development and Technology): During tenure with Ecolabs, promoted through positions in Food Business Development, Industrial Commercial Development; Applied Research and Commercial Development for Performance Materials; and Applied R&D. Initially recruited from UCLA as Research Chemist for Shell Oil."

3. Mind the gaps

Fill in holes in your employment history. It's best to have a good experience to sub for it, say, during a period between jobs — you traveled, performed community service, added a degree or pursued other education.

If you were out of the workforce for caregiving duties, you can market that, too. You were skill-building. No doubt you were a "project manager," supervising a team of other caregivers — from nurses to doctors and physical therapists. You were a "researcher" tracking down the best doctors and medical care. You may have been a "financial manager" in charge of bill-paying and insurance claims.

Use strong action verbs to describe your caregiving experience and skills: directed, enabled, facilitated, hired, supervised, controlled, coordinated, executed, organized, planned, implemented, spearheaded, navigated, negotiated, secured and resolved.

4. Tell your story

You want to say, for instance, that you grew sales by 25 percent or you completed a job four months ahead of schedule. Résumé writing pros refer to this as telling your CAR story. This stands for "Challenge, Action and Result."

Talk about a problem you faced, what you did to solve it and the specific tangible result of your efforts. Don't be too formal in your writing. This is where you can show a little personality and let reviewers hear your voice and pride in your accomplishments. "Include every possible metric and anything that has made you look like a star, including exceeding national or corporate standards, plus your awards," Thomas says.

Importantly, make sure the CAR stories are relevant to the job for which you are applying.

How you list your work history matters. Start with your most recent job. State the complete name of the company you work for, or have worked for, and what the firm does, how long you were there — month and year. Then list in bullets the position or positions you held, followed by your CAR story.

5. Add some spice

"Include a section for 'Education and Training,' " Mufson says. "By adding recent training, education and credentials, you highlight your commitment to professional development and show that you're current with industry and management trends."

Interests, hobbies, activities and professional memberships can also help you get noticed or even reveal that you're physically active. That can be great way to subtly deflect an employer's opinion that older workers don't have the stamina for the job. It might even provide a connection to someone who is reading your résumé, if he or she shares a similar passion.

Include any volunteer work that can be viewed as management skills. Being in charge of a gala fundraising event, for instance, converts to sales and marketing chops. Holding a board position shows leadership ability. "Include this work in the professional experience section of your résumé," Thomas says. "There's no need to distinguish between paid and unpaid work-related skills on your résumé." Also, if you work for a family business, never say it's a family business on your résumé, she advises.

Person Reading Resume, How To Improve Your Resume

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A résumé revamp can help you stand out from other applicants in the screening process.

6. Be mindful of automated screening systems

If you're submitting your résumé to an online portal, don't embed charts or images that the screening system can't read.

List the names of your employers first, then the dates you worked there. When tracking systems screen a date before the employer they can reject résumés.

Use a .doc or .txt format when uploading your résumé. These programs often mistake .pdf documents as large pictures.

Scatter throughout your résumé words and unique key phrases that appear in the descriptions of the jobs for which you're applying. If an employer's computer scans your résumé and doesn't see the words or phrases it's programmed to look for, you'll end up in the black hole of discarded applications. For example, if the job requires someone who has "managed" a team, don't use the word "directed."

7. Consider hiring a pro to help

It's hard to brag about yourself. "Boomers spend zillions of hours trying to perfect their copy and still can't get noticed by a recruiter," Thomas says. "If that is truly the case and you are not receiving any response, hire a certified résumé writer to write your résumé." Fees will range from $300 to $1,500 or more. You can deduct the cost of preparing and mailing your résumé from your federal taxes.

You can find certified résumé writers through Career Directors International or the National Résumé Writers Association. In addition, career counselors, coaches and consultants can help you write your résumé as well as help you hone your job search skills and strategies. If you're a college graduate, check with your college career center to see if it offers free résumé services.

Last but not least, proofread your résumé. Ask someone you trust to double-check it for you. I recommend reading it out loud, too. For me, that's the single best way to catch missed words and grammatical gaffes.

Kerry Hannon, AARP jobs expert, is a career transition expert and an award-winning author. Her books include What's Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond and  Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … and Pays the Bills. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.

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