Six Steps to Building an Effective Resume

Many of us feel we generally know how to write a resume. We’ve seen resume templates online, reviewed examples shared by friends, attended classes where taking a stab at an initial draft was a homework assignment. However, few of us understand how to tell a story with our resume that will make a lasting impression on its readers.

As a content strategist, I work a lot with individuals who want to revamp their resumes. Whether you are looking for a new job or applying to a competitive graduate program, resumes remain a quick, easy and introductory way for employers and admissions officers to get to know what you’ve done and—mostly importantly—what you are capable of doing.

So, how do you build an effective case for yourself in a small space?

1)   Consider the length.

A general rule is, if you’re just starting out (3-5 years of experience in your industry), stick to a page. If you’ve got a lot of experience—and the position calls for seasoned individuals—don’t be afraid to go over a page. However, remember, the person or people receiving this document will be overwhelmed with dozens of other submissions. So the longer you make it, the more deeply you should scrutinize every bullet to ensure it warrants the extra space.

2)   Choose an appropriate format.

With the advent of services like Canva, people are going crazy making out-of-the-box resumes, hoping that aesthetics will up their chances of getting through to HR. But keep in mind that a lot of resumes go through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), which auto sorts your resume based on how well it matches pre-set criteria. Pretty resumes make an impact in person, but can be difficult for an ATS to pick up, meaning, even if you are a 99% match with the criteria, you might be overlooked. Additionally, aesthetics can cut into the space you have to demonstrate why you are right candidate for the job. My two cents: bring the pretty document with you in person, if you score an interview, and submit the easy-to-read doc online. 

3)   Customize your content.

Your resume should not be the exact same for every job you apply to. In fact, it should almost always be a little different, depending on what aspects of your experience you need to highlight to show you are a strong match for the job you are seeking. Look at the job description and especially the qualifications list. Be sure to speak to these requirements, and to include relevant keywords from the post in your resume.

4)   Start with a summary.

Objectives are a thing of the past. It is pretty clear that your objective is to get a job in education if you are applying for a job in education. Instead, a brief summary that highlights your career-wide achievements gives your reader a quick snapshot of what you have accomplished and what you are passionate about.

5)   Put your best foot forward.

Recruiters who are pressed for time tend to skim your resume. I know it sucks, especially after all the time you put into choosing every single detail, but it’s the truth. Most, however, will always read the first bullet under every job, meaning you better make it a good one.

6)   Watch your language. :)

Ostensibly, a resume is about sharing what you’ve done with someone who has no idea. But the thing about telling someone what you’ve done is that the laundry list, while perhaps effective in showing your range or workload, fails to demonstrate your impact. Focus on sharing results and omit the details that simply enumerate your duties (e.g. filing, organizing, corresponding). Once you figure out the right story to tell, make sure you use words that demonstrate action, leadership and engagement. And if you have numbers to back up your claims, even better!

Resume writing is a daunting task. If you still have questions on how to gear your resume up for your next job search, networking event or portfolio submission, definitely reach out!