Find Your Dream Job, Episode 291:
Resume Hacks That Impress HR Directors, with Derek Murphy-Johnson
Airdate: April 14, 2021
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.
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Our guest today is a recruiter who has read thousands of resumes. And he says there are simple steps you can take to stand out in a tall stack of applications.
Derek Murphy-Johnson is here to talk about resume hacks that impress human resource directors.
He’s in charge of talent attraction at KinderCare Education. It’s the largest childcare provider in the United States.
Derek joins us from Portland, Oregon.
Let’s get started with a really basic question, maybe the ultimate hack, Derek, about resumes, why shouldn’t you send the same resume to every employer?
You shouldn’t send the same resume to every employer because you want to tailor your resume for specific keywords for the position that you want to apply to or that you are applying to. I think that we have all heard that resumes are reviewed by recruiters just briefly, and by briefly, I’m talking under 10 seconds, a recruiter will take a look at your resume and scan it. And so when they’re scanning your resume, they’re going to look for normal things that everyone does. The company that you worked for, job title, tenure, things like that, but they’re also looking for specific keywords that the hiring managers mentioned that was important for the position in the intake section, that is in the job description.
You should have one standard resume that you have, and then as you are applying to a position, take a look at the role and then go through, and I always recommend people to make a list of the positions that they applied for and the key skills that they noticed, that they found interesting, or more apply to their position, and then incorporate those keywords into your resume to make it really stand out.
I’m glad you’re specific about finding those keywords and focusing in on those skills because sometimes, when people hear, “customize my resume,” they think, “Oh my gosh, it’s going to take forever.” But it’s not all that much work, is it?
No, it’s not. Really, it shouldn’t take you more than 10-15 minutes to go through and read the job, and then go through your resume and customize and optimize it for the resume reviewer, whether that’s the recruiter or the hiring manager.
Why does such a small change like that make a difference to recruiters like you?
Because when recruiters are reviewing resumes, they are sometimes reviewing up to hundreds of resumes. And what I like to tell candidates is, “Your resume is not a true representation of everything about your professional experience.”
What you should have on your resume is enough information to pique the recruiter’s interest. I always tell people, “Think of it as a teaser or a commercial.” Because you’re using those keywords to kind of be like a movie trailer: “Coming soon.”
Think about it as a really short commercial that you’re trying to get someone interested and excited about you. When they’re going through and reviewing resumes that have some of the similar keywords in the job descriptions, maybe you have taken some of the language that the organization uses and incorporated that into your resume, so when the recruiter sees that, it triggers in their brain, “Okay, this individual understands the complexity of the position and our organization at a high level.”
That really can make you stand out between somebody who has their standard resume that they use to apply for positions across the board. By having a really tailored resume, it makes you really stand out in the crowd.
Let’s talk about some of the ways that the applicants can stand out, Derek, and let’s turn to some of your favorite resume hacks. One that you recommend is using a second page. How does this help a recruiter, who sees a resume with two pages?
I would say that when you’re writing your resume, your resume should be between one and two pages. There’s a myth out there that resumes have to be one page. That is absolutely not true. Your resume does not have to be on one page. When you’re writing your resume, try to include ten to fifteen years of experience, and when you have…when you’re writing your resume, you want to keep your resume to a comprehensive overview in showing your development and accomplishments. So, if you’re just starting out in your career and your resume fits on one page, that’s okay but if you go into two pages, I just want people out there to know, that is 100% okay.
Take your time when you’re writing your resume and when you’re writing your resume and you’re formatting it, when you’re putting the information in for your position, keep it to 5 bullets. Keep your experience concise but also, this is a way for you to showcase your transferable skills, your education, so brag about yourself. Don’t worry about keeping everything on one page and eliminating any additional information that could potentially move you forward to that next round, which would be talking to the hiring manager or having the hiring manager at least see your resume.
I’m glad that you’re giving applicants permission to use that second page. Are there ever instances, Derek, when someone shouldn’t do that? Perhaps at the start of their career?
Yeah, if you are at the start of your career, you shouldn’t feel compelled to put too much information on your resume, as well. Again, the game with resumes is keeping it simple. Read your resume off to yourself, out loud, and if you’re reading it and you’re reading it out loud and it doesn’t flow off the tongue, or if it sounds like it’s too many words, chances are it is. Go back in there and edit it, but if you’re just starting out in your career, it is 100% okay just to have a one-page resume.
If you don’t have any experience, I would recommend flipping your resume. A lot of times your education is at the bottom of your resume if you have work experience, but if you’re just starting out and you don’t have any work experience, and you’re applying for a position in your field, put your education up at the top and then list out either your clubs or associations or student activities that you were involved in when you were at school.
Why do recruiters care about clubs and recreational activities and other interests, particularly when you’re just coming out of a university?
It gives an idea of what the individual’s interest and what they are passionate about. I joke with some of my friends because I know a lot of people that went into school for psychology and are now in HR, and now there are all these people that have HR degrees. Back in the day, there really wasn’t an HR degree and so a lot of the people in the profession had a degree in psychology and they were applying for HR positions. And so for an example like that, if you have a degree that isn’t related to your position that you’re applying for, add those clubs in there. If you were the recruiter of the sports club, put that on there and list out your responsibilities. Be proud of what you did when you were in school, because not only does it show what you’re passionate about, but it also shows that you’re a team player, that you contributed to something outside of your schoolwork, and that you have that additional, I always say, that “go get ‘em”, or that drive that compels you to want to do something more.
For somebody that doesn’t have any experience on their resume, something that really stands out to recruiters is that drive and wanting to continue to do more and build on the knowledge that they learned in school by applying it to clubs or associations.
What about applicants who are mid-career, Derek, or even farther along in their career? Do recruiters want to hear about hobbies or interests of those kinds of people as well?
You know, I would say that it depends on your industry. For us, working at KinderCare, being a childcare industry, I love seeing resumes for financial analyst or executive-level positions where they have that they are a part of…a youth soccer coach or they were a den master, or something involving kids. They may be foster parents. So, something that relates either to the industry or company specifically, again, goes to show that you either have a passion for the industry or the company that you’re going to be working for.
At the end of the day, we’re all working because we need to provide and it’s that one thing in life, that you have to work, and there’s nothing saying that you should work somewhere that you’re not passionate about the industry or love what you do. And so, just when recruiters see that, that’s what recruiters…that’s a really selling factor to a recruiter that you want to work in an industry or a profession of something that you love. It’s not just for somebody starting off in their career but it’s for everyone.
From mid-level to professional to executive-level or student-level.
Well, this is terrific, Derek.
I want to take a quick break and when we come back, Derek Murphy-Johnson will continue to share his advice on resume hacks that impress HR directors.
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Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Derek Murphy-Johnson
He’s in charge of talent attraction at KinderCare Education. It’s the largest childcare provider in the United States.
He joins us from Portland, Oregon.
Now, Derek, before the break we were talking about resume hacks that impress HR experts like you. One I know is on your list is to talk about measurable outcomes on your resume. Why is that important?
Measurable outcomes or, I’ve heard other people use the term, “action language,” or, “active language.” When you’re writing your resume, I think it’s a good idea to take a look at the job description that you were most recently in or the position that you’re working in. However, just because your resume may have a list of skills, that doesn’t indicate what you actually did, so using words like, “I led the development work for X, Y, and Z,” it shows what you’ve accomplished and it shows ownership in what you do. I think the other thing is to be careful of buzzwords. So, when I say action words, it’s what you did. An example could be, “Managed busy front office.” That doesn’t tell me anything as a recruiter about what you did. That could be you managing a team of people or that was you managing a busy switchboard.
When you’re writing the details of what you actually did, share what you did. “Managed a busy office by…” Or, “Worked in a busy office managing a 15-line switchboard and managed the calendar for 6 executives, including Outlook, expenses, et cetera.” That gives just a little bit more insight for the recruiter when they’re scanning your resume of what you actually did versus what the outcome of your job should be.
That’s interesting, so, talk about not only the what, what you did, but also how you did it, what was involved, is that right?
What about results? How do recruiters like you feel about seeing qualifiable results, particularly numbers, in resumes? Does that make a difference?
A huge difference. By sharing that you increased lead generation by 30% or cost savings by 20% by implementing X, Y, and Z, that not only shows what you did but actually the impact on the organization, and depending on the level of the position that you’re applying to, that really could make you jump off the page to the recruiter that’s reviewing your resume.
That’s interesting, so talk about the what, the how, and then what actually happened…
The impact, thank you.
Another resume hack that’s on your list is to match your experience to the job that you want. What do you mean by this, Derek?
When you’re writing your resume, you have the goal of the position that you want. So, you may be an HR coordinator that wants an HR generalist position. When you are writing your resume, showcase your skills.
A lot of people get hung up on, “I can’t get an HR generalist job because I don’t have the experience as an HR generalist.” You may not have the position that held the title of HR generalist, but maybe the position that you were in held the skills that you want to move into. If you are in one of those positions where it’s like, “I’ve been a bookkeeper for 5 years and I see a position at my dream company for financial analyst,”, don’t let a title stop you. You are more than a job description, you are more than a job title; you’re a human and you have skills in the work that you do today that will also transfer into another position. And so, if you’re looking to move laterally or if you’re looking to make that next step into a more senior-level position, when you’re writing your resume, highlight those skills that you do in your position that is going to be aligned with that next role for you.
What’s the best way, Derek, to get clear about which skills to highlight for the job that you’re applying for?
I think it would determine based on the position, but take a look, like we’ve said, looking at the keywords but really digging in. So, if you’re going for an HR generalist position, say you’re an HR coordinator, and instead of saying, “Responded to incoming calls,” you could write something like, “Worked directly with the operations team to identify and address problems in a timely manner.” That is more of somebody that takes charge and takes action versus a support position. And so, in some organizations, HR coordinator to HR generalist is a promotion position, so I would say that that would be a way that you would be able to take your current experience and the skills underlying the experience, and changing the language to show how those skills would translate over to an HR generalist role.
Why does this matter to an HR director, both showing the skills that you have that are relevant to the job, and tailoring it specifically for the job that you’re applying for?
Because it shows where you’ve been and where you’re going to go and it shows the work that you have gone throughout your career to get to where you’ve been. So, the experience allows you to show your development and your accomplishments in your profession, and by having that progression and showcasing those skills, again, you may be in a position where you’re going to end up in a promotional role but it just shows an easier transition. Instead of having someone start at a more junior position, that may not have the job title or maybe not the experience that’s listed on the job description, but the skills and the career progression show that natural ability to move to that next level for whatever work or industry that you’re in.
What about skills that you’ve developed outside of the workplace, that maybe you didn’t have the opportunity to show in your current position or your past job? Do those skills matter to HR directors and what’s the best way to talk about them?
I would say as long as they’re skills that are related to the professional world. I would say that one of the resumes that stands out in my mind is, they had their normal, chronological resume, and then off to the side, they actually had an area where they had their technical skills and professional skills listed. And I remember this role that I was looking for; it was a niche position in a sales operation role where we were looking for specific sales force experience with…I can’t even remember which programming language at the time, but this individual, looking at their resume, they had a really solid developer background but I didn’t see anywhere in their work experience that they’d actually worked in the sales force.
Then I looked over to the side and saw that they had actually taken it upon themselves to take a sales force course, I can’t remember the sales force course, but they had gone through one of the training programs and had actually gotten certified and they had that listed out under their technical skills. Based off of their chronological resumes, the experience and the skills that they highlighted there, and then showing that they went on and did additional learning and training to get certified that didn’t directly impact their day-to-day work, that actually helped them in this situation.
I would say, if your skills are related to your work, call those out. That’s at the bottom where you’re listing your education, put those technical skills, those certifications, those continuing education programs down there.
We’ve talked about hacks, steps that you can take to improve your resume and catch the eye of a recruiter. Let’s go to the dark side, Derek. What mistakes do you see people make on their resume that catch your eye and that you wish that applicants didn’t make?
One basic one is having a professional email. I can remember a very embarrassing time when I worked with a senior executive and I found a wonderful individual. I moved their resume forward, I didn’t pay attention to their resume, and let’s just say that their email listed on their resume had a rapper’s name in it that was not for the workplace. Just know that your email that you use when you think only the applicant tracking system sees it or password or anything like that, know that sometimes recruiters may see those, depending on the systems that they use, so keep those professional.
I think the other thing is keeping a close eye on typos and then how you are formatting your resume. Nothing can be as jarring as being in a resume and reviewing it, and then missing bullets or the font suddenly changes. Nothing can stop you at that point because it shows that you don’t have that eye for detail when it gets to that hiring manager level.
You mentioned earlier reading a resume out loud and listening to it as a way to help you decide whether you should go to 2 pages or not and understand the flow of your document. It’s also a great way to catch typos too, isn’t it?
100%, absolutely. I do that on resumes, I do that on emails. I’m very grateful that I’m working from home now. A lot of times people think that I’m talking to somebody but I’m just reading emails to myself.
Yeah, the ear is a terrific editor.
Well, it has been a terrific conversation, too, Derek. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?
Well, as the vaccine has become more readily available, I am excited to work with our operations team and get our schools and our centers ready to welcome our children and our families into our centers and school programs again. I’m very excited, and personally, Portland has lifted some of the dining bans, so I’m excited to be able to start seeing some of my favorite restaurants here in Portland, in person.
Well, that’s great news that your centers are starting to reopen, and I know that it’ll be great when we can all go back to restaurants wherever we live.
Now, Derek, I know people can learn more about you and the work that you do by connecting with you on LinkedIn, and if they do, I encourage listeners to mention that they heard you on this show, and you’re also on Twitter and your handle there is 503recruiter.
Now, Derek, given all of the terrific advice that you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing that you want a listener to remember about resume hacks that impress HR directors?
I’m going a little off-script, this is not something I shared today but it is something that I’m passionate about. Bots do not reject your resume for keywords. They may filter them but at the end of the day, a human being is looking at your resume before making that decision. I just wanted to dispel a rumor and myth out there that there are applicant tracking systems that are rejecting your resumes based on keywords; that’s not true.
The best advice I can give anyone for their resume is keep it simple. Keep the formatting simple. Keep it simple. You want it to be clear, easy to read, and able to stand out of the crowd.
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Next week, our guest will be Tristan Layfield. He’s a career coach and resume writer who has helped hundreds of people.
Sometimes the job you want is where you already work. How do you get promoted or move to a new position inside your organization?
Tristan says you’ll have the most success if you’re clear about your goals, network internally, and document your accomplishments.
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