How to Write a Winning Resume that Stands Out

With my wife having just gone through the résumé and interview process all over again, we both did some research into the latest recommendations for creating an effective résumé. If you’re looking for a job in this market, I’m sure that you’re well aware that the competition is heavy, so it’s more important than ever to create an attention grabbing résumé that will at least get you through the door for an interview.

In order to create a résumé that gets you an interview, you really only need to focus on to major areas: design and content. Yeah, they’re two big generic areas, so let’s get into the specifics of how to be exceptional with each.

How to Design a Good Résumé

I’ve heard a number of recruiters say that they only give a résumé about 30 seconds before they move on to the next one. To make sure they look at your résumé a little longer than that, the design of your résumé is essential. Put yourself in the place of the person reviewing your résumé – what would make you take a closer look?

good resume tips

I’m not going to go too much into creativity of design because it really varies for each job. If you are going into a marketing, advertising, graphic design, or other creative field, then it makes sense to create a résumé that visually stands out as ‘exceptionally creative’ from your competition. If you are going to be an investment banker or accountant, it should go without saying that you probably want to stick to more of the traditional résumé format.

  1. Bullet Point Format: Résumé are best absorbed if they are formatted like promotional brochures, not like mini auto-biographies. Taking it a step further, each bullet point shouldn’t go beyond one line in length. If it does, you’re probably ‘flowering’ things up a bit too much.
  2. White Space: You need to draw the eyes of your résumé reviewer to the headers and sections that you really want them to review. To do this, make use of white space around the headers. White space, when used effectively, can also de-clutter an other-wise messy looking format.
  3. Font: Make use of bold and italicized fonts to give your audience a visual break. Use strong caution when choosing more than one font, and make sure that if you are using more than one font, that they blend together nicely. A resume should be like a well design promotional brochure, not a scammy internet sales letter.
  4. Résumé Length: Keep it to two pages at most (with a ton of white space), and preferably 1 page. Again, your goal is to get noticed, not to highlight every single thing you’ve accomplished in your career. There will be plenty of time to expand on your highlights, once you get in for a first and hopefully further interviews.
  5. Have Multiple Formats Ready: When applying for jobs in the past, there were times when an employer wanted you to simply cut and paste into an html based web form. If you do this, it’s best to have a .txt file version of your resume on hand. If format doesn’t matter and you can upload, I’d recommend saving to a .pdf format so that you know the person reviewing your resume is going to see the format that you intended (and Adobe reader is available for free to everyone).

Résumé Content Tips

  1. Lead with your Best Stuff: If your experience is the most valuable asset that you can provide your new employer, lead with it. And lead with the best of it. Remember, 30 seconds is all you get, so your résumé should be like a fireworks display that starts with the ‘Grande Finale’. If you don’t have much relevant experience, lead with the transferable skills that you do have. If you are applying for an entry level position right out of school, lead with your educational achievements or relevant internship experience.
  2. Get Rid of the Objective: Objectives are outdated. Let your accomplishments speak for themselves. A glorified objective statement can only decrease your chance of impressing its readership, and rarely will it make you stand out in a good way.
  3. Kill the Generic Characteristics and Duties: If you’re a knowledge worker, highlight what makes your knowledge and skills exceptional. There is nothing exceptional about someone who “Is an excellent written and verbal communicator”, rather, opt for things like “Gave a speech to 500 industry professionals that received a 95% ‘very satisfied’ rating”. Instead of “Demonstrated proactive leadership skills”, clarify that you “Facilitated a cost cutting team of five colleagues that resulted in a year over year decrease of 20% of business expenses”.
  4. References are Available at your Potential Employer’s Request: A résumé really doesn’t need a list of references anymore, but you still want to make sure that you have a statement at the very end that highlights that “References are available upon request”. I was asked by a recruiter a few years ago to send him a new résumé with this included.
  5. Have Others Review your Content Beforehand: What may make perfect sense in your head may be a garbled mess to someone else. Have someone who is not afraid to give you honest feedback review your résumé for lingual diarrhea.
  6. Cater your résumé to each Potential Suitor: Unless you are applying for the exact same position at 10 different employers, you should probably have 10 different résumés for those 10 different employers. Remember, a résumé is not about ‘wow, look how great and well traveled this person is and how lucky we’d be to employee them’, it should be about ‘how does this person meet every need we have and more’.

Résumé Writing Discussion:

  • What things on your résumé really grabbed the attention of your current employer?
  • What’s characteristics did the best and/or the worst résumé you have ever seen have?

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