Resume Writing Tips
The thought of writing a resume intimidates almost anyone. It’s difficult to know where to start or what to include. There is no magic to getting job interviews, just a great resume. A great resume follows some simple but crucial guidelines. Here are 15 tips to help you write a winning resume:
- Determine who is reading your resume
- Tweak and target your resumes and cover letters
- Write what the reader wants to hear
- Make your resume easy to read
- Write a resume with substance and depth
- Eliminate superfluous details
- Use design that grabs attention
- Use design that grabs attention
- Quantify and use power words
- Create an image that matches the salary you want
- Have someone else review your resume
- Submit your resume to potential employers
- Don’t neglect appearance
- Use your resume to obtain an interview, not a job
- Implement a resume strategy to increase your success in gaining an interview
Who is reading your resume? A Human Resources Manager? A department
manager? A headhunter? That reader - we’ll call him or her a Manager -
knows the type of person they’re looking for before they read the deck
of resumes in front of them. That Manager is looking for someone with
certain experience, certain skills, and certain training.
The better the position and the better the company you are applying to,
the more resumes your resume will be competing against. Remember that
the Manager is looking for a specific type of person. They’re not going
to interview 50 candidates. They will interview 4-5 candidates; you
want to be one of those 4-5 candidates.
That Manager knows the type of person they’re looking for. If we don’t
write what they’re looking for, your resume will be tossed out. If we
write exactly what the Manager wants to hear you will be one of the 4-5
With employers receiving hundreds of resumes you must make sure that
your resume hooks an employer’s attention within a 5-second glance. A
resume should be an advertisement addressing the needs of the potential
employer reading your resume. You will generate many more interviews by
tweaking your resume and cover letter so that they address the specific
skills each employer requests. A great way to do this is to use job
titles and skill headings that relate to and match the jobs you want.
your original resume is completed, it only takes about five minutes to
tweak and re-label the skill descriptions to fit desired positions.
This ”re-labeling“ is entirely truthful and is extremely important in
landing more interviews because it allows job seekers to apply for, and
look qualified for, a wider range of jobs.
Doe originally wanted a customer service position then found an ad for
a Retail Management opening. How well qualified do the headings in the
left-hand column present her for the Retail Management position? Do you
think the headings in the right hand column will generate more and
better interviews for a Retail Management position?
• Customer Service
• Cash Accountability
• Computer Skills
• Retail Management / Customer Service
• Cash Accountability / Supervision of Retail Stations
• Retail Accounting Applications
Jane’s actual title had been
Lead Cashier, even though she managed her own retail cashiering station
in addition to six other cashiers and stations.
Doe originally wanted an accounting support position then found an ad
for an AP/AR Manager opening. Which set of headings are the strongest
for an AP/AR Management position?
• Accounting / Record keeping
• Computer Skills
• Management of A/R and A/P Accounts
• Computerized Accounting Applications
• Departmental Administration / Record keeping
John’s title was Accounting Assistant, he actually managed over 1,000
A/R and A/P accounts. Using skill headings that market the true nature
of John’s job duties will generate him more interviews and higher
It’s like when you were in school. You told the teacher what they
wanted to hear and you received an ”A“ grade. If you didn’t tell the
teacher what they wanted to hear, another classmate would and they
would get the A. When most people write their resume (90%+) they are
not thinking about what the Manager is looking for, they’re thinking
about themselves. They write their autobiography. The Manager is not
interested in your life story. He or she is not looking for a friend, a
spouse, or an interesting person. The Manager is looking for someone
that demonstrates they can best do the job available.
Manager wants to hear what they want to hear. TAG is not advocating
that you write fiction. Your resume should be honest, but it should
also focus on the part of your background that is relevant to what the
Manager is looking for.
If the Manager reading your resume is
thinking ”big deal, there’s nothing here that I need’, they will read
about 1/3 of the page and toss it. If that Manager reading your resume
is thinking ”wow&helip; this person is doing exactly what I need,’
you’ve got the interview. It should not be a coincidence that the
Manager is finding what they are looking for. Your resume needs to tell
him or her exactly what they want to hear!
Target. Target. Target.
compete in today’s tight employment market, it’s important that you
identify and anticipate the full range of needs each employer faces and
show how you can solve those needs. Emphasize what you can do for an
employer. Be specific. If you are going after more than one job
opening, customize your resume accordingly. It helps to tailor your
resume for a specific position. Remember to only include the experience
that is relevant to the job.
Too many resumes are written in hard to read and confusing formats.
A potential employer will spend approximately 20 seconds scanning each
of the 50 – 100 resumes in front of them. An easy-to-read format
enables them to read your whole resume in that 20 seconds. The bullet
format enables you to say a lot and still be easy to read, as opposed
to the paragraph format where the more you say the less is read.
Bulleting is a win-win technique. It enables you to say a lot about
your jobs and it is still easy to read.
• Bullets make it easier to quickly scan your resume and still absorb it.
• In 20 seconds the Manager can read a bullet format resume.
• It takes 60-90 seconds to read a paragraph format resume.
• Leave white space.
• Use a font size no smaller than 10 point.
• Limit the length of your resume to 1 – 2 pages.
Help the reader to scan your resume efficiently and effectively.
Making your resume easy to read does not mean for you to water-down
or oversimplify your job descriptions down to 2 – 3 lines like on many
resumes. If you summarize your jobs down to 2 – 3 lines the Manager
will think you are lazy and don’t do much on the job. On the other
hand, if you give 5 – 10 bullets describing your recent jobs the
Manager will think that you really take on significant responsibilities
and are a good employee.
Make the most of your experience.
Potential employers need to know what you have accomplished to have an
idea of what you can do for them.
Don’t be vague. Describe
things that can be measured objectively. Telling someone that you
“improved warehouse efficiency” doesn’t say much. Telling them that you
”cut requisition costs by 20%, saving the company $3800 for the fiscal
year” does. The Manager will feel more comfortable hiring you if they
can verify your accomplishments.
Be honest. There is a
difference between making the most of your experience and exaggerating
or falsifying it. The Manager (if not immediately then during the
interview process) can easily spot a falsified resume, and if it
doesn’t prevent you from getting the job, it could cost you the job
Determine your job search objective prior to writing the
resume. Once you have determined your objective, you can structure the
content of your resume around that objective. Think of your objective
as the bull’s-eye to focus your resume on hitting. If you write your
resume without having a clear objective in mind, it will likely come
across as unfocused to those that read it. Take the time before you
start your resume to form a clear objective.
Show what you know
and also whom you know. Rather than going into depth in one area, use
your resume to highlight your breadth of knowledge. Use an interview to
provide more detail. If you have reported to someone important such as
a vice president or department manager, say so in your resume. Having
reported to someone important causes the reader to infer that you are
Unnecessary details can take up a lot of valuable space on your resume.
not mention personal characteristics such as age, height, and marital status. This is information that the Manager may not legally solicit
from you, and they would probably be more comfortable if you did not
List only hobbies and interests you can relate to
the position you're applying for. If you need room to describe your
work experience, avoid this altogether.
The phrase ”References
available upon request“ should be left off if you need room to describe your work experience. The Manager assumes you have references they may
contact, and will request them if there’s a need to do so.
Employers make snap judgments when glancing at your resume. If they
see unrelated job titles or skills the likelihood is very high that
they will make an immediate assumption that you are not qualified for
the job you want. Adding to this problem is the fact that employers
don’t have the time to read through each of your job descriptions to
determine if you have the skills they need. You must do that for them!
The design of your resume must highlight the most important information
about your work experience, skills and education. At first glance this
information forms the image that employers have of your skills and
Lead with your strengths. Since resumes are
typically reviewed in 20 seconds, take the time to determine which
bullets most strongly support your job search objective. Put those
strong points first where they are more apt to be read.
the positive. Leave off negatives and irrelevant points. If you feel
your date of graduation will subject you to age discrimination, leave
the date off your resume. If you do some duties in your current job
that don’t support your job search objective, leave them off your
resume. Focus on the duties that do support your objective. Leave off
irrelevant personal information like your height and weight.
the content of your resume. Another big mistake that job seekers make
is to list very important data in the lower sections of their job
descriptions. As you compile statements for your resume, prioritize
them by importance, impressiveness and relevance to the job you want.
Remember that a strong statement, which uses power words and
quantifies, will affect every statement under it. Read the two examples
below. Which one has the most impact?
Maintained records control, filing, office supply purchasing and
equipment maintenance. Managed front office functions to support the
President, Vice President and staff of 20 Sales Representatives.
Managed front office functions to support the President, Vice President
and staff of 20 Sales Representatives. Maintained records control,
filing, office supply purchasing and equipment maintenance.
Resume design should get attention but it’s really the content of
your resume, the descriptions you include of your skills and abilities,
that determine how many interviews you generate as well as the level of
salary offers you receive.
Think of your resume as a marketing
tool. Think of yourself as a product, potential employers as your
customers, and your resume as a brochure about you. Market yourself
through your resume. What are your features and benefits? What makes
you unique? Make sure to convey this information in your resume.
the benefits of your skills. Most resumes provide a list of duties that
each applicant has been responsible for without explaining the benefit
of those skills to employers. See examples listed below.
secretary’s resume might state she can type 80 wpm and is extremely
accurate. This statement lacks an explanation of how her typing speed
and accuracy benefit an employer’s bottom line. The real benefit is
that the employee can produce more work and ultimately save the
A better statement for this person’s resume would be:
- Achieved top production volume by maintaining high degree of accuracy with typing speed at 80 wpm.
- Cut labor expense over $6,000 annually by eliminating the need for part-time word-processing staff.
Before: Maintained records for accounts receivable and accounts payable accounts.
After: Managed over 1,000 accounts receivable and payable accounts working directly with the Chief Financial Officer.
Using numbers to describe your achievements and responsibilities can
greatly expand and elevate your image by creating vivid images in their
mind when they read them. Otherwise, the Manager is likely to skip over
or forget about your general statement listed in your resume. Typically
the more specific you can be in describing your duties the better.
Numbers, dollars, and percentages stand out in the body of a resume. Use them. Here are two examples:
- Managed a department of 10 with a budget of $1,000,000.
- Increased sales by 25% in a 15-state territory.
strategy that is extremely important in controlling the image that the
Manager develops about you, is to use power words or action verbs that
match the level of position you want. Use action verbs to make your
resume pop, begin sentences with action words like prepared, developed,
Make your words count. Your use of language is
extremely important; you need to sell yourself to the Manager quickly
and efficiently. Address your potential employer’s needs with a clearly
written, compelling resume.
- Leave out the “I.” Don’t use declarative sentences like “I developed the…” or “I assisted in…”.
passive constructions. For example, “was responsible for managing.”
It’s not only more efficient to say “Managed,” it’s stronger and more
As you write your resume, keep in mind the level of job and salary
you want. Be sure to create an image that presents you at the
appropriate level. For example, language used in a resume for an $8 an
hour position is much different than the language used for a $16 an
If there are terms that
show your competence in a particular field, use them in your resume.
For marketing people, use “competitive analysis.” For accounting types,
use ”reconciled accounts.“
For instance, John had held a Loss
Prevention Insurance Claims Management position making $42,000 per
year. He had retrained for the accounting field and hadn’t yet gained
any ”direct accounting experience“ although he had prepared monthly
accounting reports as a Department Manager.
His original resume began with this statement: Seeking an entry-level position in the accounting field.
what pay rate do you think this statement would motivate employers to
offer John? A much better statement would be: Seek an Accounting
position utilizing my experience: Managing a department and accounting
for up to $250,000 in monthly claims.
As you can see, the last
statement greatly elevates John’s image and will be much more likely to
generate salary offers comparable to his last pay rate.
Since you are so close to your situation, it can be difficult for you
to hit all your high points and clearly convey all your
accomplishments. Have someone review your job search objective, your
resume, and listings of positions that interest you.
Encourage them to
Their questions can help you to discover items you
inadvertently left off your resume. Revise your resume to include these
items. Their questions can also point to items on your resume that are
confusing to the reader. Clarify your resume based on this input.
Have the courage to submit your resume. Think of it as a game where
your odds of winning increase with every resume you submit. You really
do increase your odds with every resume you submit. Use a three-tiered
approach. Apply for some jobs that appear to be beneath you. Perhaps
they will turn out to be more than they appeared to be once you
interview for them. Or perhaps once you have your foot in the door you
can learn of other opportunities. Apply for jobs that seem to be just
at your level. You will get interviews for some of those jobs. See how
each job stacks up. Try for some jobs that seem like a stretch. That’s
how you grow – by taking risks. Don’t rule yourself out.
Your resume is the first impression you’ll make on a potential
employer, and a successful resume depends on more than what you say,
how you say it counts as well. People submit resumes with spelling
errors, grammatical errors, and formatting inconsistencies. The
potential employer will say "a person representing themselves this
poorly on paper will not hesitate to represent the company equally
- Check your resume for proper grammar and correct spelling - evidence
of good communication skills and attention to detail. Nothing can ruin
your chances of getting a job faster than submitting resume filled with
(easily preventable) mistakes.
- Make your resume easy on the
eyes. Use normal margins (1” on the top and bottom, 1.25” on the sides)
and don’t cram your text onto the page. Allow for some breathing room
between the different sections. Avoid unusual or exotic font styles;
use simple fonts with a professional look.
- Use standard,
non-textured, fine-grained paper in white or ivory. Keep in mind that
textured and dark colored paper may not copy well when the employer
makes copies to pass around to other participants in the hiring
- If you need to copy your resume, make sure your copies
are clean and clear. A poor copier can ruin even the best looking
resume. Use only copiers maintained for professional copying.
You don’t need to go into detail about every accomplishment. Strive to
be clear and concise. The purpose of your resume is to generate enough
interest in you to have the Manager contact you for an interview. Use
the interview to provide a more detailed explanation of your
accomplishments and to land a job offer.
Next, let's review TAG’s suggested resume strategies
to help secure job interviews in your pursuit of the perfect position.