Take the Stress out of Resume Writing with These 10 Tips

Updating your resume can be confusing: should you list all of your past experience? How do you determine what’s “relevant”? Is formatting really that important? When you start researching online, the questions only seem to multiply. One site tells you to include a short bio, another says to keep your resume as basic as possible. There are whole forums dedicated to discussing the merits of different fonts and size. References are apparently a topic of fierce debate – how many should you include? What makes a reference-worthy person? Should you have them at all?

Shut those ten thousand tabs and take a deep breath. We’re here to give you the basics on refreshing and updating your resume, without the stress. Follow these 10 tips, keep it simple, and start attracting the attention you’re looking for.

1. Quantify everything.

Working as an Accountant? List the number of audits you’ve completed, accounts you’ve worked on, or time you traditionally spend per account. Writer? Describe your experience in terms of how many articles you’ve published or how many page views you’ve amassed. Get creative: there are so many different ways to quantify your work. We suggest a combination of generally informative and slightly startling numbers – you want to grab your reader’s attention!

Adding a number or statistic can make even the most mundane jobs appear interesting. Take for example a dish washer; your resume could read “washed dishes and cleaned tables,” or, conversely, it could say “washed over 5000 dishes and worked 150 shifts in a two year span.” Washing dishes in itself isn’t note-worthy, but add some numbers and suddenly you’ve got your audience’s attention.

2. Format appropriately.

Most resumes submitted online are processed through an ATS; a system that reads and sorts your information for future review. If you’re using fancy, complex formatting, your information may not be logged properly. To be safe, keep it simple. Avoid bold and italics unless completely necessary and don’t put your personal information (name, email) in the header or footer of your document – those are often mis-processed by an ATS.

When saving your resume, opt for PDF format to ensure maximum readability on different monitors and programs.

3. Responsibilities are not accomplishments.

A resume is a sales pitch, and you want to be marketing your skills and experience in the best possible way. Listing the requirements of your job doesn’t tell your future employer any actual information about your capabilities, achievements, skills, etc.

Being “responsible” for mass daily email updates is not the same as “accrued a following of over 1000 dedicated newsletter-readers and increased page views 10% through daily email-updates.” Erase the word – and thinking behind – “responsible” from your resume. Instead, structure your experience in terms of quantifiable developments and achievements.

4. Integrate with LinkedIn.

In today’s job market, interested employers will be immediately checking out your social media platforms – and LinkedIn is going to be their first stop.

Make sure your Linkedin 1. Exists 2. Is updated.

The relationship between your resume and LinkedIn should be symbiotic. While they don’t need to be kept identical – and in fact LinkedIn is a good place to get slightly more personal – they should mirror each other quite closely.

In lieu of a full address, we recommend linking your LinkedIn URL on your resume. It’s a digital world and your address is no longer at home – it’s on the web. Include at the top of your resume your city, postal code, and LinkedIn address.

5. Don’t make it overly personal.

A resume is not the place to tell your life story. We’re strong proponents for the value of simplicity; we urge our candidates to leave hobbies, interests, and politics off all professional documents. That is, unless you have a particular interest or hobby that is directly related to the job at hand, or you have information about your interviewer and their opinions on a certain topic or hobby.

Keep it streamlined and professional. Don’t include a photo of yourself – but do include a photo on LinkedIn, or else your employer will be left wondering what strange idea possessed you to forego photos – and avoid, whenever possible, using “I.” LinkedIn, with its more robust social media presence, is the appropriate place to get slightly more personal.

6. Keep it skimmable.

You want your reader to quickly and easily find the most relevant information. Make use of headers, titles, and sections in order to ensure readability and skimmability. Save the long prose for a cover letter. Instead, stick to succinct points and explanations, highlighting your most impressive achievements in terms of how they will help your future employer.  

7. Tailor your experience.

Keeping it skimmable means nixing all the irrelevant information. We know it can be hard, especially when you’ve put a lot of thought and time into what you’ve written, but don’t be afraid to make some major edits.

Sometimes big sections need to be cut because they offer no real benefit to your employer. Sometimes elements which you’ve chosen not to mention – your work at a humanitarian cause – may need to be added in if this work is relevant to the job you’re applying to. Don’t get emotionally attached to your resume; it’s a living document, and it should change as you and your goals evolve.

8. Keep your audience in mind.

Write your resume as if you’re writing to a layman. The first set of eyes to read through your experience probably won’t belong to an expert in your field. For this reason it’s critical to avoid abbreviations and complex jargon. If you want to get in the door, make sure the person guarding it can understand enough to recognize and appreciate your value.

9. Showcase your writing.

Use your writing to demonstrate how you think. Having a well-written resume is often equated with having a well-organized and reasoned mind. Take advantage of this.

A resume is an excellent opportunity to showcase your above average writing abilities and logical reasoning.

Framing your experience in terms of accomplishments rather than responsibilities (#3) forces you to trade traditional list-form descriptions for informative, thought-provoking sentences. You’ll have to explain how you accomplished your responsibilities and what impact these accomplishments had on your work as a whole. Content and form work together to get your point across: that you are an experienced, accomplished worker with a quick mind and sound reasoning.

10. Proofread ad nauseam.

If you’re looking to impress your future employer with excellent writing abilities, you’ll want to be using the correct form of “there.” Not only do typos and mistakes show a distinct lack of care, they also make hiring managers second guess your capacity as a worker.

Read your resume over every time you change a sentence. Adding a single word can sometimes cause a chain reaction of nonsense. When you think you’re finished, read it out loud. Passed that test? Send it to your mom. Make it a family event. Just make sure that it is free of mistakes before you send it to an employer.

 

Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to building a stronger resume. If you want more involved advice, or if you’re still struggling with unanswered questions, join us at our Resume Writing and Career Development Coaching Workshop, held the last Tuesday of every month. Our CEO Louis Song hosts the sessions and devotes a portion of every workshop to working individually with attendees. Come say hi and check it out!

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