16 expert resume tips for 2020

Four professional resume writers weigh in on how to make your resume stand out in 2020 and beyond.

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Resumes aren’t expected to disappear or look radically different in 2020 or the next few years, according to four resume writers we interviewed. But there are trends you should be aware of and some tactics you should avoid. And there’s a free online tool you probably haven’t heard of — which one expert says makes it amazingly easier to include the most important keywords in your resume.

[ Tech Resume Library: 10 downloadable templates for IT pros ]

To get a sense of what’s working with resumes today and what’s not, we connected with J.M. Auron, an IT professional and executive resume writer; Martha Heller, CEO of Heller Search Associates, an executive search firm specializing in CIOs and other IT leaders; Thea Kelley, a job search and interview coach; and Donna Svei, an executive resume writer.

The following are their top resume tips for 2020, some of which are specific to IT professionals and most of which are relevant to job seekers in all professions.

Note: You may notice some differing opinions between the experts. For example, one expert recommends posting your resume to your LinkedIn profile while another cautions against it. Differences are to be expected, as there’s no one way to write a resume that works for everyone in all circumstances. The point is to use the tips that make the most sense for your particular situation.

1. Skip the infographics

Adding infographics to resumes is a growing trend — illustrated by a faux resume for former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer that had the internet buzzing. But it’s a trend most people should ignore.

“Adding logos for companies you’ve worked for and data and analytics visuals about productivity improvements is distracting and gets in the way of the information,” Heller says. “The only visual trend in resumes I like is adding a photo of yourself. It makes you more real.”

Kelley adds that a resume with infographics is hard to pull off, and you’ll still need to submit a more conventionally formatted version to the employer’s Applicant Tracking System (ATS). “Some employers may view an infographic resume as gimmicky, so it’s not for everyone,” she adds.

2. Be succinct

“As a society we’re moving more and more toward quick, visual communication, so our attention span for reading large blocks of text, such as an introductory paragraph of five lines or more, is eroding,” Kelley says. “I recommend very short paragraphs, bullet points, very clear sections and headings, and concise language.”

“You have to communicate succinctly in the workplace,” adds Svei. “If you can’t do that on your resume, you won’t be able to do it in your job.” Being concise shows that you “can sort out what matters vs. what doesn’t,” she adds. “A resume isn’t a data dump. It’s the story of what you’ve achieved and what you’re capable of achieving.”

3. Your resume can be three pages — but probably shouldn’t be

“Longer resumes have become more accepted in recent years,” Kelley says. If you have more than five years of experience and a lot of accomplishments, leaving some of the accomplishments out might be counterproductive, she adds. “That said, if you can do justice to your career in a single page, do it!”

If you decide on three pages, use them wisely — and succinctly. “Even if you have a three-page resume, don’t make the reader dig through it,” Auron says. “The writing on the first two pages in particular should be clear, effective and compelling, and the third page can be for technical details if you need it.”

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4. Two pages is best for most people

The sweet spot for most candidates is a two-page resume. Keep in mind that you can go into much more depth in your LinkedIn profile, which should augment and complement your resume. “The more background you add to your LinkedIn profile, the more people will give you positive references, and the more engaged, professional, dynamic and connected you appear to be,” Heller says.

5. Don’t list jobs dating back 15+ years

Ageism exists in most industries. Adding jobs to your resume that go back 15-20 years or more can trigger age bias, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Rather than trying to offer a complete picture of your career in your resume, focus on what you did most recently that’s relevant to what you do now and want to do in the future, Svei advises. “Rarely has someone’s experience from 20 or more years ago gotten them the job they want now,” she says.

6. Focus on your business value

“Putting too much tech on your resume and not enough business value is the biggest mistake technologists make,” says Auron. “People naturally want to play to what they think their strength is. But, in many cases, other candidates you’re competing against will have the same tech skills.”

Thus, make your resume stand out by emphasizing the business value your work brought to your employers, Auron continues. “As a tech professional, you’re usually concentrating on building a solution to a problem and then building a solution to the next problem. While that’s important, you should show the benefits of those solutions in your resume. Did your solution help the company reduce costs or increase revenue? If so, can you say by how much? Your accomplishments should be clear and, if possible, quantifiable.”

The word “data” appears on many IT resumes today, Heller adds. But rather than just talking about data, IT resumes should show how they used data to help their employer become a more intelligent company and make better decisions.

7. Show your ability to recruit and retain talent

Another way to demonstrate business value is to show how you helped your employer(s) recruit, retain and develop high-performing IT professionals, Heller says, especially since it’s still such a tight IT labor market.

“If you recruited an IT team in a tough-to-hire location, staffed a development center overseas, or did something specific to help your company win in the talent war, those accomplishments should be mentioned early on in your resume,” Heller says. “If you improved the company’s human resources systems in some way, that’s important to emphasize, too, because you’ve helped to make the whole company better at recruiting and retaining.”

8. Add a LinkedIn recommendation that demonstrates soft skills

A growing trend in resumes is “the use of social proof,” Kelley says — specifically, including one or more brief quotes taken from the job seeker’s LinkedIn recommendations. “Employers are looking more and more at emotional intelligence and soft skills, but these are hard to demonstrate in a resume,” she says. “Brief testimonials from others can be very convincing, especially when it comes to conveying relatively intangible qualities or skills.”

9. Consider posting your resume to your LinkedIn profile

Svei recommends posting your resume to your LinkedIn profile. Your only chance with a recruiter may be the moment when they’re viewing your profile, she notes. Consequently, posting your resume to your profile can reduce the time it takes a recruiter to decide if you’re a good fit and to contact you. “By putting your resume in your profile, you’ve jumped ahead of the competition by days,” she says.

But what if your boss sees that you’ve posted your resume on LinkedIn? All the better, Svei says. Many employers are beginning to use artificial intelligence (AI) tools that scour the internet for signs that their employees are a flight risk. “If you’re a valued employee, why not make it look like you might be a flight risk? Your employer may offer extra compensation or take other steps to keep you. Don’t forget: It’s much less expensive to retain a good employee than it is to hire a new one.”

10. But don’t share confidential information online

Posting a resume on LinkedIn (or elsewhere) with confidential information about a current or previous employer is risky, of course. As a result, IT professionals should tread carefully if they follow this strategy.

“Most IT professionals are problem solvers,” Auron says. “If you’re a cybersecurity professional, for example, you may want to say in your resume that you implemented the first end-to-end security policy for your employer. But you don’t want to say publicly that your employer had no security strategy. It can reflect badly on them.”

For this and other reasons, Auron believes resumes containing details about how the job seeker solved specific problems should be kept confidential.

11. Use keywords in your resume for the role you’re seeking — even if you’ve never done that job before

Given that most employers scan candidate resumes using ATS, it’s important that your resume include keywords that match the job description. “The title of the role is perhaps the most important keyword,” Kelley says. “But what if you haven’t held that title before? You may have done the work of, say, a Product Manager, but your title wasn’t Project Manager, it was Product Owner. A good solution is to put the keyword in parenthesis after the official title you held.”

For example, you might list your title as Product Owner (Product Manager), 2015-2019. “That way you’re being honest while still allowing the ATS to read four years of Product Manager experience,” Kelley explains.

12. Use natural language processing (NLP) to make better decisions about your resume’s keywords

The most important keywords to include in a resume are typically nouns, Svei says, and, ideally, they mimic the important nouns in a job description. To help you quickly identify a job posting’s nouns, she recommends copying and pasting the description into a free online NLP tool, Rewordify.com.

A parts-of-speech parser, Rewordify creates a color-coded guide to the text you’ve input, with nouns in gray. To isolate the nouns, click on each of the other parts of speech, such as verbs and adjectives, to turn off their color coding. From there, you can make better decisions about which nouns to include in your resume, Svei says.

“Using a tool like Rewordify helps you be sure that you’re hitting the keywords in your resume that are most important to your employer,” Svei adds. “Giving this power to the individual is a huge leap forward in resume writing.” She says she has tried similar online tools, but Rewordify, though not perfect, is her favorite because it’s free and easy to use. Svei wrote extensively on her blog about how to use Rewordify to parse job descriptions.

13. Weave technology skills into your resume’s stories

Rather than list technology skills together, weave them into your resume’s achievement stories, Auron recommends. “You’re providing context that makes it clear to the resume reader how, when and why you used a given technology,” he explains. “But you have to be skillful about it. You don’t want to have so many acronyms sprinkled throughout your resume that people can’t read it easily.”

14. You (probably) don’t need a cover letter

Are cover letters dead? The resume experts were divided in their answers. The consensus: If the job posting you’re applying to online asks for a cover letter, by all means, send one. Otherwise, it doesn’t hurt to submit a short cover letter with your resume — “unless you’re in a hurry, and writing a cover letter is the difference between throwing your hat in the ring or not,” Svei says.

If you write a cover letter, make it short and to the point. “In the first paragraph, explain why you’re applying for the job,” Heller says. “In the second paragraph, briefly mention the relevant skills you’d bring to the job. And in the third, close by asking the reader to please review your resume, and say that you look forward to hearing from them.”

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15. Customizing your resume for every job may be a waste of time

Some job candidates customize their resume for every job they seek. But when you’re sending out 20 to 30 resumes a week, tailoring each one is time-consuming, can be confusing — which resume did you send to which employer? — and can introduce typos and other mistakes into your resumes, Auron cautions.

“You don’t want 50 versions of your resume, because it’s too easy to send the wrong version for the right job,” Auron adds. Instead, he recommends creating one master resume, or two in some instances.

“There may be occasions when you need two different resumes,” Auron explains. “If you’ve been working for years in healthcare IT and you’re looking for jobs in healthcare as well as the financial sector, you might want one resume for each industry, because there are technologies you’d use in one sector that may not be relevant to the other.”

Auron says you’re better off sending out a lot of resumes as opposed to taking the time to tailor each one to each opportunity. “You don’t want to send out a resume that looks generic, of course,” he adds. “But that’s where writing a really good resume comes into play. It won’t look generic if it’s written well.”

16. Show empathy for the resume reader

Your resume may make it past the ATS screening process. But if a recruiter, hiring manager or other professional finds the resume difficult to read because it’s, say, too full of acronyms and jargon, you’ve done yourself more harm than good.

“Too often, job seekers don’t think about the recruiter who receives their resume,” Svei says. “That recruiter may be reading several hundred resumes. And when they see no white space, a small font and dense text, their heart sinks. It takes a dedicated professional to read a resume like that. And recruiters are like everyone else — some of them are dedicated, but some are lazy or just too busy. So ultimately, when you write a resume, you should have empathy for the human being reading it.”

“Above all,” Auron adds, “the most important job of the resume is to get the person who is making the hiring decision to give you a call. Never forget that you’re talking to a person, not a machine.”