Everyone wants to know how to create a resume that stands out and ultimately gets them an interview. It can be tricky to know how to structure it, and what to include. I have been a recruiter for 7 years and have looked through thousands of resumes. I believe the key to building the best resume is to think of it as your professional work story, rather than just a list of what you have done. Your resume is the opportunity to share your story, like any good story, your resume must be clear, concise, and compelling.
Making your resume clear means that it is formatted well and easy to read. Some hiring managers may devote only 30 seconds or less to reviewing your resume, so making a good first impression is important. The way your resume looks is the first thing they will see. Make sure your formatting is solid. Keep in mind that they may discard it if they notice spelling or grammatical errors — even if your credentials are outstanding. Keep these tips in mind:
- Maintain uniform fonts in size and style
- Line up all indents
- Spell accurately and use proper grammar
- Use consistent verb tenses
- Make it scannable by minimizing the use of full sentences and paragraphs
A concise resume means that it is to the point. Think: “fewer words, more impact.” Fewer words require the writer to get to the point quicker and provide more impact for the reader. Since recruiters and hiring managers don’t typically spend a lot of time on a resume, you must have your story create impact quickly and stay on target. Remember it is your story, but it is the hiring manager’s investment of time to read it.
- Use bullet points and pack them with information, minimize filler words
- Keep to two pages max, unless you have good reasons to go longer
- Organize your resume into sections that make sense for you, experience, education, skills, interests are all common – be creative
- Provide more information using less space without crowding
A compelling resume drives interest in you as a candidate. When hiring managers and recruiters read resumes, they are reading with an eye toward how well your story lines up with the position they are trying to fill. Customizing your resume to the type of position you are looking for, or even better the specific position and company you are interested in, is helpful. This takes you more time, but it can be worth it.
It is compelling to use detail to show results and impact. Numbers are great for this and are easy to find when scanning a resume. It is one thing to say that you are a great problem solver, it is another to provide an example where you used problem-solving skills. Take the following example:
- Good: “Developed a tracking system for merchandise returns”
- Better: “Initiated a tracking system for merchandise returns, which resulted in improved stock room organization and better reporting”
- Even Better: “Designed and implemented an inventory tracking system, resulting in improved stock room organization, more timely reporting, and a 30% reduction in shrinkage”
Practical considerations in building your story:
- Keep on building it: Periodically update it while you are employed – the more often you work on it, especially without the pressure of unemployment, the better it will be
- Build a master list: Write down as many of your skills, experiences, trainings, and achievements, with as much detail, as possible then draw on that when you build out your resume
- Most important information on top: Skills, achievements, experience, education — whatever information is most important for the role should be at the top of your resume.
- Dates on resume: Job tenure is important to most employers because it is the most logical predictor of how long you may stay with the new job. Considerations:
- Multiple jobs with the same company – If you had six jobs over five years at the same company, make it obvious that you worked for that company for five years. Don’t leave room for misunderstanding. Point out promotions and job progressions, if possible.
- Different employers but the same job – If you performed the same job but the company was bought out halfway through your employment, show both companies but one block of time.
- Laid off or company went out of business – Adding this context is important, because it is better than job-hopping and usually out of your control.
- Job-hopping – if this is your situation you should add context where appropriate – moved, temporary job, went back to school, recruited to another company. You may just have to own it.
- Gaps in employment – outline what you were doing during the gap in employment if you are using a chronological format, summarize at the bottom of your experience, or leave out and explain if asked.
- Numbers on resume: Numbers add detail which is encouraged. Some numbers need context though. Saying “generated $100,000 revenue” is not as meaningful as saying “generated $100,000 revenue — 120% to quota or top 5% on the sales floor”
- Make it obvious: Job descriptions ask for specific requirements – such as 2 years of sales experience. Make sure the reader can easily find 2 years of sales experience if you have it.
- Objective vs Professional Summary: Most objective statements are very general, and they focus on what you want. Professional summaries are better because they show what you offer.
- Intangibles: What have you done that shows leadership, initiative, effort, or discipline inside or outside of work? For example, running a marathon doesn’t qualify you for a job but requires effort and qualities that may be attractive to an employer.
- Humility and focusing on the facts: Use a tone of confidence in your abilities, evidenced with facts. Avoid a tone full of superlatives or exaggerations. Remember, if you were the top salesperson for three quarters in a row, include that. It is not boastful, it is a fact. It is something you could speak to during an interview.
- How far back do you list experience and what to include: You don’t have to include everything. Consider including any experience that is relevant to the job for which you are applying. If you are concerned that listing may show your age, you can list as “2 years” rather than the actual dates. Listing the last 10 years is a good guideline but not a hard and fast rule. Don’t leave out older experience if you think it may be intriguing to the reader.
- Creative organization: Consider using headings such as “Professional Experience” or “Relevant Experience” along with “Other Experience.” “Other Experience”can be used to close perceived gaps in employment.
- Students: Employers recognize that you may not have a lot of relevant experience. Consider including information about projects, case studies, sales competitions, and internships near the top of your resume. If you have done any side work, include it. When you are young in your career, it’s important to find ways to stand out.
- Technical skills and soft skills: Be sure to include technical skills that are relevant. For a position as a sales rep, experience might include, Salesforce, Outreach, GSuite, and Outlook. You can also include soft skills such as cold calling, lead generation, and pipeline management.
- Hiring a writer: Some people choose to do this, and there can be benefits to having help. Your story is personal and tied up with your work and life experiences both good and bad. The person helping you may be a lot more objective since they don’t have the same emotional attachment. Keep in mind though that if the resume exaggerates your experience or accomplishments and that later becomes evident in the interview, you may miss out on a job opportunity.
- Get Help: Participate in a mock interview with someone who draws out details about your experiences and accomplishments, then include those details on your resume. As a recruiter, I frequently interview people who share details and accomplishments during their interview that was omitted or generalized on their resume. Mock interviews can be a powerful first step in resume writing.
- Multiple resumes: If your career has allowed you to develop expertise in several areas consider creating multiple resumes — sales, sales management, sales operations for example.
- Customization: The more you customize your resume for the jobs you really want, the better you can align your experience with the job requirements. Just remember to send customized resumes to the right employer if you have multiple versions!
Creating a resume that demonstrates your value and tells your story is challenging. You want it to stand out to give you the opportunity for an interview. Whether you decide to start a new resume from scratch or build off an existing one, tell your story in a way that is easy to follow, concise, and compelling. Use solid formatting to make it easy to read, create an impression quickly with fewer words, and show the impact you have had in past roles that you could bring to your new employer using specific details and numbers. I hope all these tips presented can help you write the next version of your resume, your story!