10 Tips to a Kick Ass Resume

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Army BootsA few years ago, when unemployment was low and the economy was rosy, all you needed to do to get a job was get your resume in front of as many people as possible. You had to carpet bomb, stuff electronic resume boxes, and simply wait. One of the companies you reached out to probably had a job opening and you probably were a pretty good fit.

Nowadays, the jobs are harder to find and companies aren’t going to take a risk on a “pretty good fit.” So, I compiled a list of ten tips I’ve tried to use when crafting my resume during a job search.

1. You are a salesperson now.

Joe Sugarman is one of the most famous copywriters of all time and a mail order maven. I read one of his books about copywriting and the best part about his tips was that they were simple – Your title should be designed to get the reader to read the first sentence. The first sentence should be designed to get the reader to read the second sentence. The second… you get the idea.

The goal of your resume should be to get yourself an interview. You’re not trying to land the job right away, you’re trying to get your foot in the door, an interview on the schedule, and the ability to demonstrate you are fit for the job.

2. Tailor Your Resume

When you apply for a job, tailor your resume to highlight the things that make you a great fit for the job. If you are applying for a specific position and held a similar one at another job, make sure that’s at the top of the list of work experience. In the job description, look for the keywords that pop out at you and make sure they are on your resume. If there are skills you possess that make you a good fit, or technical certifications you possess, put them at the front of the skills section and trim off any listings that irrelevant. If you have relevant certifications, include them and include them in the order of importance to the job. You don’t want to be a good fit, you want to be a perfect fit. It will result in some extra work but it’s about quality, not quantity now.

3. Be Specific

When writing about your work experience, be as specific as possible. If you’re unsure if the words you use are specific enough, use a thesaurus to see what the synonyms are. Are you comfortable with any of the synonyms in place of the word you chose? Did you use a vague word like “manage?” Did you manage a team or did you lead the team? Were you the team lead? Project lead? System architect? The more specific you are, the more accurate the picture.

4. Quantify everything you can

Anyone can say “I streamlined process XYZ,” but if you streamlined a process and saved the company $500,000 – write it down. If you brought a project in on-time and under budget by 20%, explicitly say so. If you recently passed a certification test, include the date. The person reviewing the resume is going to see a lot of resumes and will put more credence in one that actually states numbers they can confirm. No one wants to offer an interview to someone who passed a certification test five years ago and hasn’t updated it since.

5. Demonstrate Skill & Knowledge

Anyone can say that they’re experienced in something but the only way to prove it, on paper, is to show that you used that skill or expertise in a job function. If you are skilled in “event planning,” don’t simply state it, demonstrate it by listing something you planned. What’s more effective, seeing “Event Planning” under a skills heading or having a job experience listing that says you planned a 3-day conference with 1,000 attendees?

6. Sell Benefits, Not Features

A classic bit of sales advice is to sell a products benefits, not its features. Features are great but if you can translate it into benefits then you are a far more appealing product. True story: My father had impeccable handwriting (feature) and was hired for a job because an administrative assistant didn’t have to type up his notes (benefit). If you wanted to put that in a resume bullet, it would look like this – Penmanship cut labor expenses by $5,000 annually by eliminating the need for a personal transcription service. It’s a bit of a ridiculous example but I think you get what I mean.

7. Use lists, bullet points

Avoid large blocks of text whenever possible because people in a hurry simply won’t read them. If you’re discussing work experience, you don’t want to write a narrative. You want bullets points listing your hallmark achievements and responsibilities in the job. If you write a narrative, there’s a big risk that the reader will simply skip over it.

8. Project the right image

When someone looks at the entire resume, it should project a certain image about who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and where you want to go. Whether it’s your objective statement or the types of jobs you’ve chosen to list on the resume, make sure it fits in the image you want to present of yourself. Oh, and if your email address is, I recommend getting a new Gmail account with just your name. 🙂

9. Get It Peer Reviewed

Have someone, or several someones, review your resume to make sure everything makes sense. When you work on a document for a long time, it’s easy to overlook mistakes and a fresh set of eyes can pick those out for you. They can also tell you if your resume is specific enough, if you’ve quantified enough data, and whether you’ve embellished it a bit too much… which leads us to the final tip.

10. Don’t Lie, Embellish; Be 100% Truthful

You would think that this tip is unnecessary but we all know we embellish sometimes. We saved the company $800 but we say $1000, we led a 10 person team and we say a dozen, but that’s a mistake. Employers will verify the information on your resume and they will pull offers if they find that you lie or otherwise embellished something. You may also find yourself way over your head, depending on how badly you exaggerated. The goal isn’t to get any job, it’s to get a job where you can succeed and build a career. You can’t start a career with a lie.

Do you have a tip that has helped you out tremendously in a job hunt?

(Photo: randysonofrobert)

{ 9 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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9 Responses to “10 Tips to a Kick Ass Resume”

  1. Cap says:

    solid classic tips. being specific, quantifying, and tailoring the resume/cover letter should always be done. its understandable though that tailoring your resume for specific positions can be time consuming, but this approach works much better IMO versus the generic resume out to 100+ companies.

    one thing that many people may find hard to do is place themselves in the position of the person skimming and reviewing resumes… many people don’t realize that they man be one amongst 50-100 that’s applying for the same position (this is especially true for college internships). for the hiring manager/recruiter/HR person, they genuinely don’t have time to carefully read about your hobbies or personal interest. brevity (but still with specifics) is key!

  2. Great post! Very timely– despite the economy, this is the best time of year to get a new job.

  3. Another tip: clean up your online presence. In general, anything that could be construed in a negative manner should be locked down (to “friends” in Facebook, for example) or, preferably, removed entirely.

    In an effort to protect customers, shareholders, and fellow employees, employers will quite often Google you to see if any red flags are raised.

  4. I liked point #1, “You are a salesperson now”. It didn’t go into detail on that, but it’s the ultimate truth. You’re now in the business of “selling” yourself.

    That’s why it’s so limiting when people think or say ‘I’m not a salesperson’. At one time or another in life we all need to be just that.

  5. Dancer30815 says:

    Great job! I liked pt#1, you’re always going to be selling yourself in some way, to company, customers, etc.

    Pt#8..Image, it is important, needds to be pointed out to the high school kids.

  6. Patrick says:

    Really great tips. I especially like the last tip, being honest. I have seen too many resumes that say the person knows so many technologies. When i got to do the interview, they know very little about them and only know the main definition of the technology.

  7. I really need to revamp my resume. Thanks for the tips!

  8. daemondust says:

    I’ve actually gotten a job because I used LaTeX (a full typesetting language used for many computer science, math, and physics texts but works just fine for straight English too) to do my rĂ©sumĂ©. Even if it isn’t a tech. job, it sets yours apart from the Microsoft Word abominations, but is still close enough that it still scans the same way the reviewer is used to.

  9. Carrie Smith says:

    Excellent advice! I’m looking to spice up my resume and take on some extra freelance clients, so I’ll definitely be using some of these tips. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

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