While there are unfortunately certain formulaic constraints on a typical young professionals’ resume, there are also plenty of ways to set yourself apart from the crowd. The easiest of these is to have a perfectly formatted, visually pleasing professional resume that is also informative, truthful, and relatable to the job you seek.
The art of resume writing is a giant Catch-22. You need to fit your experiences neatly within a box of professionalism while still thinking outside the box to create something distinctive and attention grabbing?!
I don’t know about you, but making a bunch of bullet points on a single page of text into a work of unique content and sparkly character seems impossible.
There are, however, a few little tips and tricks that will help you get your professional resume from commonplace to coveted.
Back to basics…why are you even bothering to write a resume in the first place?
Let’s focus for a second on the core goal of writing a professional resume. Ever think about that when you’re sitting in your kitchen staring at a blank screen and trying to figure out how to squeeze every last drop of marketability from your summer job as a receptionist at a nail salon?
The goal of a resume is to get an interview.
You want to attract and maintain the attention of recruiters by demonstrating a handful of relevant key qualities and experiences that make you the best choice for the job.
Unluckily for us job seekers, an often-cited April 2012 study by TheLadders, an online job-matching service, revealed that recruiters spend an average of just six seconds seconds looking at each professional resume that comes across their desks.
That boils down to a simple fact – your resume is an advertisement.
It is a sample of what an employer can expect from you, so the way it is written and organized matters just as much as the content you are presenting.
In 1976, Burdette E. Bostwick published the first iteration of ‘Resume Writing: A Comprehensive How-To-Do-It Guide’. For the next three decades her seminal work was a go-to for fresh-out-of-college young professionals hoping to grab a spot on the corporate ladder.
Today, books like these are obsolete, as is the old-fashioned way of professional resume writing. Now it’s all about cracking (but not fully breaking) the mold enough to catch an employer’s attention and showcase your obviously exceptional marketability.
Just like we all have unique experiences, aspirations, qualities and fingerprints, our resumes can be different, creative, and professional all at once.
Below are a few tips and tricks to help you get your professional resume game on point and land that next big interview!
Leave the past in the past
High school jobs, clubs and GPA’s are (sadly) meaningless now. Unless you were a child prodigy who interned at NASA, leave off everything that happened before you graduated from high school.
Listing high school achievements could lead potential employers to jump to the conclusion that you’ve stagnated since high school.
Everyone knows how to use Microsoft Word. The first iteration of Microsoft Office came out 25 years ago in 1990. Knowing how to use Microsoft Office Suite is no longer a skill you can or should list on your resume.
On the flip side, if you don’t know how to use MS Word, you should probably (i.e. definitely) figure that out before going any further in your job applications!
Hit the sweet spot between professionalism and creativity
Crazy fonts and colors belong…well, anywhere besides your professional resume. The only exception to this rule is for you creatives who are using your resume as another example of your originality and vision…in which case I defer to your artistic genius.
No photos please, save those for Instagram. Employers are required to base their hiring decisions on merit, not on race, gender sexual orientation or age. Slapping a photo at the beginning of your professional resume could result in your resume being discounted altogether or risk employers judging you based on your looks instead of your actual fit for the job.
While a picture is normally worth a thousand words, this time around just stick with the thousand words.
Choose your words carefully. Word choice matters. If you are lucky enough to have a recruiter actually get into the details of your professional resume, you want to be perfectly certain that your language is crisp and professional…so don’t refer to yourself as “I”, “me”, or by name.
Instead, use action verbs to show what you’ve done and are capable of.
Truly unique hobbies and experiences can be worth mentioning. Leave hobbies off of your resume. But, there is some wiggle room here. If you have a truly unique hobby or experience that shows a desirable quality (like dedication, hard-work, leadership, or interest in a cause that can be directly related to the job you are seeking) then include it!
Pay attention to the details. Content is most important, but your formatting has to be on point as well. Even if you have a perfectly written professional resume that would knock the socks off any recruiter, you are getting nowhere fast with a resume that is aesthetically flawed.
The biggest mistake I see when reviewing resumes is misalignment of bullet points.
Come on, millennial brethren!
After all the effort you put into making sure the text is perfect, take a few steps back and make sure that all of your bullets fall in a straight line down the page!
Goal number one is to get a recruiter to give you more than a few seconds of their time, so make sure you do the easy stuff.
So aside from aligning bullets, that also means your text is a consistent size and font (with the one exception being your name at the top, which can be a few clicks larger than the rest of the text).
Commonsensical things you should always do before PDFing your professional resume (or printing it…but who does that anymore?)
Have a detail-oriented friend glance at your final draft. Clients are often horrified when I pick out a misspelled word or misplaced comma. But calm yourself, because it isn’t the end of the world and doesn’t make you an idiot.
After spending endless hours poring over your content, your brain will find a way to trick you into thinking that “detail orietned” is correctly written as “detail oriented”.
Taking the time to have someone read through your resume is a low-cost and high-return investment and an easy way to pull out mistakes that could potentially hurt your chances at landing interviews.
Run a spellcheck. This is another one of those obvious ones. Just do it!
Tailor your experiences to the job you are applying for. Even if you’re sticking to a single industry, each distinct position requires a different professional resume. Take the time to read through a job description and tweak your resume as needed to really speak to the qualities and experiences that your target employer will be looking for.
Use challenges, and even failures, to your advantage
Talk about your failures. It may not be comfortable, or the thing that you want highlighted on your professional resume, but mentioning a difficulty that you overcame and briefly outlining the skills or personality traits that you relied on to do so can show an employer that you are humble, a quick learner, and able to be successful and dedicated even in the face of disappointment.
Failures are oftentimes the shaping experiences that employers are looking for.
Humans fail, so admitting you ran into a problem and showing how you solved it will play into an employer’s good books.
But also don’t be afraid to dive into your successes, even the small ones, if they are meaningful to you. Don’t downplay foundational experiences. I’ve consulted with numerous colleagues who send over bare-bones resumes, confused as to why they aren’t getting any bites from the sea of employers.
After informally chatting about their experiences, it quickly becomes apparent that there are experiences that are crucial to the way they think and comport themselves professionally have been purposefully omitted.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that small or “unimpressive” experiences should be ignored – include the things that show employer’s how you’ve developed professionally.
Managing the soccer team in college can be as great an example of leadership as managing a small team in a corporate office depending on what you’ve learned from the experience.
Please please please…don’t be lazy
The font, the alignment, and the wording all need to be perfect, so invest the time and energy making sure they are!
Remember when your middle school English teacher said “show, don’t tell”? Do that. Use language that shows what you can accomplish.
Instead of labeling yourself as a “dedicated and nimble team player” briefly discuss an example or achievement that demonstrates this.
For example, “Collaborated with a team of 5 project managers and 15 linguists to deliver a record-breaking 3-million word translation to a high-profile client in under 3 weeks” is much more impactful.
Include numbers to demonstrate exactly how valuable you are – if you outsold everyone in the last quarter at your previous position, put that number front and center.
Don’t even think about including unrelated filler information to take up space on the page! Just don’t do it. If there are words on your resume are not 100% essential, delete them. It’s better to have a concise document that is truthful and easily digestible than it is to have a document that is overwhelming and contains unnecessary information.
Don’t make it necessary for a recruiter to sift through your information, because chances are that they wont.
Finishing touches and a few last words
Concision matters. Keep your professional resume to one page. That doesn’t mean one page of size 8 font and half-inch margins. It means one page of quality content that is informative, relevant, and easily read.
Keep each item to 3-5 meaningful sentences. Distill the most important parts of your experiences and achievements into a few bullet points.
The “Objectives” section is obsolete. If you want to include a single sentence at the top of the page that highlights your specific awesomeness as a candidate for a particular role…then that’s fine.
Just make sure your headline contributes something, otherwise leave it off.
There are certain things that no recruiter wants to see on your professional resume. Among these are your exact street address, more than one phone number, salary requirements, or personal information such as religion or race.
Also omit any formulaic, obvious information like “references available upon request”. Of course your references are available upon request so you can save yourself the words.