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How To Write A Resume: 17 HR Professionals & Resume Writing Experts Share Their Tips

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Writing a resume is a pain, but something that the vast majority of us will have to deal with at some time (and probably multiple times) in our life. That’s why we’ve put together this resource: to give people a compilation of useful, actionable advice from people who definitely know what they’re talking about. Below, you’ll find input from HR professionals, people with years of experience writing resumes, and hiring managers.

Here’s the query I sent out on the journalism sites I belong to:

What should people pay attention to with their resume and what’s the #1 tip you can share for improving most people’s resumes?

I also personally reached out to many different HR professionals seeking their input, and have included only the best responses below.

Here’s a rundown of what people have submitted so far (if you’re qualified to speak on this topic, you can also make a submission here):

  • List what you actually accomplished, rather than just the job responsibilities copy & pasted from the job description – the more detail the better, and it’s great if you can use numbers (eg. “improved sales revenue by $XXX,XXX in X months”) (link, link) (EDITORS NOTE: this one is very important!)
  • Similar to the above, describe the benefits of what you’ve done before in active language (link)
  • Consider making your resume more like a marketing flyer, than a boring list of bullet points (link) if it’s appropriate for the industry you’re applying in (for marketing roles, obviously, or any other creative roles that require an imagination). Otherwise, probably best to keep the language simple and avoiding fancy colors and designs (link) if you’re in industries like finance, law, accounting etc.
  • Online templates often sacrifice space or make your resume hard to read by applicant tracking systems (link) so it may be better to type into a plain Word document form scratch
  • Show your resume to 1) someone who can edit it for readability and typos and 2) someone in the industry who can advise you on trending language, keywords, and other desired skills (link). And proofread your resume multiple times! (spelling mistakes look very unprofessional) (link)
  • Include personal projects and examples of entrepreneurialism (link)
  • Customize your resume for each job so that only points relevant to the job you’re applying for are included (link, link), and make sure your resume includes all relevant keywords for the specific job you’re applying for (link)
  • It’s generally recommended to limit your resume to 2 pages max (link)
  • Include a 1-sentence opening statement (link)
  • Avoid cliches (link)
  • Review resumes for leaders in your niche – you can find many on LinkedIn (link)

And here are the responses we received in their entirety. Have a read through them:

Proofread the resume, then proofread it again, and then give it to someone else to proofread. This seems like a no-brainer, but so many resumes have typos and other small mistakes that should be caught and fixed when proofread.

Submitting a resume with typos and other errors not only shows a lack of attention to detail, but it also sends the message to recruiters and hiring managers that you don't care or couldn't be bothered to look over your resume before giving it to them.

So, even if you've already looked it over a million times, do it one last time and ask someone else to look it over for you as well.

--Shawna Newman, SAHM Jobs Center

PERMALINK: https://outwittrade.com/how-to-write-a-resume#shawna

First off, an updated and well-organized resume is important because you want yours to stand out among the sea of job-seekers. You want recruiters to see your best skills and assets with just one look, and you also want to guide their eye towards all the important highlights in your resume. So keep it clean and keep it updated.

The most important thing we look for in resumes is the keywords. We look for certain words in your resume that would tick our boxes if you're fit for the job. So, don't go overboard with listing all the skills you have. Tailor your resume according to the job post you're applying for, so you'll have a higher chance of getting the job.

As for writing a resume, I recommend using the Combination format. So the top of the resume should be your contact information (email, phone number, address, website, LinkedIn, Twitter). I also recommend having a quick bio on there about who you are and what you do. This should be followed by your skills summary, additional skills, experience, and education.

You should write your resume in bullet points. I don't want to see complete paragraphs because I don't have the time to read it when I've got a lot on my plate. Also, start every bullet point with an action word.

One last tip, don't just create one resume to send out to all job applications. Instead, tailor your words and format to the position and company you're applying for. Consider the company or job post's important keywords as well.

--Tom De Spiegelaere, Tom Spicky

PERMALINK: https://outwittrade.com/how-to-write-a-resume#tom

Most people use the same resume to apply for different roles. However, if you really want to land this job - the resume has to be tailored to the role and here is why:

Reason 1: They are fed into a company's applicant tracking system or other resume scanning tools. The system searches through resumes and finds those with the keywords most relevant to the role.

Reason 2: Your resume needs to show the potential employer how you can meet their specific needs. You need to make sure that your resume addresses their needs and explains how you can fulfill them. You will attract the hiring manager's attention by giving them what they want.

--David Morneau, inBeat

PERMALINK: https://outwittrade.com/how-to-write-a-resume#david

Consider reviewing some leading resume examples. Many professionals post their resumes online. Take a good look at LinkedIn – you will be surprised at how many examples you can find on a single platform.

--Thomas Bradbury, GetSongkey

PERMALINK: https://outwittrade.com/how-to-write-a-resume#thomas

One of the best ways for people to improve their resume is to research the roles they’re pursuing. By conducting research into the essential criteria and the company’s values, candidates can tailor their resume to the role they’re applying for. Tailored resumes are much more effective as they articulate what makes candidates the ideal fit for the job.

Replacing clichés is another great way of improving your resume. Some adjectives and verbs have been so overused on resumes over the years that they’ve become clichés. Common clichés include ‘hardworking’ and ‘self-starter’. These clichés add little value as recruiters see them on the majority of resumes. Instead of these overused words, choose powerful verbs and adjectives that bring your writing to life.

--Neil Faragher, CV Nation

PERMALINK: https://outwittrade.com/how-to-write-a-resume#neil

Tailor by Keywords - A top tip to remember when writing your resume is that you should not be submitting the exact same resume to multiple job postings. Besides the fact that it’s unprofessional, it’s rare that each job will have the exact same requirements regardless of how similar the role is. With this in mind, when tailoring your resume it can be useful to pick out keywords from the particular job posting and insert them in your resume. This immediately shows hiring managers that you have the skills and experience of the ideal candidate.

Easy to Read - When you’re putting together your resume, your main concern should be that it’s easy to read. Employers are spending less and less time reading full resumes which means that overcomplicating the layout, font, and style can cause managers to simply skip over your application. Keep it simple, make sure it’s clear what your points are, and that the font is readable at a glance.

--Stephanie Lane, Safe Space Hub

PERMALINK: https://outwittrade.com/how-to-write-a-resume#stephanie

I've been writing resumes professionally for decades and pioneered the while-you-wait resume in 1984.

I have only one rule: make the client look as good as I can for the types of jobs they're going for, without lying.

My entire resume writing philosophy is based on highlighting each of my clients' unique strengths for the types of positions they want. I don't believe in cookie-cutter resumes and craft each one individually. I always include experience and almost always include education. But sometimes I might subdivide the experience into relevant and other, or into two or three types of positions that are all relevant. Sometimes I will include a skills or volunteer/community section, travel, or whatever else makes sense for that job seeker applying for that job.

Put yourself in the head of the hiring manager for this position. What do they want to see? How can you give it to them without lying? (NEVER lie on a resume!) Will the resume be scanned by computers before a human being reads it? (This changes the way you write the resume, because you need to make sure you've included the most likely terms they might search for.)

I recommend NOT using a template, and especially not using the one built into Microsoft Word. I write my resumes in Word, using a document that stores some paragraph formats I use a lot when writing them. I also recommend that you format with the least intrusive and easiest to modify method. So for instance, never use the spacebar to center a line. If you change fonts or font size, you'll have to do it over again. Click on the centered text icon instead.

Finally, I strongly recommend a critique from a professional resume writer. Just as you'd want a lawyer to review any legal document, you want an expert's eye. I have just switched to offering critiques at no charge. Also show it to a few people who know you well and can tell you if you left out anything important.

--Shel Horowitz, Accurate Writing

PERMALINK: https://outwittrade.com/how-to-write-a-resume#shel

The resume needs to grab an employer’s attention within the first 20 to 30 seconds of being read. In order to do that, the top of your resume should include a powerful opening statement followed by achievements.

The Opening Statement

Think of this statement as your own personal branding tool which means marketing yourself in a unique way. The opening statement should include: who you are, your biggest strength, and what benefit you bring to them.

Example of an opening statement

Top- producing Business Development Manager with outstanding success in building and maintaining relationships, establishing high-profit accounts with excellent levels of retention and loyalty.

Achievements

This section should include 3 to 5 achievements saying what you did and the result. This section can include any awards or recognition you received for the work you have completed.

Example Enhanced staff morale through a six-month incentive program that also instigated a major increase in sales.

--Cori Sachais, Mindful Recruiting Solutions

PERMALINK: https://outwittrade.com/how-to-write-a-resume#cori

My first tip is to limit your resume to two pages max. The first couple of seconds are what matter most so you want the crucial elements to catch the recruiter's eye immediately. My second tip has to do with your level of professional experience. Senior candidates should showcase their rich work experience by placing it at the top of their resumes. Juniors, on the other hand, should lead with their studies. Finally, my third tip is to customize your resume to match the type of job you're looking for. If you're applying for both Account Manager and Sales Representative positions, for instance, you should be sending out two different resumes that highlight your most relevant qualifications for a given role.

--Carlota Alcazar Antras, Smallpdf

PERMALINK: https://outwittrade.com/how-to-write-a-resume#carlota

When describing a role, don’t simply list off the responsibilities of the job. If you’re going to impress your new leader, describe benefits they can picture as important to their team. This approach demonstrates you’ll think deeply about the priorities of their business.

BEFORE - Any restaurant worker might write this:

I Changed the deep-fryer oil weekly.

I Cleaned out the walk in refrigerator.

I Followed company procedures.

AFTER - A worker who will help any business will focus on the benefits:

I ensured customers consistently had great tasting food by properly maintaining our equipment, and ensured our ingredients were kept fresh.

BEFORE - A store manager might say:

I scheduled employee shifts and holidays.

I controlled the training budget.

I handled customer complaints.

AFTER - A manager who can help any business will focus on the benefits:

Customers at my store always received the best possible service because we were adequately staffed each week and during busy holiday seasons by properly trained employees who could provide warm service and a welcoming environment.

It is a common suggestion in resume writing that you should never use “I” statements. Indeed, in the BEFORE examples this is awkward and repetitive. But if you focus on telling a story about benefits, making yourself the star of the show is not just appropriate, it’s powerful.

--Tim Sweet, Team Work Excellence

PERMALINK: https://outwittrade.com/how-to-write-a-resume#tim

#1 Resume tip: One of the most significant improvements that a person can make in their resume (that can enhance its performance) is to focus on relevancy. By relevancy, I mean, does the content of your resume relate to each specific job posting?

People naturally gravitate towards content and details that relate to them. Employers are no different. They are searching for particular offerings and skillsets in a resume to support their job opening, and they will spend more time reading a resume that relates to their unique needs.

General resumes don't work. I speak with a lot of job seekers who are using one single resume to apply for various applications and then feeling frustrated by lack of response. Poor resume performance is often due to a lack of customization and relevancy.

Yes, you need to customize your resume for every job. Many people feel overwhelmed by customization, but this doesn't mean you have to rebuild your resume from scratch every time. I recommend creating a strong starter file that you can build from or make small modifications to quickly. Customization doesn't have to be lengthy or tedious to be effective.

Read your resume before you send it off and ask yourself: is this point, is this detail, is this content relevant to THIS target job? If not, modify, replace, or remove facts.

--Adrienne Tom, Career Impressions

PERMALINK: https://outwittrade.com/how-to-write-a-resume#adrienne

The most important piece of advice I would give to someone writing a resume is to talk about personal projects and entrepreneurial activities. This demonstrates scrappiness, initiative and the types of traits that are incredibly valued by employers. This separates a candidate from the rest of the bunch because they can speak to real-life examples of their work and how they have applied their passions in real life. The employer can then deduce how the candidate will take that same vigor and apply it to their business.

--Kevin Miller, The Word Counter

PERMALINK: https://outwittrade.com/how-to-write-a-resume#kevin

Employers are looking for solid evidence that a candidate can quickly jump in and do the job required with as little training and ramping-up as possible. And on top of that, employers are looking for evidence of value-added, additional skills beyond the basic job description that make sense both for the position and the organization. Therefore, a resume that is tailored to that position and shows, in ten seconds or less, that you are that candidate, makes for a great resume. Diving a little deeper, it's important to realize that a combination of knowledge, expertise, skills, and personal qualities like work ethic and problem-solving are all part of that ideal candidate.

At the top of your resume, I recommend a title (What is it you do?) and possibly a professional profile. Expert Resumes by Enelow and Kursmark have great examples of this.

Avoid most online templates. They look pretty but usually sacrifice usable space or make your resume hard to read by applicant tracking systems. Instead, buy or borrow a resume book and type into a plain Word document. Your alma mater may have a basic template you can use.

Show your resume to at least two kinds of people: someone who can edit for readability and typos, and an insider expert in your desired field or industry. The latter group can advise you on trending language, keywords, and other desired skills within that profession. If you don't know any insider experts, tap your college or even high school alumni group.

My favorite resume book series is Expert Resumes by Enelow and Kursmark. The authors provide samples and advice for different groups of job seekers, including recent graduates, managers, and people returning to work after a gap. I use these all the time in my student advising sessions and my private practice.

If you are applying to large organizations, be sure to understand how application tracking systems (ATS) work and format your resume accordingly.

--Michelle Flint, Clark University

PERMALINK: https://outwittrade.com/how-to-write-a-resume#michelle

Simplicity promotes readability, and readability is king. You must keep the resume easy to read so that the hiring manager can scan it and determine whether you're a good fit. Hiring managers tend to take 7-9 seconds per resume on first read, which means you have a tiny window to leave a great first impression.

Furthermore, this means you need to keep the language simple, relevant to the field you're applying to, and avoid fancy colors and designs, unless your industry's resume practices call for it. A resume that is out of touch with the realities of your industry will do you no good.

Specifically, keep margine at .5 inch at the smallest, make sure font is at 10 at the smallest, and format your name to be the largest font on the page. When formatting your bullets, make sure all is lined up and the font is all the same. Too much differentiation between font, bullets, headings, and sections will make you seem scatterbrained. Keep it simple. Simple means you're direct and value time.

--Jason Patel, Transizion

PERMALINK: https://outwittrade.com/how-to-write-a-resume#jason

Even recruiting at senior level and C-Suite, I am often receiving resumes that need a lot of work. Most recruiters write a report for their clients about the candidate, but most don't edit the CV that the candidate has provided. This is important because the client needs to see how the candidate communicates and sells themselves.

Therefore, the CV is a pretty important document that a candidate has in the job search process. I often get calls from candidates asking what to include in a cover letter, but rarely get calls about what to include in a CV/Resume.

If you are angling for a promotion in your internal organisation, don't just rely on the fact that you are known on getting the job. Your resume still needs to reflect your skills and experience. This is particularly important in government roles.

As a good CV is, in essence, a marketing document and involves two major processes:

1. The strategic process - what role are you seeking, what direction do you want your career to go in?

2. The marketing process - marketing the product (i.e. you, your skills and experience)

Therefore, spending time understanding what you are trying to achieve in your next career move will help dramatically improve the quality of the document. A well-drafted CV that highlights your achievements that are relevant for the position will make the reader feel more positive about your suitability for the role.

Often, I will have to create an extensive report for my clients to include pertinent information that is missing from a CV that I glean from an interview. This is often fantastic quantitative information that accentuates the candidate's achievements. For example, a candidate might include information about a project that they delivered, but fail to highlight that it was not only on time but with significant cost savings.

A benefit of spending time on your CV is an increase in confidence. Very few people spend a long time focussing on their positive attributes. Some candidates that I have dealt with have reported a sense of achievement and boost to their confidence after spending a few hours concentrating on their successes. There are added benefits too - by spending time on your achievements, you will be better prepared to articulate these at an interview. Having an excellent document in front of you in an interview will also enhance your sense of achievement.

What to include?

This is a difficult question as it is often varied depending on the industry and job type, but as a general rule, listing specific achievements and quantitative information is much better than general qualitative data. I usually advise candidates to stay away from listing responsibilities that are obvious for the job title. For example:

Responsibility:

Managing a sales territory

Calling on customers

Solution selling the product range

Rather say

Responsibilities:

Managing a geographical region from Brisbane North to the Sunshine Coast with a customer base of over 100 customers and an annual budget of $3.2M

Growing the customer base from a start of 75 active customers to 103 current active customers with an increase in revenue of $250k

Responsibility:

Managing a sales territory

Calling on customers

Solution selling the product range

Rather say

Responsibilities:

Managing a geographical region from Brisbane North to the Sunshine Coast with a customer base of over 100 customers and an annual budget of $3.2M

Growing the customer base from a start of 75 active customers to 103 current active customers with an increase in revenue of $250k

--Ineke McMahon, Path to Promotion

PERMALINK: https://outwittrade.com/how-to-write-a-resume#ineke

The goal of a resume is to win a job you love—I hope. But a resume is just a shortcut. It’s like a glorified business card—a little more info, but not much more interesting. Certainly not a very marketable representation of everything you bring to the table.

Could you imagine if global brands like Nike advertised to you by mailing you a list of reasons why they’re worth more than a cursory glance, formatted in 12-point bulleted Times New Roman? Can you recall ever receiving an interesting or well-formatted voter’s guide booklet?

With a little effort, you can dramatically improve your resume by making it less like traditional resumes, and more like a marketing flyer. Include all the relevant information, of course, and don’t let the design distract from the content. But, if you’re willing to think outside the box, you’ll realize that classic resumes do a terrible job of marketing you.

For example, in your Work Experience section, include a short testimonial from a supervisor or colleague at each job. Pull from your LinkedIn recommendations if you have them, or simply reach out and ask for a few kind words.

--Jeremy Chevallier, Crash

PERMALINK: https://outwittrade.com/how-to-write-a-resume#jeremy

Without question, the single most important thing people can do to transform their resumes is shift their content from focusing on responsibilities to focusing on impact. Rather that simply saying what you did (for example, managed four direct reports in marketing department) communicate what your impact was (empowered four direct reports through hands-on leadership to deliver on aggressive revenue targets during a period of rapid scale). In addition to shifting the focus of your narrative to impact, make sure your resume provides context for your accomplishments so an employer can understand them. Finally, if you’re applying through an ATS, use a plain text Word doc so it can absorb the content. Tables, lines, and even PDFs can make it difficult for an ATS to read your resume - and if you can’t get beyond this preliminary digital gatekeeper, your resume will never make it to human eyes.

--Melody Godfred, Write in Color

PERMALINK: https://outwittrade.com/how-to-write-a-resume#melody

Katie Holmes

I am the lead editor of OutwitTrade and an accomplished writer and internet marketer. These days I spend a lot of my time organizing community discussions here, writing content, and outreaching to different people.

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