How to Write a Resume That Stands Out
Writing a resume is one of the hardest parts of the job search, especially if you are a student, newly graduated or about to make a career change. To make it more confusing, everyone has an opinion on how a resume should be written and what should be included. If you are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, you are not alone! This article is a step-by-step guide for how to write a great resume that will improve your chances of getting an interview.
First thing first, what kind of job do you want? It is tempting to write your resume in a way that would do well for tons of different fields, but the vaguer your resume is, the less likely you are to get a job. Figure out what one or two types of jobs you want, then as you are writing your resume, cater it towards those jobs; that way you are more likely to get a job offer you are excited to accept.
Step 1: Keywords
The best way to write your resume is to include common keywords or descriptions into your resume. Take some time to find five job descriptions that match what you want. Read the responsibilities sections carefully and write down important keywords you notice like hospitality, marketing, customer service, data analysis, research, reporting, writing, and leadership. Once you’ve done that for all five jobs descriptions, you will have a great list of what keywords are most important and if there are any that repeat through multiple descriptions. Now take that list, and write your resume based on those qualifications.
Why do you want to have these keywords? It has to do with ATS, the software Human Resources (HR) departments use to weed out resumes. This software scans the submitted documents to find keywords from the job descriptions and ranks you based on how many it finds. The more keywords you have the more likely the software is to pass your resume on to the HR representatives for review.
Step 2: Update Your Information
Now it is time to start editing and writing your resume. First double check that your most recent experience and education is on your resume. Also check your contact information, is it still accurate?
Step 3: Work Experience
Once everything is up-to-date and accurate, it is time to start writing. When most people write a resume, they list what they did in short, 5-10 word segments. This is not bad, but you can do better. In each bullet, include what you did, how you did it and if possible, a stat, fact, cool number or information that shows how what you did was important. Remember to include those important keywords you found!
For example, you want to go into marketing. You take twenty minutes to find five jobs in marketing that you are interested in and read the descriptions carefully to find the important keywords and responsibilities. You notice that several of the job postings include keywords like marketing, e-commerce, marketing plan, strategy, and analyze data. You have some marketing experience including marketing plans and strategy and you know how to analyze data, but you do not have any experience with ecommerce. Do not worry! If you do not have experience, you do not have experience. Now that you have a list of important keywords, you can start adding them into your bullets.
- Help with marketing efforts
- Aid in creating marketing plans and strategies by analyzing data to meet company KPIs resulting in a 10% increase in sales
Doesn’t that sound far more impressive?
The hard part of this is the stat/fact part. If you do not have an exact number, find a number that you are comfortable defending, like 10%, 20+ etc. If you do not have a good stat to show an increase, you can always include information about how much it was. How many customers a day? How many events in a year? How much money? And if you cannot come up with something like that, but you are confident that your efforts did make a difference like increase customer satisfaction, increase profits, grew business prospects, etc. then just say that.
But what if you do not have related experience? Maybe you’ve been working at a grocery store or in fast food all through college. Do not fret! You can still do this! Let’s say you’ve been working in fast food since your teenage years and you now want to get into business consulting or accounting. It may seem like those years will not apply, but they can. Take some time to highlight your responsibilities and skills using longer sentences and business language.
- Take customer orders and answer complaints
- Serve 30-50 customers each shift with excellent customer service and accuracy, ensuring to upsell products to increase purchase amount
Did you ask if they wanted a drink or dessert, or suggest they get a combo meal? That’s upselling. It is hard to come up with at first, but practice finding new ways to describe your experience using more formal, business language. Soon all your bullets will show off your excellent experience, whether or not it directly applies to what career you are pursuing.
Writing with a what, how and stat will make your bullets longer, and that is okay! Do not be afraid to have a bullet that is two lines long. It means you are more likely to get called into an interview because the HR representative already knows a ton about your experience. This format will also help your resume stand out among the rest of the resumes that are just a short series of lists.
Step 4: Education
Now that all your bullets rock under your job descriptions, let’s talk about your education section. Your education section should include the name of your school, the type of degree or certification received, name of your major and the date you received it or expect to receive it. Nice and simple. Do not clutter this section with an emphasis, minor or listing what topics you are learning. These often distract from the important information – your degree and when you received it.
Step 5: Volunteering
If you are going into a social or human services or non-profit field having a volunteer section is going to be extremely beneficial. If you are not going into a field that wants you involved in the community, then only add a volunteering section if you think it adds additional value to your resume. If you already have experience in leadership in a work experience, then you probably do not need to highlight your leadership experience in volunteering. If you want to add something about a mission, church calling or Boy Scouts, consider if that experience will add value to your resume. If it adds something you are lacking elsewhere on your resume, add it. If not, do not worry about it.
If you do include volunteering experiences, write them like the bullets under your work experience, and only include a max of three bullets per experience.
Step 6: Skills
Now for the easy part. Your skills section. A skills section is important to highlight your experience with different software, programs or your general skill set. This is another great way to stuff your resume with important keywords so that ATS software flags you as a good fit. In general, you want to have between 6-16 skills listed. Do not feel like you have to make any up, just put what you know.
Not sure what you would put as a skill? Some ideas for skills are:
- Customer Service
- Data Analysis
- Critical Thinking
- Software – Excel, Word, PowerPoint, etc.
- People Oriented
- B2B Sales
There are a few don’ts for the skills sections: leadership, problem solving, detail-oriented, etc. These words are so overused, and cannot be proved unless you provide greater detail, that they do not add value to your resume.
Step 7: Summary
Okay, so now you have some skills, experience, education and even volunteering written down. What about a summary? A summary can be an excellent way to show a recruiter you are a great fit in a short amount of time. Most recruiters only spend a few seconds on each resume before making a decision, so you have to get to the point right away or risk being overlooked. A summary can be a great way to show off what you can do, and let the rest of your resume support your claim.
But what to include? Include the number of years you have worked in that field. Highlight your education, especially if the posting is looking for a higher degree. Pack in some of those keywords, and just keep it to one or two sentences. Here is an example:
- 2 years of experience in marketing, communications, and business management with a focus on data analysis, marketing plans and strategies, and design
- Ready for a new career that will enhance my skills and bring new challenges
Writing them like bullets will help you keep them short and to the point. It is okay to express what you are looking for – a new career, to begin your career, a place that offers new opportunities or growth, etc.
Know the Industry Standard
First step to design is knowing what is standard for your field. Does your field expect highly stylized, colorful resumes with little icons, or text only, no design? If you are not sure, Google your field and “resume” to see what examples come up.
Once you know what resume design is expected for your field you can start making your resume look professional. A great way to do this is to emulate some of the resumes you find online. Do not copy the exact format and texts, but take an element from here, a line from there, a font from a third one, etc. Make it your own while still fitting into the expected mold.
Keep it to One Page
Most organizations expect your resume to be one page, unless you have too much experience to fit onto one page. Here is a tip to save space and make it to one page: set your margins to narrow – it gives you a ton of space for your long bullets.
Whatever you do, have a consistent format! Stick to two fonts, usually a serif and a san serif. These two types of fonts make your resume easier to read while giving it a small element of design to help it stand out. Usually, you want to have the san serif as your bullet text and the serif as your headers, because san serifs are easier to read in small print.
Good Serifs: Garamond, Times New Roman
Good San Serifs: Arial, Calibri
Even if your field standard for resumes is lines of text only, you can still incorporate a little color. A dark purple, blue or green can look very nice on a resume, and help it pop a little without being obnoxious or distracting.
Organize Your Resume With Your Most Important Information At the Top
Lastly, how to organize your resume is up to you. You will always want to put the most important information first – which is usually your summary, then skills, then either experience or education. Based on the descriptions you read, is it more important to highlight your experience or would your education be more important? Whichever is more important goes first.
Hint: For most newly graduated students or students looking for internships, your education is going to be more important than your work experience.
EXTRA TIPS AND TRICKS
- Always write numbers using their symbol (1,2,3,4 etc.)
- Provide a website with your portfolio if applicable
- Abbreviate whenever possible such as $200K instead of $200 thousand or 200 thousands dollars
- Make sure any software or special programs are spelled correctly
- Use commas and semi-colons (;) when you need them; it can help the bullet read easier and reduce the number of bullets you need
- Brag about yourself and what you did using business language and long bullets
- Never have a period at the end of a bullet. These are sentence fragments, not full sentences
- Never leave a single word on a line
- Do not include a picture of yourself or any identifying elements like gender, age or race. Unless you are applying to be an actor or model this is not information the HR department is supposed to have. Many HR representatives will automatically eliminate a resume with a photo on it because it may open them up for a discrimination lawsuit
Last thing, take a deep breath. You’ve got this! If you are still unsure or want some more help, check out these resources at Monster.com, NovoResume and Resume Genius.