How to Make Sure Your Resume Gets to the Top of the Pile (And Not the Bottom of the Trash)

How to Make Sure Your Resume Gets to the Top of the PileI’m a hiring manager and let me tell you, I’ve had a ton of resumes come across my desk. I’ve seen resumes with technicolor fonts, personalized logos in place of names, and lots of boldfaced writing. You know what they all have in common? They scream, “Don’t throw me away!”

For all of you resume decorators out there, I don’t blame you. When applying for a job, of course you’re trying to get your resume noticed! There’s nothing wrong with jazzing it up a bit — a little Sans Serif here, a little splash of color there — but don’t count on that to keep your resume at the top of the pile. It might catch the hiring manager’s attention initially, but at the end of the day it’s the content that will keep them there.

So put down the glitter and pull up to your computer screen. It’s time to revamp the meat of your resume with these simple steps:

1. Personalize, Personalize, Personalize.

I cannot stress this enough. The first way you can avoid submitting a generic application is by not copy-and-pasting the same cover letter and resume to each company. (Believe me, they can tell.)

Instead, tailor each resume to highlight your key skills as they apply to the specific role you’re applying for. Cut to the chase — make it clear what the company will gain by hiring you. If you’re applying for a marketing position that requires SEO knowledge, but you go on and on about your blog writing and time management skills, you’re wasting your time and theirs. Is your stint as a bartender relevant? No? Then nix it.

2. Do Your Homework!

Does the company have 10,000 employees or 10? Are they friendly or formal? A company is like a family, so showing them that you are someone who will fit well into the mix is a great way to get one step closer to a phone screen. How do you convince them you’ll fit in? Read up on the company!

Go online, call them up — do whatever it takes to assess the company’s culture, tone, and work environment. Find out who works where and address the hiring manager directly in your cover letter. Don’t write to “Dear [ insert company name ]” if you can find easily find employee names online. (Hint: Use LinkedIn!) They’ll appreciate you did your homework.

3. Bypass the Online Forms and Use Your Connections

Let’s not kid ourselves. Some companies have so many applications to go through, all the tweaking in the world isn’t enough to make yours stand out. Those companies use software to scan resumes for key words. And if yours slips under the radar (which it usually will), it’s straight to the bottom of the trash pile for your resume.

That’s why it really, really helps to know people (really!). Do you know anyone at the company? If so, they might be able to refer you or provide some insider knowledge on the particular process used there. If not, do you know any experts in that field? Have them look over your application and perhaps send it to someone who does have knowledge of that company.

At the end of the day, keeping your resume from the trash sounds easy in theory. But making sure it stays at the top of the pile can be quite a challenge. Take my advice — do your research, start customizing your applications, and pool your resources — and you’re sure to see some more responses in your inbox.

About the Author: Amrita Kulkarni is the Office and Operations Manager at Magoosh, a test-prep company in Berkeley, CA. Amrita got her BA in Political Economy at UC Berkeley. She loves people operations, from hiring to team culture, and just making people happy. On the weekends she can be found getting lost on road trips, eating fish tacos, and exploring different state parks.