6 Tips for Creating an Exceptional Resume
Hiring managers only spend several seconds looking at your resume for the first time. With so little time to make an impression, it’s crucial to know the tricks and tips for making your resume stand out (in a positive way, that is) from the rest.
Each year brings changes to resume standards. If you haven’t searched for a new job in a while, you’ll want to catch up on what a great resume looks like today. These six tips will bring you up to speed on not only what hiring managers expect, but how to exceed those expectations and create a resume that’s both unique and impressive:
1. Use the right keywords
Hiring managers are often on the lookout for specific keywords when they review your resume. Many companies also use software that automatically scans resumes for keywords and discards any that don’t meet requirements. Including the right balance of keywords in your resume can set you apart from other candidates.
First, search for keywords that are relevant to your industry and incorporate the top few into your resume. When you find a specific job, look for keywords in the job posting and tailor your resume to that job. The Requirements and Qualifications sections of the job posting are great places to look for these words.
Finally, explore the company website—are there any keywords used frequently on the home page? How about in the About Us section? Where it makes sense, incorporate a couple of these as well. Remember not to overdo it on this step, or you’ll be guilty of what’s known as keyword stuffing. Only use keywords where they’ll make an impact in your resume and where they make sense with your qualifications.
2. Capture attention with a short summary
Hiring managers used to expect an objective statement at the top of your resume, but be aware: these are now considered outdated. Instead, include a concise professional summary that describes your relevant qualifications and experience. This is the teaser or hook of your resume; it’s what draws in the reader. You have the opportunity to make your summary not only impactful, but unique to you.
Our tip? Write your professional summary last. By then, you’ll have a better sense of what your top accomplishments are and can emphasize them here. This is also your chance to share anything relevant to your job search that you want the hiring manager to know. For example, if you’re changing industries, you could include what’s motivating you to do so in the summary.
3. Display sections to your advantage
Your resume doesn’t have to follow a precise order. Yes, your name, contact information, and professional summary needs to be at the top, but the rest of the resume is fair game for customization. Think about what areas of your resume are most impactful and place those at the top. Do you have highly specialized skills that you want to highlight? Insert a skills section right after your professional summary. Or maybe your work experience speaks for itself and you want to list it near the top. In any case, keep in mind that your resume is meant to tell a story about your professional self; every person has a unique story so don’t feel pressured to follow someone else’s exact format.
Several resume sections are optional as well and what you choose to include will depend on what you want to highlight about yourself. For some individuals or for specific jobs, it can be relevant to feature information on certifications, volunteer experience, educational courses, or other activities. But don’t add these items just to fill space; only feature them if they’re relevant to your professional history and the job to which you’re applying.
4. Describe your achievements, not your job duties
Here’s the truth: hiring managers aren’t actually interested in what your previous job descriptions were. Rather, they want to hear about what impact you had in those roles. Instead of describing your duties under work experience, talk about the results you achieved in each position. If you can, highlight concrete metrics that support those achievements. For example, “Created a more efficient process for handling customer feedback that allowed the team to process about 30% more feedback items per week” sounds much more impressive than “Managed system for processing customer feedback.” Demonstrate your impact wherever you can.
Note also the use of action verbs in the above examples. Always use action verbs when describing your work experience, like “planned,” “increased,” or “resolved.” Here’s a great list of 222 action verbs to consider featuring in your resume if you want some ideas.
5. Use a visually appealing format
No hiring manager wants to read a resume with huge chunks of text. On the flip side, a sparse resume with a lot of white space makes it appear as though you don’t have enough qualifications to fill up the page. To strike a balance between the two, there are several tips that can help you create a professional resume that’s easy-to-read and visually appealing:
- Apply one-inch margins (or as close to one-inch as possible).
- Use a professional font (Arial is a great option).
- Single-space your text.
- Select a standard font size that’s easily readable for most individuals. If you’re trying to squeeze in a lot of text by reducing your font size by several points, you’re better off cutting out less important information.
- Be concise. This will help you avoid text walls that hiring managers don’t want to read.
- Use bullets as much as possible. Other than your professional summary, the other sections of your resume likely need to be in bullet form. This makes it easier for a hiring manager to capture key information at a glance.
- Unless you’re in a creative industry, avoid any visuals, colorful fonts, or other graphic elements. These aren’t professional.
Take the time to format your resume properly. Hiring managers will appreciate the ability to understand quickly what you bring to the table, and they won’t immediately toss your resume for poor readability.
6. Proofread, proofread, and proofread again
You don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons: typos, misspelled words, or poor sentence structures. Many hiring managers will discard resumes that feature errors even if you’re otherwise qualified for the job. The solution? Proofread your resume over and over again. Read it out loud to yourself to catch any strangely-worded sentences. Most importantly, send your resume to someone else (ideally several others) to proofread it. Only after several review cycles should you feel confident sending your resume out to companies.
As your first impression with a potential employer, a standout resume could elevate you from being perceived as an average job candidate to one to watch during the hiring process. Take the time to apply best practices to your resume and don’t be afraid to seek out resume help and advice from friends, family, and mentors.