14 Essential Tips for Writing a Rockstar Resume

build a resume

Your resume is your first line of defense on the quest for a new job. Before hitting send, you should do everything you can to make your resume stand out.

Even if your work experience is perfect, a subpar resume could sink your chances of getting a job interview. But if you combine relevant experience with an effective resume, you’ll sail right into the interview stage.

How to build a resume hiring managers will notice

If you want to impress recruiters on your quest for a job, follow these 14 essential tips on how to make a good resume.

1. Think of your resume as a marketing tool

It’s easy to think of your resume as a summary of your work experience. But a resume isn’t just about listing your professional history. Rather, it’s a strategic tool for marketing your individual brand.

Consider the perspective of a recruiter. The recruiter is seeking a candidate who fits a job description and can bring value to an organization. They don’t have time to delve into your resume and figure out who you are, so you need to connect the dots for them.

As you build a resume, think strategically. Consider what you’ve accomplished in the past and what you can offer in the future. Make sure your resume tells a clear story about who you are as a professional.

When it comes to the job hunt, you need to sell yourself as the best candidate for the role.

2. Tailor your resume to each new job

Along similar lines, you won’t have much luck sending off dozens of the same resume to lots of different employers. Instead of treating your resume like a form letter, tailor it to each new role.

“One of the most common resume mistakes … is creating one single resume and sending it out to every hiring company they can find,” said career expert Jason Hill, founder of Sound Advice. “I call this the ‘shotgun approach.’ Do not do this.”

Instead, research the company and read the job description closely. Figure out exactly what the organization is looking for, then reflect those qualifications in your resume.

While changing up your resume for every application is time-consuming, it’s well worth the effort. It might help to keep a master list of all your experiences to refer back to. That way, you can keep track of which experiences you’re including and which ones you’re leaving off depending on the job.

“Make a master resume (a huge list of every single accomplishment, skill, talent, etc. that you have) and select whatever is relevant to the one specific job you’re applying for,” said Hill.

3. Curate a sleek, uncluttered design

Another way to impress a recruiter right off the bat is with a sleek, easily digestible resume design. Don’t be afraid to cut out irrelevant experience for the sake of improving readability. White space can go a long way toward making a resume more appealing.

Use a simple font such as Times New Roman or Arial in 10-, 11-, or 12-point size. If you’re seeking a creative position, you could benefit from incorporating a unique design element into your resume. Otherwise, stick to a simple, elegant design.

“You have one minute or less to make a stellar first impression,” said Hill. “Utilize bullet points, short paragraphs, measurable achievements, and industry-specific keywords to stand out above the rest. If it’s important, it’s your responsibility to make sure the recruiter sees it.”

4. Offer a skills summary right off the bat

As you start to build a resume, consider adding a skills summary to the top. Make sure to reflect the job description when you describe your own areas of proficiency.

For instance, a company hiring a digital product designer might look for someone skilled in a program like Sketch or InVision. A recruiter looking for a marketer might seek someone familiar with Google Analytics and Google AdWords.

Review the job description as you build your skills summary. That way, this section can be both accurate and tailored to the job at hand.

5. Incorporate major keywords

Every recruiter is looking for specific keywords when they first look at a resume. In fact, this initial review might not even be done by a recruiter, but rather by a computer program.

“Resumes are rarely viewed by human eyes in the first round of the hiring process,” explained Niquenya Collins, president and CEO of Building Bridges Consulting. “Instead, a computerized Applicant Tracking System (ATS) takes the first crack at narrowing the hundreds of applications received by every job announcement.”

The ATS picks out keywords and phrases that match the job description. Without them, your application could get eliminated before it even reaches human resources.

6. Ditch the personal objective statement

Career counselors used to encourage applicants to include a personal objective statement at the top of their resume. It would say something about what kind of job and organization you’re seeking.

But the objective statement has largely fallen out of favor. For one thing, recruiters tend to care more about what they’re looking for than what you’re looking for.

Another important reason is that objective statements are often too generic to add much. Unless you’re able to make an impactful statement, it won’t improve your application. It’s better to leave it off.

7. Put your work experience before your education

Unless you just graduated from college, put your work experience before your education. If you’ve been in the workforce for a few years, recruiters don’t care so much about your educational accomplishments. They want to see your professional experience and skills.

If you’re worried about age discrimination, you can leave off your year of graduation. Most organizations want to see you have a relevant degree, but don’t care as much when you got it.

8. Highlight your accomplishments rather than your responsibilities

When you build a resume, you’ll provide a few bullet points under each job title. But don’t use this space to simply describe your responsibilities. Instead, focus on your achievements.

“Don’t just rewrite the job description for your previous jobs, I promise you it won’t make an impression,” said Eleni Cotsis, a hiring manager for AllTheRooms and freelance recruiter for New York-based startups. “Explain what you accomplished and why you did the job better than someone else would have in that same position.”

For example, consider these two statements for someone in account management:

  • Handled accounts for public relations firm.
  • Managed 10 accounts in excess of $5 million annually and came in under budget by 10 percent.

The second statement is a lot better than the first because it focuses on an accomplishment. The first merely describes a duty — it doesn’t say whether the applicant was successful or not.

Plus, it quantifies the achievement, thereby making it more concrete. By providing data, you’ll leave a stronger impression than you would with a vague statement.

“Think of the mark you left on each company,” Cotsis advised. “What specific, measurable results were accomplished because you were in that position and not somebody else?”

Remember, past performance indicates future performance. By highlighting past areas of success, you’ll show the recruiter you’re similarly successful in the future.

9. Use proactive action verbs

Beyond quantifying your areas of success, also aim to use proactive action verbs. Some effective verbs for resumes include:

  • Developed
  • Implemented
  • Directed
  • Supervised
  • Created
  • Invented
  • Facilitated
  • Supplied
  • Initiated
  • Streamlined
  • Provided
  • Solved
  • Guided
  • Trained
  • Taught
  • Tracked
  • Conducted

Power verbs like these put you in the driver’s seat. If you start a bullet point with “responsible for,” you’re not saying much about what you did in the role.

As you build your resume, remember to sell yourself. If the resume could be about anyone with a similar work history, you need to rework the language to sound more proactive and unique.

10. Organize your experiences in reverse chronological order

As you put together your work experiences, order them from most to least recent. Again, recruiters are likely reviewing a lot of resumes. They want to see your career progression easily.

If your work is in reverse chronological order, they’ll be able to see the timeline right away. But you don’t have to include every job you’ve ever had in your life. Once you’ve been out of college for a few years, you probably don’t need to include that summer you sold slushies at the beach.

If you have any major employment gaps, you may want to provide a brief explanation. For instance, you could indicate the company closed or laid off a hundred workers. Or you could write you traveled internationally or went on parental leave. That way, a recruiter will understand the gap instead of seeing it as a red flag.

11. Limit your resume to one page

You may have heard the warning not to exceed one page for your resume. For most people, this old rule of thumb holds true. You should be able to communicate everything you need to say on a single page.

Of course, there may be some situations where it makes sense to exceed a page. For instance, you may need additional bandwidth if you’re applying for upper management or a professorship at a college.

But otherwise, you’ll likely be better off sticking to one page. If you’re emailing your resume, try saving it as a PDF first. That way, the recruiter will see the right page length and formatting.

12. Proofread several times

When you build a resume, you must be very detail-oriented. First, you must ensure a consistent design. Be intentional about margins, font, font size, and spacing.

Second, double check your spelling, punctuation, and word choice. And make sure your dates of employment are correct.

“Clean formatting and no typos are huge for me,” said Stephanie Prause, a corporate communications professional who works with college students on their resumes. “I almost immediately write off candidates who fail on these two items.”

A resume contains a lot of specific information. Before sending it off to an organization, check everything for accuracy.

13. Ask for advice

It can also be helpful to seek out another pair of eyes. Ask a friend or coworker to look over your resume.

When you stare at a document for a long time, sometimes you can no longer see its strengths and weaknesses. Gaining a fresh and objective perspective can help you identify areas for improvement.

14. Ramp up your LinkedIn profile

Beyond your resume, many recruiters check out your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is also a useful tool for reaching out to your network and discovering job opportunities.

So don’t forget to build your LinkedIn profile with as much care as you do your resume. Use the same principles on LinkedIn as you do in your resume.

Use action verbs and highlight your accomplishments. You can also add testimonials from past employers or coworkers.

Make sure your LinkedIn profile and resume are consistent with each other. You wouldn’t want a recruiter to ask why your LinkedIn profile tells a different story than your resume.

Go beyond the resume and make networking a priority

While your resume is an essential tool in the job hunt, networking should also be a priority. According to LinkedIn, 85 percent of all jobs get filled through networking.

You have a much better shot of getting an interview thanks to a personal or professional connection. Even with an outstanding resume, it’s tough to get noticed when you apply through a huge, anonymous job site like Monster.

Rely on your professional and college network to make industry contacts, and make sure you have an outstanding, up-to-date resume to share when you find jobs of interest.

By following these tips on how to make a good resume, you’ll be one step closer to scoring an interview for your dream job. For more on career development, learn how to find the right job in 10 steps.

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