Unemployment is historically low. Still, there's intense competition for the best jobs.

Whether you're trying to hire top people, or even if you're an applicant trying to gain an edge over the competition, it turns out there's a simple shortcut you should be using -- something that separates the best applications and resumes from everybody else's. 

It all comes down to three short words that you should look for on every single resume.

What do Amazon and Google do?

There are tricks that big, highly sought-after companies like Amazon and Google use to identify the most promising candidates.

These are companies that face a big challenge, if an enviable one: they get a massive number of applications for every open position, and they're often interviewing the cream of the crop.

One statistic that always strikes me:

Google has about 100,000 employees, and yet another 2 million people apply to work there every year. That's 20 new applications for each current employee.

It's an insane level of interest. So, how do companies with that volume of applications cut corners and identify the best candidates quickly?

Believe it or not, they've figured it out.

'From,' 'to," and 'by'

Here are your three magic words: "from," "to" and "by."

Applicants whose resumes are filled to the brim with those three words will look more promising, compared to the resume of a hypothetical competing applicant who has the exact same background. 

The reason is that it's almost impossible to write a fluffy, blustery resume that looks good superficially but doesn't provide much useful information, if an applicant uses those words over and over.

Let me give you an example. Google talks about looking for the "XYZ Formula" on successful applicants' resumes: "Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y], by doing [Z]."

What's the easiest, least verbose way to express that formula?

By using "from," "to," and "by."

  • Grew sales from $400,000 to $1 million by developing new script for cold calls.
  • Successfully increased team size from 12 associates to 35 by changing focus to recruit from recent community college graduates.
  • Decreased time required to turn around customer requests from two days to 14 hours by improving representatives' compensation structure to reflect this key metric. 

Accomplishments and measurements

As an employer, you shouldn't care very much about what an applicant's title was at his or her last job.

You don't care what their official job description was. And you also don't have much interest in flowery language claiming accomplishments with no way to measure them (or any indication of how the applicant achieved them.)

What you want is to find applicants whose promise and past experience suggests they'll achieve things in the future, too.

That means decoding the applicant's background. And doing that accurately requires learning their starting points, their ending points, and the mechanics they used to get there.

In other words: from, to and by.

Scaffolding

Let me throw one last wrench into this. For readability's sake, I can see why some applicants don't want to use the same words over and over. 

Especially if you have a lot of relevant accomplishments, or if some of them don't lend themselves to that exact kind of quantitative measurement, you might be looking for other ways to express similar thoughts.

That's fine, as long as you do it consciously.

I've written or ghosted a dozen nonfiction books, plus thousands of articles. If you were to look back at my first drafts of almost all of these, you'd see that I'd literally written directions on what needed to be in each section.

I call it "scaffolding."

In this very article, for example, my original scaffolding, or outline, looked like...

  • intro
  • 3 words
  • google/amazon experience
  • from/to/by + examples
  • explanation about why
  • scaffolding

Some of those words and phrases made it into the final draft; others didn't. But you can see how starting with the structure, and making sure I include the key points, almost always makes for a better article.

Same thing with resumes. Your first draft should have "from/to/by" sentences throughout.

It's OK if you later decide that the phrasing seems awkward or repetitive in some places, and rewrite in a way that means the same thing, but uses different language. In other words:

  • "Grew customer base from 100 to 150 by offering discounts for referrals..."

can become 

  • "Grew customer base 50 percent in six months as a result of innovative discount program... 

so you don't have "from/to/by" in ever single bullet point.

But in your first draft, write it as "from/to/by."

It reminds me of something I learned when I studied screenwriting. One of my best teachers used to say that he was teaching us the rules so we'd know how to break them.

And when it comes to resumes, the first rule is "from/to/by."