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How to Optimize Your Job Search in 2020

Did your last job search result in this?

“After reviewing your application, we have decided that you are not the right fit for the position at this time. Thank you for your interest in our company.”

Remember that job search when you applied to your dream job, checking your email every hour for updates, and waiting for an email alert to buzz? Ping! You pause; you think “this is it.” You prepare yourself to call your friends and family to brag. You click to open. Within a sentence of reading your stomach sinks to rock-bottom. You realize you received the infamous and soul-crushing automatic rejection.


This experience is one many modern job-searchers know too well. An experience that both Brad and I have had in our past. An experience we are glad to have put behind us.  When I say trust us, we know your pain, I mean it. 

The question you’re probably asking is how to avoid it? How can I avoid these emails, or at the very least, drastically reduce their occurrence? 

This guide will show you not only how to avoid these emails and optimize your job search, but how to write a resume, optimize your LinkedIn profile, how to write a cover letter, answer common interview questions, and interview like a pro!

Before You Start Your Job Search

Starting your job search by listlessly scrolling through Indeed, or browsing through flashy resume templates is a recipe for disaster. Before you start you should consider where you would like to go and what your ideal career would look like. 

Consider asking yourself some questions like: 

“Why did I leave my former job, what about it didn’t I like?”

“Do I want to continue working in this industry?”

“I’m passionate about X but work solely in Y. Should I seek a change?”

“How much money do you want or need to make?”

Asking these questions may prevent future career disasters, a pointless job search, negative emotions during your interviews, or winding up in an organization that doesn’t meet your expectations. A new job is a big deal, take some time to process your motivations. 

How to Write an Effective and Competitive Resume

How Important is a Resume? 

Think of it like this, your resume is a marketing tool. When written well, it has the capacity to sell you. It is quite possibly the most important document you can have in regards to earning money and building a career. In fact, you can’t get a job without one. 

Employers WANT your resume because it helps organize the hiring process. Imagine sourcing for a popular position and having three hundred people apply for it by either walking in, calling, or doing some elaborate creative gesture. It’s unrealistic, time-consuming, and a pain for employers. The resume process helps them save money and streamline quality candidates. 

Ask yourself has the resume you’ve been submitting sell you as the best candidate? 

It probably could be improved, couldn’t it? 

Consider this:

  1. The average time recruiters spend looking at a resume is 6 seconds.

  2. The average number of people who apply for any given job is greater than 100.

  3. Only the top 2% of candidates land an interview.

  4. More than 70% of candidates are eliminated from online job applications by Applicant Tracking Systems.

Daunting, isn’t it? Don’t worry. I’ve written successful resumes in various industries for various career levels. I was able to hone in on what makes a resume SUCCESSFUL in any job search and will pass some of that knowledge to you! 

Getting Started: Know Your Mistakes! 

“But I thought recruiters wanted to know about my interest in craft beers?”


They don’t. Trust me. Leave your interests off and while you’re at it learn these biggest resume mistakes, most of which I come across professionally nearly every day.

  1. Resume is too long/descriptive.

  2. Dated and daunting formats.

  3. Directionless. (Think mass-sending.)

  4. Focused on duties and not accomplishments.

  5. Not Optimized for ATSs.

  6. BONUS: Applying to jobs that you are not qualified for!

Let’s explore these topics…

Resume is too long/descriptive: Keep your resume to within 15 years of RELEVANT work experience. By referring to the qualifications and the language in the posting you should have a general idea of what is needed, at the very least, to be included in your resume. 

As far as length goes, under 10 years of experience, it should be a one-page resume, over 10 years can be two-pages. Executives and senior-level professionals can extend to a third page. These are not concrete rules, but guidelines; exceptions can exist. 

Dated and daunting formats: There are a lot of different resume templates and sample resumes available online, but ideally you want to have a format that has readability, scanability, and sleek professionalism in mind. Take a look at the samples on our website to get an idea. My advice is to keep it simple, avoid excessive design/colors, and keep it professional. 

Directionless: The key to tailoring any resume lies within the language of the posting. Do yourself a favor and READ the posting and make a list of the skills, requirements, qualifications, and responsibilities. Then include them in your resume! Don’t just send out the same resume to every employer because although the position you’re applying for may be the same, I doubt their expectations are. 

Focused on duties and not accomplishments: An accomplishment focused resume states not only what you have done but how you did it well. The idea is to sell yourself to prospective employers by demonstrating how you can excel in the role you are applying for. Consider using the P.A.R acronym as a guide. Problem, Action, Result.

Example: Identified inefficiencies in production and implemented immediate manufacturing solutions resulting in increased line efficiency from 55% to 95% in two years.

Not Optimized for ATSs: An applicant tracking system or ATS is software that provides electronic assistance for the recruitment process it can also be used to filter out unqualified candidates. 

Learning how to create an ATS optimized resume requires more attention than a brief blurb. I have created a comprehensive section on ATSs below. Skip ahead if you want! 

Applying to jobs that you are not qualified for: Please just don’t do this. I can assure you that barring some sort of divine intervention, you will not be hired for a role that you’re not qualified for. 

A recent study showed that interest in candidates begins when they meet at least 30% of the qualifications. It continues on to say that meeting 50%+ of the qualifications is considered an ideal standard for applying. I agree with this. 

Apply to jobs you are at least 50% qualified for. The best resume in the world will not make up for a lack of fundamental skills, qualifications, and experiences. Streamline your job search as much as possible.

Quick Resume Tips

Here are a few tips to help you when you start writing your resume! 

Use a chronological resume: List your work experience from most recent to least recent (reverse chronological order). Functional resumes often raise red flags for recruiters and do not score very well with ATSs. 

Margins: Aim for normal (1 Inch or 2.47cm) or narrow margins (0.5 Inch or 1.27cm). 

Fonts: Use basic fonts like Arial, Verdana, and Calibri. 

Use Consistent Formatting: All your titles should have the same font. Write your content in the same font throughout the resume. If you use periods and the end of the bullet points, do it for all of them etc. 

Avoid Using Personal Pronouns: Mainly “I, We, Us, Him, Her, etc.” Most recruiters assume it is you who is writing the resume so you don’t have to say “I.”

Use the proper verb tense: The position you currently hold or any ongoing tasks should be in the present tense. Past roles and all completed projects/accomplishments should be in the past tense.

Bullet Point Length: If your bullets exceed two lines in length, they begin to read like paragraphs. Keep them short or you undermine the entire point of having a bullet.

PDF or .docx./.doc: When uploading your document and applying to jobs do so with a PDF document. The benefit of this is that it displays exactly how you present it as some formatting may be lost when you submit in .doc or .docx. 

Section by Section Play by Play

What should a resume be composed of? How should it be structured? What are the best skills for a resume? How do I align my resume with my job search? Almost every resume should be ordered as I have listed below: 

Contact Information

Professional Summary (Optional)

Brief Skills Section (Optional)

Professional Experience

Education (Required) Certifications (Optional)

There are exceptions to this (if you’re a new grad or student, see these tips for writing resumes for new graduates post) but this is the IDEAL way to section your resume as EVERY recruiter will be familiar with it. 

Contact Information:

Your name and contact information should be the first thing the recruiter sees when they scan your resume. It should be at the very top of your resume in a clear and accessible fashion. 

You should include your name, location (city, state), phone number, email, and LinkedIn (optional). 

That’s it. The only time you should include anything more is if the posting or employer explicitly asks for it. Pro tip: Use a professional sounding email because beachbum9669 isn’t going to get you far. 

Professional Summary:

The Professional Summary is your ‘elevator sales’ pitch. It is your opportunity to sell yourself as a prospective candidate and input crucial keywords. This should contain key accomplishments and fundamental career information (skills, value, metrics, education, etc.). 

The section should be anywhere from three to five lines in length. Any longer and you will bore the recruiter if they actually read it. But chances are, they won’t because it’s a massive block of intimidating text.

Skills Section: 

The resume skills section is a great way to ensure you are tailoring your resume to the position and including the proper keywords. Be sure to refer to the posting when creating this section! 

Don’t list every skill, ability, certificate, award, and mildly impressive fact you have as this list is meant to be short in order to highlight KEY areas. Recruiters will know if you are padding your resume so keep the section between six and twelve keywords.

Professional Experience: 

This is where the recruiter will be looking the most carefully. It is the content that is most likely to determine if you’re a qualified candidate for the role. The professional experience section tells the recruiter what roles you have had, who you worked for, when you worked for them, and what you did. It should include:

  1. Position Title

  2. Company

  3. Company Location

  4. Dates of Employment

  5. Major Duties and Accomplishments

Remember to include accomplishments! Every industry has different metrics for achievement so know exactly where and how you made these contributions and why they’re relevant to the position you’re hoping to attain. 

This is what will set you apart from the other applicants. Your resume should be accomplishment focused, so if you have the option of listing something as a duty or as an accomplishment, pick accomplishment. Always. 

Education and Certifications:

I always suggest writing the degree information out instead of using an abbreviation because it’s easier to understand. Here is an easy way to format it: 

Bachelor of Arts in English | May 2019 College Name, City, State

If you don’t have space to keep it on one line just place the College Name, City, and State below. 

You can create a separate section for your certifications or enter them within your Education section. List your certifications briefly, you do not need to include what organization you received them from unless it is integral to the certification.

Optional Headings: 

Awards, Volunteer Work, Publications, Patents, Research, etc. These should go below your professional experience and below your education. But this depends on your industry, your job aspirations, and your content. Use good judgment. 

Applicant Tracking Systems or ATS

Self-driving cars, virtual reality, and Elon Musk. This is the future.

Do you know what the future of job searching is? Applicant Tracking Systems.

As I mentioned earlier ATS’s can be used to scan resumes for key phrases, keywords, headings, contextual indicators, dates, and related content. The goal is to ‘score’ or rate the candidates and identify the most qualified candidates for human review. 

They are becoming increasingly more popular: 98% of Fortune 500 companies and a growing number of small and mid-sized businesses filter resumes. 

Here are a few secrets to beating an applicant tracking system:

  1. READ the posting and match the keywords!

  2. Increase the number of times you use important keywords. Without stuffing your resume. Why? Because once it does get to a human, they will wonder why you included ‘Photoshop’ 37 times. 

  3. Follow the instructions. If the company wants you to fill out an additional application, submit a cover letter, submit in .docx, etc. do it. Applicants who don’t will be eliminated. 

  4. If you’re using uncommon acronyms in your resume include the full spelling the first time you use them. This will help with ATS parsing. If it only appears in your resume once refer to how it is listed in the posting. 

  5. If they ask you to supply your LinkedIn account, apply through LinkedIn, or if they can reach you through LinkedIn it is in your best interest to supply the URL for you LinkedIn. Although not a deal breaker your participation will help. 

  6. Spelling and Grammar: How does this affect ATSs? Because if you’re misspelling keywords, the ATS may not be intelligent enough to know what you are talking about. ‘Manger vs Manager or Supply Change vs Supply Chain’ 

  7. Use the right format. Complex and unusual resume designs will confuse how an ATS parses data. 

  8. Avoid using charts, graphics, rated skills, text boxes, complex bullet shapes, images, and photos. They may look neat, but they are often scrambled in the ATS scan. 

With these tips properly applied you should be able to breeze through most of the applicant tracking systems and streamline your job search. 

Finish it Off! 

It’s time to add the finishing touches to your new and improved resume. Make sure you do these things before you call it a day:

  1. Comprehensive Spelling/Grammar Check

  2. Save Your Resume! Be professional. Example: “Dan Reed Human Resources Resume.” 

  3. Ask your friends, family, professional network, or TopProspectCareers, for a free resume review to take a look. 

  4. Be Honest (Don’t lie on your resume). 

  5. Hire a Professional. If you’re still not pleased with your resume give us a shot! 

PS: Want more resume help? Check out our comprehensive resume guide Mastering a Winning Resume.


How to Write a Winning Cover Letter

No one reads cover letters in 2020! Right?

The truth is, studies show that 40% of employers won’t look at resumes if they don’t have a cover letter. Ouch, maybe you should have written one? 

Don’t worry, I can assure you that you’re not the first or the last person who has neglected to write a cover letter. 

In truth, you could probably make a convincing argument of why it is not worth your time to write a cover letter for each application. But, I'll get to that. First consider this, cover letters set the tone of an application and will motivate the hiring manager to read the enclosed resume. 

It allows you to demonstrate your interest in a position, your professional brand, and exactly why a prospective employer should consider you over the next candidate. A cover letter is a unique document that represents why YOU, as a person, are a good fit for the role. Your cover letter should be tailored with each employer in mind! 

“But what if I just want to apply to as many places as possible, I don’t have time to write a cover letter for each employer.” 

It is better to have a cover letter that is generic than not having one at all. I highly recommend writing one that allows you to swap key information easily so you can tailor it for each application without much effort. Feel free to ask us for some help because we are experts at writing cover letters that demonstrate your unique ability but are easily changed to match each application.

A few key things to note about how to write great cover letters:

  1. If you know the recruiter or hiring managers name include it. 

  2. Don’t simply repeat your resume or professional summary, this is meant to be a more personalized document (written with personal pronouns in the first-person).

  3. Research the company. The cover letter should demonstrate WHY you want to work for them. 

  4. Include why you are the ideal candidate. Remember to tailor your career documents to the position you’re applying for.

  5. If you’re missing a qualification, this is not the place to blurt it out. Focus on why you’re the best candidate. 

Don’t Say: Despite not having X, I’m very experienced in Y.

Instead say: I’m very experienced in Y.

Don’t give them a reason to disqualify you. 

  1. Make sure your contact information and format are the same as your resume. A simple copy and paste will do this.

It’s important to customize each cover letter to the job that you are applying. You want to demonstrate different experience and career highlights based on where you’re applying. Following the guidelines I have covered will help you grab the recruiter’s attention and increase your chances of getting an interview. 

Want a cover letter template, cover letter sample, or want to know the best cover letter format? Contact us. We will write you a winning cover letter!

LinkedIn Profile Guide

When did you last update your LinkedIn? Believe it or not, when you’re applying to jobs recruiters and hiring managers are going to attempt to find you online. If your LinkedIn profile has been neglected it can harm your candidacy. 

I’m going to go through a handful of ways you can optimize your LinkedIn profile and get ahead of the competition. 

Use a Professional Photo:

Remember people make judgments so presenting yourself well matters. Make sure your profile photo is a professional representation of you. This should not be a picture of you on a night out or at a wedding with a drink in your hand! 

In addition, you can also change your LinkedIn background photo to something more original. But once again, make sure it is still professional. Take a look at mine: