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Get that job! 7 tips to make your resume stand out

June 1, 2022 - 16 min read

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The importance of an outstanding resume

How to write a resume

Fine-tuning your resume

Make your resume stand out

The bottom line

Job searches are a vulnerable time. 

You put yourself out there, day after day, hoping recruiters will like what they see. But the job market is unforgiving, and after a few rejections or non-responses, it’s easy to feel dispirited and demoralized.

But here's the bottom line: you have to believe you’re the best candidate for your dream job. Don’t sell yourself short. You have to help a hiring manager (not to mention the recruiter who screens you first) see why you’re an obvious choice for the role. 

It can be hard to know what to do. The conflicting advice you get and all of the options available on social platforms can be confusing. But even now, with LinkedIn and numerous job boards, it's generally a good idea to have a resume.

It might not be enough to only have a resume, but you have to start somewhere.

Let’s learn how to make your resume stand out. That’s where it all starts.

 

The importance of an outstanding resume

A resume is often a potential employer’s first impression of you. Everything they know about who you are, your work history, and your accomplishments are on this sheet of paper. And based on this information, they’ll decide whether to meet you in person.

On average, potential employers spend just seven seconds reviewing a job seeker's resume. This might seem harsh, but try to imagine things from their point of view. They’re busy people. And, for some positions, they’ll review hundreds of resumes before hiring a candidate.

Hiring managers and recruiters need to filter out poor resumes before reaching out for interviews. They look for typos, unclear wording, and poor organization. These mistakes show a lack of attention to detail, which is easily grounds for disqualification.

They're also looking for someone who is really interested in the role. Someone motivated enough to put in the effort.

But I've also been surprised how often I see resumes and cover letters that just don't align with the role. I've been there: you want the role to be something different than what it is and you ignore all the clues (like the job description) that get in the way.

For a hiring manager, a resume that isn't targeted at the role in question is just confusing, no matter how passionate you are.

Getting your resume in pristine shape and targeting it to specific roles is a lot of work. But with some time and effort, you can avoid mistakes, let your passion shine through, and blow your competition out of the water.

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How to write a resume

There’s nothing scarier than a blank page. While the trends in formatting change, the basic content doesn't. Get the content down first, then seek a trusted friend to help you refine the format.

To get you started, here are the sections you should have on your resume:

1. Work experience

This section should be clearly labeled, with a sub-section for each job entry. Only include jobs that highlight your suitability for the role. That being said, don't be afraid to include experiences that aren't obviously relevant.

The key is that you include a description or bullet points that make the connection clear.

Each entry should include:

  • Your job title
  • Name of the organization
  • Dates of employment
  • A description of your role and accomplishments

It’s tempting to organize this section in chronological order. But, in most cases, it makes more sense to put your most relevant experience at the top, even if it’s not your most recent job. You want your reader to see your best work first. 

It might make sense to split your resume into two sections, too. For example, if you’re applying for a management position at a software development company, you might want to have sections for “Management experience” and “Development experience.”

2. Unpaid work or volunteering 

This section will be very similar to your work experience. Follow the same format, but only list volunteer or personal projects that are relevant to the role or helped sharpen your skills.

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3. Education

This section will likely be the smallest of the lot. Here’s what to include:

  • Name of educational institution
  • Name of your program or degree
  • Date of graduation (if you feel comfortable putting this information)

Chronological order is preferred here.

4. Certifications

You may have professional certifications relevant to your role. List them here with the date you acquired them. 

For example, if you’re applying to a role that requires a driver’s license or certification in a programming language, that would be worth highlighting here.

Leave this section out if it’s not relevant. 

5. Summary

This goes somewhere at the top of your resume. This a brief paragraph or bullet-point list that tells employers what to look for in the rest of your resume. This is your chance to put your best foot forward. Try mentioning your most relevant skills and ambitions for the role.

6. Skills

Here you can list a handful of skills that are relevant to the role. For each item you list, make sure the rest of your resume supports your claim. No one will believe you’re great at coding with Python if your previous experience doesn’t demonstrate that. 

You should also be specific. Saying “coding” is vague. Instead, say that you’re skilled with Python or Java. 

7. Link to portfolio

If possible, link to some of your representative work, or at least have a sample project or two at the ready in case you are asked. In some fields, especially creative, having a digital portfolio is standard. In other fields, you may be more likely to demonstrate your skills through some type of assessment.

Remember that a recruiter or hiring manager will likely have access to your LinkedIn profile as well as domain-specific profiles (e.g., github). Make sure that your resume is consistent with, but not overly repetitive of, your profile and body of work on other platforms. 

Fine-tuning your resume

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A resume that lands you an interview has the following characteristics: 

1. It includes only relevant information

If you’ve been in the workforce a while, you’ve probably had quite a few jobs. Not all of your work experience will be relevant to the position you’re applying for. If you’re applying to work as a supervisor on a construction site, you likely don’t need to mention your high school job at a fast-food joint. Instead, you’ll want your construction experience front-and-center. 

But, if you’re a recent college grad, you might need to round out your resume with earlier jobs and volunteer positions. Make sure to highlight all of your transferable skills from those positions. What not to put on a resume depends on how much experience you have to include.

Every resume, regardless of how long you’ve worked, should include your contact information, education, and experience (whether that’s jobs or volunteer work).

You can also include relevant links. If you’re a writer or a graphic artist, you’ll want to link to your portfolio website. If you’re applying for a social media marketing job, include links to your socials. But only include links that are relevant to your work.

2. It highlights accomplishments — not responsibilities

Managers want to know you can perform. Listing your previous responsibilities says nothing about whether you met those expectations. Instead, highlight your accomplishments and employee recognition

For example, we’ll say you previously worked at a public relations firm. Compare these two descriptions:

  • “At Acme PR Consulting, I was responsible for the execution of clients’ national media campaigns.” 
  • “At Acme PR Consulting, my clients praised my work on their national media campaigns. Here are some of my successful projects….”

The former tells the recruiter about your job; the latter tells the recruiter about you.

If you’re unsure about your resume, consider hiring a professional resume writer or a career coach. They’ll take the time necessary to review your skill sets and help you build a great resume. A BetterUp coach can help you tailor your resume and set you on the right path to land your dream job.

3. It’s short

Your resume should be short and sweet. Ideally, you’ll fit everything you need on one page. If you’re further along in your career, the document can stretch to two pages. 

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Make your resume stand out

Now that we’ve mastered the basics, here’s how you can make the best version of your resume.

1. Consider the hiring manager’s needs

Read the job description closely and explore the company website. Read their mission statement. Get a sense of their company culture and what they value in their employees. Then make sure these elements are included on your resume. For instance, if a company’s job ad mentions seeking team players, be sure your resume highlights your history of successful collaboration. 

Your resume should show that you meet or exceed the job requirements listed in the job posting.

2. Make sure it looks good

Managers review countless resumes each day. You have some freedom to play with your resume format, but you should follow some general guidelines:

  • Use an appropriate font. Comic sans or wingdings have no place on a professional resume. Consider typefaces like Georgia, Helvetica, Arial, or Times New Roman.
  • Be consistent. When you pick a design format, you’re committing to a set of “rules” for your resume. Make sure your bullet points follow the same style, your headers are all the same size, your lines are equally spaced, etc. 
  • Don’t overcrowd it. Leave enough room in the margins so it doesn’t look crowded. This will help your reader find information quickly. White space is satisfying to the eye.
  • Use a template. There are many free resume templates available online. Your word processor might even have some built-in. Consider using one so you don’t start from scratch.
  • Consider color (but only when appropriate). People in the creative industries might get away with more colorful resumes. But this might not be a good fit for every industry or positions at large companies. It’s nice to stand out, but you don’t want to be disqualified before you start because your resume is overwhelming to readers.

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3. Avoid errors

A typo is the easiest way to have your resume thrown out. Make sure to closely check your writing for common mistakes that your word processor won’t catch. For example, look for inappropriate uses of “your,” “you’re,” “there,” “their,” “its,” “it’s.” These all sound the same but mean very different things.

You should also read your resume out loud. This will help you catch errors. Plus, you’ll hear if you’re repeating words or if the language doesn’t flow. 

4. Demonstrate industry knowledge

Always be learning — at BetterUp we call it "stay on your edge." It's a core behavior we look for in every employee, brand new or veteran. Curiosity is key to career success and job (and life) satisfaction.

Now make sure that hunger for learning comes through in your resume. It isn't saying "I love to learn" so much as showing it.

Stay on top of current trends in your field and work them into your cover letter and resume. For instance, if there’s a new program that’s in high demand, share your know-how in the skills section. Describe how you used a new tool to improve your performance at a previous job.

5. Get an objective eye (or several)

Ask someone else to review your resume and give you honest feedback. This should be someone you trust to have your best interests at heart but also someone who has recent, relevant perspective on the job market and the type of role you are seeking. Your mom or your best friend might not be the best source of useful, objective feedback on the inherently awkward resume.

The bottom line

Now that you know how to create a solid resume, you can refine the details that will make your resume (and your candidacy) stand out. Take a deep breath because it is a process. Now you’re ready to start hunting for your dream job.

A coach can help you in that quest. At BetterUp, we can help you build a career plan, help you understand your strengths and values, and hold you accountable to make sure you stand out from the crowd. In the best possible way.

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Published June 1, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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