Here are 15 tips to help you write a winning resume:
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 stack 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 there will be for competition. 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.
In order to stand out from the hundreds of other resumes being submitted, 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. This ”re-labeling“ is extremely important in landing more interviews because it allows job seekers to apply and look qualified for a wider range of jobs.
Jane 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?
||Retail Management/Customer Service|
||Retail Accounting Applications|
||Cash Accountability / Supervision of Retail Stations|
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.
John 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?
||Management of A/R and A/P Accounts|
||Computerized Accounting Applications|
||Departmental Administration/Record Keeping|
Even though 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 salary offers.
It's similar to 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 got 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 perform the job available.
The 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 portions of your background that are most relevant to the position.
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
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.
• Bullets make it easier to quickly scan your resume and still absorb it.
• Managers can read a bullet format resume in 20 seconds.
• 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.
If you follow these guidelines, you will help the reader to scan your resume efficiently and effectively.
Making your resume easy to read does not mean you should water-down or oversimplify your job descriptions. Potential employers need to know what you have accomplished to have an idea of what you can do for them. Make the most of your experience.
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.
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 later.
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 a bull’s-eye to focus 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 important.
Unnecessary details can take up a lot of valuable space on your resume.
Do not mention personal characteristics.
These are things 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 volunteer it.
List only hobbies and interests you can relate to the position.
Once again, be specific to the position you're applying for. If you need the 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, leave this portion off your resume. 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 abilities.
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.
Accent 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.
Prioritize the content of your resume.
Another big mistake that job seekers tend to make is to list 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 quantities, 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.
Sell 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.
A 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 employer money.
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 the general statements 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.
Another 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, and presented.
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…”.
Avoid passive constructions.
For example, “was responsible for managing.” It is not only more efficient to say “Managed,” it is also stronger and more active.
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 hour position.
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.
Now what pay rate do you think this statement would motivate employers to offer John?
A much better statement would be: Seeking 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 ask questions.
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 above 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.
- Apply for jobs that fit your qualifications. It doesn't happen often that you find a job listing you like and feel you are completely qualified for, so don't let it slip past you. While it is always good to stretch the standards you have for yourself, sometimes finding that perfect fit will be your most rewarding experience.
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 poor," so here are some tips to follow.
Check your resume for proper grammar and correct spelling.
These things are 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 process. 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.
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. You don’t need to go into detail about every accomplishment. Strive to be clear and concise.
Let's review TAG’s suggested resume strategies to help secure job interviews in your pursuit of the perfect position.