Some things never go out style, though: When it comes to packaging your work experience, crisp writing and brevity still reign supreme. Add a clean, modern design and some descriptive storytelling, and you’re well on your way to landing at least an interview — if not a whole new gig.
1. Pay Attention to Format
Design matters. What you want is a balance — a smooth, clear look that’s got just enough panache to stand out. Adding a small pop of color is an easy way to spice things up without jarring the reader, says Dana Leavy-Detrick, owner of Brooklyn Resume Studio. Also, put some thought into the font you choose. Times New Roman is dated and boring, she says, but “a clean, sleek font gives a more tightened-up presentation.”
2. Make the Top Count
“The top one-third of your resume is what a recruiter or hiring manager scans to determine if they will read the rest … and they only give it three seconds,” says career coach Jennifer Braganza. Make yours an attention grabber: Point the reader to places where you have samples of your work product — LinkedIn, a personal website — and add your phone and email address. Bonus tip: If you’re still using a Hotmail or Yahoo account, now’s the time to get a Gmail address — or, if applicable, an email tied to your website. “Having a Yahoo, AOL, or education-based email address makes you look like you’re living in the past,” says Christy Hopkins, human resources consultant at Fit Small Business.
3. Promote Your Brand
If you’ve still got an objective section underneath your header, dump it. You want to show what you can do for an employer, not what they can do for you, says Sam Nolan, a professional resume writer and the blogger behind the career advice column “Dear Sam.”
(Some resume elements in the above courtesy of Wendy Enelow; downloadable template here.)
“A qualification summary should take up the most valuable real estate on your resume,” Nolan says. “The point is to highlight what you can’t afford a potential employer to miss … It’s a high-level overview of your candidacy.”
This should also parallel the “Summary” section on your LinkedIn page, which serves as a virtual resume, says professional resume writer Laurie J. James. In both places, you’ll want language that calls out some of the achievements and attributes that make you most valuable to an employer.
4. Emphasize Key Skills
Also near the top, catch the hiring manager’s attention by emphasizing your skill set. Doing so cements the value you can bring to the role, as opposed to what you’re looking for in a job, Leavy-Detrick says.
As you eye different postings, rework this section to emphasize the skills that make the most sense for each (rather than using the same boilerplate language for every job). Applicant tracking systems, or the software used to scan resumes, look for relevant keywords to move a candidate forward. The trick to making it in the “yes” pile, Nolan says, is to identify phrases from the job posting and mirror them on your resume.
Also note: No bot, nor human, is looking specifically for soft skills, James points out. So delete overused phrases like “quick learner,” “hard worker,” and ”great attitude,” and sub in a list of hard skills. Distinguishable tech and social media knowledge is particularly relevant in today’s job market, she says. (And no, the Microsoft Office suite doesn’t count.)
5. Highlight Performance
Don’t make hiring managers hunt for your achievements, says executive resume writer Laura Smith-Proulx. Instead, pull out a standalone summary of what you’ve accomplished. This is another place where you want to tailor the mix of awards and benchmarks to a job you’re applying for. If you were promoted, why? If you saved your department money, how much? Did you successfully lead a high-stakes project? How?
If you’re having trouble populating this section, Smith-Proulx suggests looking to past performance reviews for ideas. What have your bosses and coworkers said that you do better than anyone else? Or, as Smith-Proulx puts it, “What is your superpower?” Differentiate this section from the summary at the top by focusing on quantifiable evidence. Think dollar signs and percentage points.
6. Show Key Work Metrics
When you get to your work experience, don’t just list titles and dates. Use a few lines of text to weave a story for hiring managers. When did you change industries? Why were you promoted? Where do you aim to go next?
Then, use bullet points to back your claims with relevant facts and figures. “The only way to make yourself look unique is to dig into what you did beyond the expected,” Nolan says. Statistics are an easy way to prove you did more than the job description demanded.
7. Control Your Timeline
Your resume is a selection of your most relevant work history. If you’re anything beyond an entry-level employee, your internships and other early jobs are taking up valuable space, Smith-Proulx says.
Omit experience that dates back further than 10 years unless it’s essential to your narrative — say, an internship with Jeff Bezos that changed your career trajectory. You can also leave out graduation dates. No sense giving an ageist hiring manager an excuse to pass you over because you’re too young — or too old.