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What Employers Want: Ask Yourself 3 Key Questions That Will Turn Your Resume Into A Winner!

06/10/2014 07:09 am ET | Updated Aug 10, 2014

As a mature job-seeker, you are well aware that your resume has to be top notch. Not only does it need to make a dynamic first impression, it must also distinguish you from the competition and present your skills and experience in such a way that you are viewed as the ideal candidate for the job.

There are plenty of resume how-to articles on the web. Yet many miss the three key components that will make this critical document compelling while also delivering your selling points within a brief amount of time. (Studies show that resume reviewers spend 30 seconds or less determining if your resume is worth reading.)

So review your resume and make it market-ready by asking yourself these three questions. That way, you can ensure that you're highlighting your skills and experience in a powerful way -- and doing so within a 30-second scan.

#1) Am I giving my customers what they want?

  • Make your resume compelling by loading it with skills that sell. Pay particular attention to the keywords you see again and again in the postings for your line of work. These are the hot-button attributes that are most in demand in today's job market. Moreover, stick with your "hard" skills--your knowledge-based, technical aptitudes. Although "soft" skills (personal strengths like "contributing team-player, highly motivated," etc.) are important, resumes need to highlight and substantiate your evidence-based accomplishments.
  • Take the added effort to customize each resume to the position for which you are applying. If you don't, you're wasting your time. Employers are providing you with their wish list in the position description. You will want to match this list as closely as possible; otherwise your document will fall short. (There's no doubt that your competition will be customizing their resumes.) Consider that it's far better to send out one or two targeted resumes than one hundred that are boilerplate.
  • Take a look at each of the bulleted statements on your resume and ask yourself, "So what?" By asking this simple question, you will write descriptions that naturally center your statements to highlight the results you've achieved. Reviewers want to see the accomplishments you've produced, not just a list of job duties. Therefore focusing on your accomplishments will serve to demonstrate that you are capable of achieving the goals and initiatives set forth in the job posting.

#2) Does my resume have the visual appeal it needs to make a positive impact?

  • Since reviewers spend less than half a minute's time determining whether or not they'll read through your resume, you have to make the greatest impact in the least amount of time. Order is critical. In English, we read top-down, left to right. That means your strongest skills and accomplishment statements need to appear to the top and to the left of your document. Wherever you have a skills column or a list of bulleted statements, be certain to order your skills and examples to match the qualifications of the position.
  • Make sure your document is "eye friendly" by using a good-sized font that is easy to read with liberal use of white space and bullets to highlight your critical skills and examples. Do not use paragraphs (even short ones) to describe your prior work experience. There is no way to identify key skills quickly within dense blocks of text. Remember to write in memo style and place your strongest skill words to the left of each statement.
  • You can easily determine how quickly your information is coming across by enlisting a friend to give your resume the "30-second test." Hand them your document and, in about half a minute's time, request that they hand it back to you. Then ask, "What do you remember from my resume?" Their response will bring you real world feedback as to how well your key points are getting across to the reader.

#3) How am I distinguishing myself from the competition?

  • Be certain you are presenting yourself as the #1 person for the job throughout your resume and don't forget to incorporate the extras that will set you apart from the pack. One of the best ways to do this is to add a special section underneath your formal education and call it: Ongoing Professional Development. Then list classes and online training you have taken as well as any certificates you've received. Using this particular phrase as a heading on your resume will draw positive attention because "ongoing" suggests a desire for lifelong learning--something employers like--and "professional development" says it all. Then you can reference your commitment to keeping current as you network and, most importantly, during your job interview.

By loading your resume with marketable skills, customizing it for each submission, demonstrating the added value you'll bring to the position and making your document visually appealing, you will give employers what they want. So ensure your document presents you as a winning candidate. The extra effort will go a long way to get you called in for that all-important interview. And, if you're really lucky, it could potentially set the stage to help you land the job!

Mary Eileen Williams is a Nationally Board Certified Career Counselor with a Master's Degree in Career Development and twenty years' experience assisting midlife jobseekers to achieve satisfying careers. Her book, Land the Job You Love: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50, is a step-by-step guide that shows you how you can turn your age into an advantage and brand yourself for success. Recently updated, it's packed with even more information aimed at providing mature applicants with the tools to gain the edge over the competition and successfully navigate the modern job market. Visit her website at Feisty Side of Fifty.com and celebrate your sassy side!

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