Quick Guide to Writing a Powerful Resume - Top 6 tips to get you noticed
Updated: Feb 4
Few things are more nerve-wracking than responding to job postings by submitting your resume but not getting a call back. You know you have the skills, but the phone is not ringing for an interview and you keep hitting a dead end. One of the biggest obstacles to writing a strong, standout resume is creating a document that is succinct and yet gives a good picture that you are a knowledgeable and capable candidate for the job you seek. Often there are multiple layers to get your resume in front of the hiring manager and, let’s face it, you have to balance explaining your qualifications thoroughly with not boring the reviewers’ and losing their interest.
As you dive into writing each of your duty statements, you need to know how to make them stand out among the rest. If you haven’t read my previous blog about how to get started writing your federal resume, you might want to start there. It provides an overview of all the parts of the resume and many of the concepts apply to private sector resumes too.
Along with all the skills and knowledge you have attained throughout the years, these top 7 tips will help you rise to the top of the pile and keep your resume focused and standing out from the rest.
1. Your Resume is About You - Make it Personal
Your resume should demonstrate both how and how well you accomplished your work assignments. Did you consistently go above and beyond? Make sure it’s clear. Don’t leave your reader wondering who accomplished the duties on your list. For example, if you have a statement like this on your resume: “Provide answers to customers in email.” We assume you completed that duty, but it can be made more personal.
These general statements can often crop up when we use statements from our job description or original job announcement. Those statements are fine as a starting point, but take ownership of your work and personalize it. It would be better to say: “As a member of a 10 person customer service team, I answered approximately 50 emails per day.” Of course you probably don’t want to include “I” in every statement. You could easily leave the word “I” out if it makes you uncomfortable and the statement would still read as if you own it. Just including a few more details about what you actually do in a day personalizes the statement more.
2. Know Where the Action is Happening
What we write should be direct, in an active voice, and using the least amount of jargon as possible. I admit, I fail at this often. As a woman with a degree in English, I could bore you with all behind-the-scenes of active- and passive-voice sentences, but I won’t. (You’re welcome!) Essentially, if you start seeing phrases where what you are talking about (the object of the sentence) is before the verb such as, “Ensure email are sent”, “Reports are reviewed for accuracy” then you have some passive phrases popping up. Try keeping passive phrases to a minimum by putting yourself in the statement, whether you use “I” or not. Try flipping your verb to show up before your object and say, ”Reviewed reports for accuracy”, then of course add some personalization like we talked about above.
For your resume, however, you need to get really focused. Don’t list your responsibilities in long sentences where the hiring manager will get “lost” in what you are trying to say. You also don’t want duty statements so short there’s no real way to highlight your skills.
3. Explain the Size and Scope
You want to communicate over and over three things: what you do, how well you do your job (accomplishments), and with whom you work with or serve. With each duty you have or had in a previous job, think about how often you repeat that duty, who you reach or serve, and finally, what is the impact of your actions.
One recommendation to understand the size and scope of each job duty is to ask a friend, who is outside your workplace or direct organization, to read your resume and start asking you questions, and take notes, until they become clear on what you do. Let’s say one of your duties is to “take staff meeting notes”. Your friend may ask, “how often is the meeting?; who attends?; do you have other responsibilities within the meeting?; how fast do you get the meeting notes out after the meeting?; do you review and edit your notes to ensure they are error free?” Those details turn your duty statement into something like this: “Serve as notetaker for weekly staff meetings, with 20 people in attendance. Ensure agenda and timeframe are adhered to. Complete and send error-free typed notes to all staff and leadership within 1 day of meeting.”
You could ask yourself these questions but you might be a little too close to the work to really see how you impact the outcome. Even as a resume writer, it is sometimes hard for me to coax the details out of my clients. They just don’t see the details because they say it’s just part of “what they do”. I recommend having more details and then removing at the end and leaving only those things that pertain to the job you are applying for to make you really stand out.
4. Don’t be (too) Shy - Share your Contributions!
For some of us, me included, bragging about how well you did something or how awesome you are is outside our comfort zone. But writing your resume will require you to be less self-deprecating. Please don’t take this to mean you can lie. Just look at your attributes and figure out what you like in yourself that would make you hire you. Are you energetic, cooperative, competent? Instead of saying you “helped” on a task, can you say what specific action you took to help your team such as organized, planned, led? What do your peers seek you out for because they see you as an expert? Did you reorganize the office files or did you completely redesign the files for better efficiency and information management?
How you present your significance in each role might influence how much that hiring manager will want to talk to you. Look for those weak verbs and see where you can make your statements more powerful. Again, another set of eyes reading your resume will help pull these out.
5. Build Confidence
What is surprising about a strong duty statement? It builds both the employer’s confidence in what you know and can do and it builds your confidence too! Let me share a quick story. Many years ago, when I was making my career change from Public Affairs to Training and Development, I allowed my current supervisor to review my resume before I submitted it for the new job. A little weird, I know. She was so kind to work with me to strengthen my duty statements and add in those adjectives and adverbs that took my statements from “Write news articles and other communications for customers.” to “Provided a high level of customer service by preparing and delivering written communications such as news articles, e-mail, and scripts often with short deadlines.”
Can you imagine how I felt about my own work after she helped me write such a strong statement? Having these types of statements on your resume will help build your confidence in your job search right through your interview. Begin to formulate real-life stories around your duties to further help the hiring manager see how you will be an asset in their organization.
6. Read, Reread, Adjust
As with any written document, read, reread, triple read, and then have someone else read your resume. I also rely on spell and grammar check before sending a document off to cyberspace. Your resume is the most representative document of who you are while job hunting, so get in an undistracted space, leave your phone in another room and read through each line. If you are a paper junkie like me, print it out and have a pencil ready to mark errors. You’ll regret not doing so, trust me. And if you do find an error after sending it off, it’s okay! We are humans not robots. Make the change for next time and keep it moving.
Finally, adjust your resume to be a good fit for different jobs. Resumes are not one size fits all. Use the job announcement or company’s profile to tweak your resume to speak to the manager reading it. If the announcement is for someone who analyzes data, and you have not mentioned once how you regularly analyze data, you’ll need to update your resume to include that duty. Or at least re-word another duty statement to include your analyst work. You may have 3-4 resume versions as you move along your job search.
Now that you know the tips to write a perfectly powerful and personal resume, you are well on your way to making your dream job your reality.
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