Looking for a new job is exciting, but all the legwork involved can be a grind. There are so many details to attend to — researching prospective employers, lining up professional references, practicing interviewing skills and checking the salary range for your role. It can be tempting to recycle an old resume and top it off with your newest work experience just to save yourself some time and hassle.
Resist that impulse. If you’re hoping to score an interview for that dream job, you need a freshly polished, customized document that will grab readers’ attention. While applying for different positions may not require building your resume from scratch each time, you will still need to tailor this vital document for every application. It is worth the effort, too, because it can go a long way toward underscoring your interest in a specific job and company.
If you aren’t sure how to write a resume that will stand out, you’ve come to the right place. Here are several recommendations — seven, in fact — for building a resume that can help you increase your chances of landing a job interview.
7 resume writing tips that can set you apart
Every list of resume writing tips will tell you the same thing: Start with your contact information. Your name, phone number, email address and, if applicable, links to your website and LinkedIn profile. Then, list all the jobs you’ve had.
But there’s much more to it than that. If you want hiring managers to give your resume more than a quick scan, you need to hook them from the start — and that brings us to our first tip:
Tip #1. Craft a compelling lead
The top of the page is valuable real estate for sharing your job candidate “story.”
Back in the day, resumes had an objective statement just below the contact info that explained what type of job a candidate was seeking. But today, many hiring managers and recruiters expect to see a short, snappy paragraph that’s more like a profile.
Think of these important two or three sentences as your 30-second elevator pitch: They should quickly summarize your experience and training, and highlight your relevant skills for the role you’re seeking.
Expand on your qualifications deeper in your resume — and in your cover letter, too.
When you’re in a job interview, you need to be ready to answer some form of this question: “Why do you want to work here?” See this post for insight on preparing and delivering a solid response.
Tip #2. Show your impact
The bulk of your resume should focus on your work experience. List your past jobs in chronological order, from most recent to oldest, and take a results-driven approach to describe your duties and accomplishments. That means including meaningful information about how you added value to a project or the company.
To show how you excelled in the position, use action verbs, give specific examples and add quantifiable results. Don’t simply say, “oversaw project management,” for instance. Instead, give a concise project description and highlight your specific role. For example: “Project manager for a six-person team responsible for launching a new product line on an aggressive timeline.”
Also, include concrete numbers that show your impact. For instance, were you able to help the company reduce costs? Did your work contribute directly to boosting the company’s sales growth? If you don’t have that kind of data, report the solutions your team delivered or other project outcomes. The goal is to explain how you made a difference.
Tip #3. Include your soft skills
Remember that interpersonal skills are critical to your career success. Effective writing and verbal communication, critical thinking, time management, creativity, and problem-solving abilities are all highly prized today. It’s important to add them to your resume and cover letter.
But don't just list these skills. Look for other ways to help them come through in your job application. If you take the time to write a resume and cover letter that are well-organized, free of grammatical and spelling errors (see tip #7) and tailored for the role you’re applying for, those documents will help showcase your writing skills. You can also frame your work history and accomplishments to underscore abilities such as collaboration, adaptability and leadership.
Other soft skills might be more difficult to demonstrate. Few of us can point to a TED talk or other online video or podcast to prove our verbal and presentation skills, for example. But we all have a LinkedIn profile. Ask a handful of your colleagues, former coworkers or others in your professional network to write recommendations that include some mention of your creativity, leadership qualities and other attributes.
Tip #4. Highlight your tech skills
Share your software skills and technical knowledge. As an example, job candidates for an administrative assistant position or similar role are expected to have Microsoft Office experience. Savvy candidates would list their proficiency levels with each of the suite’s applications and any training or certification programs completed.
Many jobs will require more advanced tech skills. Using the job description as a guide, discuss your expertise with the software required for the role. Again, you should list relevant certifications and training. Even better, include mention of relevant software in your work history to demonstrate professional experience.
Read this post for more tips on creating a compelling resume skills section.
Tip #5. Underscore your unique qualities and experience
This tip on how to write a resume is about highlighting talents relevant to the position or company. Foreign language fluency, for example, could give you an edge in getting an interview if the employer has international operations. Your role as an organizer for a Meetup group related to your industry can show leadership skills.
Whatever your passion, use your unique qualities and experiences to make yourself stand out. Many hiring managers like to gain a fuller picture of potential employees, so don’t be afraid to mention some outside interests. Just don’t go overboard by providing a laundry list of hobbies and personal pursuits. Always keep in mind that your resume is a professional document.
Robert Half has more recommendations for creating a stellar resume. Check out our list of resume do’s and don’ts here.
Tip #6. Increase your edge by including keywords
Many companies scan resumes and cover letters for the keywords used in their job postings. Tailor your resume for every job description you reply to — and that means sprinkling the document with some of the specific language that each posting uses.
For example, if an employer is seeking an applicant with experience “maintaining executives’ calendars,” use that same wording in your resume instead of a more casual phrase like “keeping track of schedules.”
Tip #7. Proofread your copy!
An employer sorting through a dozen or more resumes doesn’t need much reason to remove you from consideration. Meticulously proofread your resume for spelling and grammatical goofs. In addition to running a spell-check, read your document aloud slowly so you can focus on each word. Finally, ask a friend to double-check your work. One simple typo can kill your chances of landing an interview.
Our “Resumania™” archive is full of real and embarrassing examples of errors that crept into job seekers’ resumes. Want to know how to write a resume? Don’t write things like this:
- “Education: Earned a diploma from a very repudiated college.
- “Experience: Academic tudor.”
- “Skills: Excel at working within a tea-oriented culture.”
- “Work history: My last employer fried me for no reason.”
- “Qualifications: I ooze mangnetism.”
- “Salary requirements: Looking for a bass salary of $40,000.”
- “Referees available by request.”
The last word on building a resume (that’s good!)
Every job, every industry and every candidate will require some adjustments to these resume writing tips. Creative professionals, for instance, will want to include links to their portfolios in their resumes. And new college grads don’t have much work experience to highlight, they can still draw from class projects, labs and seminars to talk up their hard and soft skills.
When you consider how to write a resume that helps you advance your career goals, the takeaway is this: Employers want to hire people who can make an impact. And today, with so many professionals quitting their jobs or planning to leave one soon in search of something different, an employer wants to be sure they are recruiting a candidate who is serious about the opportunity on offer.
Write a tailored resume that shows a results-driven professional who is sincerely interested in the role and ready to add value to the organization, and you may soon find yourself preparing for a job interview.