Do's and Don'ts of Writing a Powerful Resume
In today’s tough job market, it’s more important than ever to create a strong resume that stands out in the crowd. Here are a few pointers for writing a strong resume that gets noticed—and gets you an interview.
Do get the big picture
What are you best at? As you write your resume and categorize your achievements, you should notice some overarching themes that come up again and again. Maybe you’re really good at turning around struggling divisions or operations. Or maybe your talent lies with conflict management or personnel training. Once you’ve written out a description of your duties and achievements for each past position, you should start to spot some overall talents and abilities that will help sell you in a cover letter or positioning paragraph at the start of your resume.
Do separate your duties from your achievements
Under each job, you should write a summary of your daily duties—so recruiters can get a good idea of the level of responsibility you’re used to handling—as well as your specific, concrete achievements in that position. When writing this section, it’s critical to keep achievements and daily duties separate. You want your achievements to stand out to recruiters. So don’t bury them in a single large paragraph among your daily duties. And don’t write a bulleted list containing your duties and your achievements mixed together; this won’t help anything stand out either.
Instead, write a single paragraph outlining your normal daily responsibilities. Underneath that, include a bulleted list showing your specific achievements. This will help your audience spot each quickly in a fast scan of your resume.
Do be concrete
When writing a successful resume, your specific achievements are what will play the biggest role in selling you as a candidate. Pay attention to the concrete benefits you brought to specific company operations in each of your past roles. This is often easiest for people in sales, who can cite concrete dollar amounts that translate to recruiters and hiring managers as direct value.
But even if you weren’t in a sales position, there are plenty of ways you could have helped your company perform better. Maybe you automated a process and saved your company time. Or maybe you reduced waste, trained other employees, improved communications, or got projects done well within specified time frames. Specific numbers are often your best way to sell yourself—but if you don’t have them, outline specific achievements that improved your company in some concrete way.
Don’t lose focus
Many people feel it’s a good idea to include items in their resume that aren’t relevant to the job—things like their volunteer experience, time spent on the PTA or church involvement. Unless it’s directly relevant to the job, however, these things generally don’t belong on a professional-level resume. In some cases, they may give a bad impression—hiring managers may take heavy involvement in extracurricular activities as a sign that you won’t be 100% devoted to the job. Keep your resume focused on experiences and activities that demonstrate your qualifications—don’t try to look well-rounded.
Do use powerful language
Using strong, dynamic language generates excitement about you and makes your achievements stand out to best effect. Start every sentence detailing your job duties with a strong, action-oriented verb. Avoid passive and mundane language and avoid starting a sentence in your achievements or job duties sections with anything but a verb. Have several people read your resume over before you send it out to make sure it sounds as good as you think it does.
Do use jargon
In most cases, industry jargon doesn’t add to the clarity of your writing—but in the case of a resume, using some jargon is an easy shortcut to demonstrating your familiarity with the industry. Use it sparingly, but don’t be afraid to use well-known industry terms and acronyms instead of writing out words and phrases.
In today’s competitive job market, your resume is likely to be competing with hundreds of others for each job you apply for. In many cases, the strength of your writing can do as much to get you an interview as your actual achievements and experience. Take the time to create a strong document that sells you to best effect, and you’re much more likely to get in the front door.
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