Creating a phenomenal resume is easier than you might think. It doesn’t matter whether you’re new to the workforce or a seasoned professional; with the right mindset and a few marketing tricks, you can create a resume that stands above the crowd.
In this article, I’ll show you how to craft a killer resume and I’ll provide real-life examples from my own resume – a resume that has opened doors for me that I never thought possible. The most important thing to remember is this:
Your resume is a marketing document. You are a salesperson, and you are the product.
To be an effective salesperson, you need a firm understanding of exactly what skills you bring to the table. You need the ability to articulate those skills on your resume, on job board applications, to the recruiter who screens you, and to the hiring manager who interviews you.
Before you create a resume, you’ll need to craft a skills listing. I recommend taking a break to go read my skills listing article if you have not done so already. Assuming you have created a skills listing, let’s move on.
First, you’ll need to generate a summary statement. This is comprised of short a 2-3 sentence paragraph summarizing your career. If you’re new to the workforce, summarize what you’ve done at jobs, school activities, and any volunteer work.
For your summary, you’ll want to take a broader view of your work life. Give readers a bird’s eye view of exactly what your experience includes. Limit your summary to three or four sentences using information from your skills listing.
Notice that in the example below, the two-sentence summary is distinct from the detailed accomplishments that follow in the next section. This is important. You don’t want to repeat yourself. You want to project variety on your resume.
Here’s the example:
I’ll admit, my summary includes some “boring” words you’re supposed to avoid when job hunting. You’re not supposed to say you’re organized (yawn), and you’re not supposed to use “demonstrated experience.” However, these qualities never go out of date. Okay. The difference is how you present them.
The key is to bundle tired old stereotypes into something fresh and new by using active language. Someone else might say: “Organized HR Professional” in a bullet point. They might say “Demonstrated experience in HR” in the next bullet point. Blah blah blah – Fail.
Study the action phrases in the summary and look at how they connect to each other. Instead of using bullets, I connected two sentences in a summary to show that I have improved HR departments. I get away with utilizing tired words by spinning them in a way that pops.
After completing the summary, we get into your experience. In this section, you will include a short summary under each job, your accomplishments, and details supporting your accomplishments. Aim to be swift, get to the point quickly, and grab attention.
Here’s something I rarely see on resumes that will put you on top: Explain the nature of the business you worked for. In the example above, you can see that I described what the company does: “Statewide social services agency treating substance use disorder and mental health”. If you’ve only worked in one industry, this is less important. If you’ve hopped around to jobs in different industries, this information is helpful for recruiters and managers, especially if the industries you’ve worked in are relevant to the job you’re applying for.
Below the description of the industry, I summarized my overall job duties, limiting the summary to 3 sentences. You want to pull from the “standard duties” section of your skills listing, and then rephrase it to the best of your ability.
You’ll soon notice a theme here – limiting content to 2-3 sentences. I did this in the overall summary statement at the top and retained this format for the short summary under each job. Why? Because it saves precious real estate on the resume, and it forces you to get creative and come generate action words and phrases. Choose items from your skills listing document that are the most attention-grabbing, and rephrase your duties as needed to make them pop.
Now let’s move into the Accomplishments section.
As you view the bullet points above, let’s revisit themes from the skills listing article for a moment:
Did you save your employer money? Time? Did you do an unpleasant task that nobody else wanted to touch? These are all powerful accomplishments. And remember that saving time IS saving money.
Be sure to use action words where you can. For example, I say, “Discovered qualified candidates using Indeed Resume Search and other tools.” I could have said “found quality candidates”, but instead I say “Discover”. Which word makes a bigger impact? It’s the same thing, but “discover” is much stronger than “found”.
You’ll notice that I stick to the 3-sentence job summary + 3 bullet point accomplishments format throughout my resume. This is an excellent marketing approach. Your goal is to aim for consistency, but within that tight and consistent format, you want to create variety and “pop”.
My next job listing is a great example of making up accomplishments where you don’t have legit “accomplishments” in the traditional sense. Hey, we’ve all been there. You cannot have glowing accomplishments at every short-term gig you work, okay. But let me show you how to navigate that challenge.
Notice that, again, the accomplishments section does not repeat what is contained in the job summary. The summary provides a broad overview of the job, and the accomplishments demonstrate how you really shine.
One effective way to divide your job experiences into summary vs. accomplishments is to start by making a huge list of what you’ve done at each job. This is covered in my skills listing article.
Come up with 10 or 12 sentences per each job. Review your list and discern which duties you have listed might qualify as “accomplishments” versus “duties”. Divide the potential accomplishment list into “strong” versus “weak” accomplishments. Use the “strong” accomplishments as bona fide accomplishments and insert the “weak” accomplishments into the job summary where possible.
Back to the example – I had plenty of accomplishments at Pope’s Kid’s Place. To keep the format consistent, I limited my bullets to 3. The first two sentences in the summary are duties that I determined to be accomplishments. I did process improvement and made an HR business plan for this employer. These are accomplishments.
But the three sentences I used under “accomplishments” listed here were stronger as bullets (in my opinion), so I used them as bullets. We have 5 total accomplishments in total here, but two of them are craftily tucked into the summary.
Be crafty! It’s your life, and it’s your career path. If you’ve hit the ball out of the park and you can sneak “accomplishments” into your summary section while saving resume space for the next job, you’re doing great.
Next, we have another less influential job, my time at Columbia Bank. This is another example of getting creative where your ability to affect change and stand out in your role is severely limited.
Remember, little changes can be accomplishments. They look good to your manager, and if you plan on sticking with the company for the long haul, these types of little accomplishments can position you for a promotion.
These are three accomplishments related to organization and auditing. Reconciling overdue past audit reports, creating a new storage system, and auditing current reports. As always, when building a resume, you aim to use action words at every opportunity: “Reconciled, eliminated, audited, selected, created, managed, saved, discovered, improved”. You can look at each of the screen snips and identify the action words. Observe how I use them in sentences.
The middle accomplishment (bullet point 2) is simple. I convinced my manager to let me scan the hard files onto the general HR drive for easier auditing. This sentence dresses up that simple change. Study how I manipulate this simple action into something impressive sounding. I state how the problem was solved and the action I took.
At this point, you probably have the summary portion of resumes down. For the next job, we’ll just focus on the accomplishments at my very first HR job.
If you received any kind of customer service recognition or award, that is an accomplishment. This was another job where I had more freedom to change and improve things. so, I created a new tracking process for HR certifications.
Above, I state that I brought missing certifications down from 75% to 15-20% per month. Earlier on my resume, I stated that I brought the files into 95% compliance. At this point you might wonder – “how do you come up with these percentages!?”
Simple – You estimate, to the best of your ability. Unless you work for someone who tracks exact metrics, you estimate using your memory and you aim for honest accuracy. Why didn’t I just say, “Improved certification compliance?” By using my memory to spin this into a percentage range, this accomplishment becomes far more credible. And credibility is powerful. This is marketing. This is business. Money talks, percentages talk.
To provide some context here, certification compliance in HR will never be 100%. Okay. If you’re down to 10-15% per month non-compliance at a big company with a lot of employees, tons of trainings and certifications, you’re doing quite well.
Apply this to your industry. Is there something you track that can never be 100%, but you improved it as good as 75-85 percent? Did you improve tracking on any process at your company? Approximately what is that improvement percentage, using your honest memory recall?
Do you have another situation you can apply from your work life? For me, it’s those required employee certifications. What might this be for you? Is there something you improved that isn’t normally tracked officially in metrics? Can you spin a percentage on it?
A promotion is an accomplishment, obviously. Running an entire department by yourself is also an accomplishment. Chances are you could barely hang onto your hat! If you ran a whole department by yourself and survived, brag about it on your resume!
The education section is usually listed after you’ve listed all your jobs. I’ve seen younger candidates place education at the top of the resume. Fail. When you list education on top of your resume, you are screaming “I don’t have any relevant experience”.
It’s true – you don’t have the required experience yet – but you can get around that little problem by listing your most relevant work experiences that you believe relate to this position, and by writing a phenomenal cover letter. List your education at the bottom of your (presumably) one page resume where managers will quickly see (and be impressed by) your degree anyway.
List any relevant work and volunteer experience first on your resume (dig deep and get creative), write an excellent cover letter where you mention your recent degree and how passionate you are about the field, then put education at the bottom of your resume.
*Are you an older grad, 30’s through 50’s? No worries. Your resume might be 2-3 pages rather than one page. If you have the qualities, general experience and demonstrated work ethic they need, they’ll quickly scan page 2 or 3 after being super impressed by page 1. They will see your new degree soon enough. Impress them on page 1. Done right – you have used active language in relation to your accomplishments, and you have promoted your past job experiences in a way that directly relates to their present needs.
Finally, we have the bulleted skills section. This is where you list, in bullet form, common skills that you have obtained within your industry. This includes software systems you are adept at using. Mine is below my education section at the bottom of the resume.
Some resume recommendations say to put the skill bullets at the top of the resume in a cute little box with a border. You can do that if you’d like. There’s nothing wrong with that approach.
But it’s your marketing document. You can do what you want.
If you were excellent at your last job and you want the person viewing the resume to see the accomplishments from your last job before they see anything else, then put the skill bullets at the bottom of your resume under education.
Let’s take a closer look at some resume tips that I touched on earlier.
In each job summary, I always try to mention the company size. This may not matter as much for you, but in HR, company size matters. HR managers and recruiters want to know the different company sizes that an HR person has operated in. Small? Mid-sized? Huge? They want to know how much work you’re capable of taking on and what kind of culture you fit into.
This is where the hard work comes in. You need to take this information and determine what data matters in your field. If company size isn’t important information within your industry, then you don’t need to waste precious real estate on your resume to convey irrelevant information. You’ll need to determine another piece of information that is vital and use that instead.
The general guideline on resume size is to keep it limited to one or two pages. That advice is accurate for most people. Other people can get away with three pages. If you are the kind of person who regularly hits the ball out of the park, you likely require 3 pages to include job titles, summaries, and accomplishments. If you’ve been in your industry for 10+ years and you have many accomplishments (2 or 3 accomplishments at every job) – please do a three-page resume if needed.
That said, do limit your resume to 3 pages. You can convey a lot of information on 3 pages, and 4 pages will travel into being excessive by most standards. No matter who you are. Three pages – you’re an accomplished professional. Four pages? You’re pompous. You don’t know when to shut up.
I believe the one-page rule is meant for younger workers or those with less experience. Honestly, I think it’s a way of sending a message to save managers time – “please get to the point quickly here.”
If you have only been in the workforce for 3-5 years and you have a three-page resume, (let’s say you’re a recent college grad trying to bust into your chosen field), then you probably have some issues with being long-winded.
You don’t need 3 pages for odd retail / restaurant / whatever jobs that supported you through college, and you don’t need three pages to convey your various academic pursuits. Summarize that information into one or two pages. With good writing skills and punchy action phrases, you can certainly do that.
A note on tailored resumes
Some reputable sources suggest that you create a basic resume template, which you will then use to create a new tailored resume each time you apply for a job.
If you have the time and energy to do that – wonderful. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that approach. I choose not to tailor my resume. I get tons of interview invites each time I apply for recruiting jobs without having to resort to individual tailoring.
I believe that if you create a good resume in the first place, and especially if you’re consistently applying inside of one field, there’s no reason to rearrange your resume and change things each time you apply for a new job.
If you made it this far – great job! You’re now ready to write a fabulous new resume or upgrade an old one. If you have questions, please leave a comment, or send me a message.
or Visit the Introduction Page to this series.