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Surefire 9-Step Formula for Writing a Resume That Stands Out & Gets Results

– Posted in: Resume Writing

Writing a resume that gets results

Have you ever struggled with writing a resume? Is this you?

You’ve decided to look for a new job. You scour the job boards – Monster, Indeed, Simply Hired – and find several jobs you’re confident about. You get to work writing a resume and then send it, and possibly cover letters, to the top five.

A week goes by with no response. You look for new listings, making sure they haven’t been out there too long. (You forgot to check that before.) Send more resumes and wait.

Another week, but this time you DO get a response. A form letter that says the equivalent of “Thanks for applying but we’re moving on with more qualified candidates.” This is a shock because looking at the job description, you ARE the qualified candidate.

Time to up your game. You start hitting your network. You get to work again writing a resume–a new and improved one (or so you hope!) and send your new resume in a more personal way, to contacts recommended by people in your network.


There’s something wrong here. It’s time to realize that something isn’t working.

  • You are confident that you are well qualified for the positions to which you are applying. (check)
  • You have done your best to use your network to find and reach out to the actual decision-maker for the positions that interest you. (check)
  • You’ve carefully crafted very personalized letters to accompany your resume, for each individual position. (check)
  • You have diligently followed up on the resumes you are submitting. (check)
  • You’ve even double-checked that you are submitting your resume in a way that the recipients are able to access it and read it. (check again)

Finally, it is time to face the obvious. It’s not you. It’s probably not your job search strategy either. Most likely, it’s your resume.

That’s the common denominator. Your resume needs an overhaul, and this time around, you need a better approach. You need this 9-step formula for writing a resume that stands out and gets results.

Let’s get started.

Step 1. Define your focus.

Write a headline statement that immediately conveys your focus: often the type and level of job you want as well as the industry focus if relevant. In some cases you may also want to be more precise by calling out other factors such as the size of the company (e.g., small business vs Fortune 500 vs multinational) or the type of challenge they may be facing (e.g., start up company vs growing company vs turnaround). This is the introduction and the foundation to writing a resume. Make your focus crystal clear.

Example of a well focused resume headline

Example headline section from a well-focused resume

Step 2. Figure out your keywords.

It’s all about keywords. Search-bots scan the Internet looking for them, and you can be sure that some kind of program will scan your resume when you send it out. You need those bots to find those keywords that relate to the job you want.

For now, just gather 6 to 12 job listings that fit your focus. Read through and make a list of the key terms and phrases that describe the qualifications each employer is seeking. Add any others that you think are important in your profession or industry. Keep this list handy.

Step 3. Think like an employer.

Imagine that you’re the employer looking for someone to fill your ideal position. What do you want in the person for the job? What’s the most pressing problem you’re trying to solve?

Looking at the job listings again, spend some time perusing the websites of each company, and reading through any recent news or press releases you can find.

Now brainstorm again and come up with a list of employers’ needs. Are they worried about competition? Do they need to make money? Save money? Improve quality? Grow their customers? Keep their customers? Satisfy regulators?

Once you have a good description of what employers need, examine your experience and how your accomplishments would satisfy those needs. In another document write the narrative for each success.

Describe 1.) the challenge or problem you faced, 2.) what you did, 3.) what the result was and 4.) what the big-picture impact was.

While you’re at it, visualize what the typical candidate looks like and how you might stand out. Figure out the added value that you bring and create narratives around that.

Going through this process helps develop the content you need when writing a resume, and helps you pre-think what you’ll discuss during interviews.

Step 4. Writing a resume: Easy stuff first.

To get past the “fear of the blank page” that happens when writing a resume, just start with the basics of your professional experience and education. Make a list of where you worked, what your job title was, and the relevant dates. Then list your schools, degrees, and year each was completed. You can also list professional credentials, certifications, awards, affiliations, and industry specific training.

Step 5. Now the good stuff.

Look at your keyword/key phrase list from Step 2 and your narrative successes from Step 3. Now start writing the body of your resume. Don’t edit or worry about format or sentence structure. Just write. For each job title, write a job description using your success narrative and your keywords. Forget listing your responsibilities – they tend to get repeated from job to job and start to look like filler.

Step 6. Clean it up.

If you did the brainstorming to flesh out all you’ve done, you’ll have listed accomplishments that aren’t really relevant. Go back and edit your wordy prose and delete irrelevant information. But be careful – make sure you’re not deleting something to hide it. The only cardinal rule in writing a resume is that you have to be honest. (NOTE: If you’ve ever considered putting something dishonest on a resume, like a degree that you don’t have, DON’T. You WILL be found out and the consequences will NOT be good.)

Try to create clean, compelling, well written statements. Review for consistent sentence structure, properly used bullets, proper grammar and spelling, and basic resume dos and don’ts (like not using “I”).

Example of a well-edited, succinct resume

Example from the body of a carefully edited, succinct, highly relevant resume

Step 7. Rearrange and restructure.

To make sure your resume stands out, put the most impactful material as close to the beginning as possible. For search-bots, they may “weight” keywords at the front of your resume higher. For humanoids, this may be the only part they read.

Rearrange statements within job descriptions and re-order bulleted achievements. You might even rearrange major sections if you have a strategic reason to do so. For example, if your education and training provides better qualifications than your employment does, you might want to list it first.

Example content from a well-written resume

An easy-to-read presentation will make all the difference in whether your resume gets read

Step 8. Write your resume summary.

Your summary is the most important section, setting the tone and focus for the entire resume. Use it to highlight your best and most applicable qualifications and to showcase how you stand out from the competition.

Example of a resume summary profile

Example of a resume summary profile section

Step 9. Make it pretty.

After you’ve written and cleaned up the content, pull it all together in an appealing design. Your resume needs to be as unique as you are and the format needs to showcase your most compelling qualities. NEVER use a resume template. You can’t arrange the sections to highlight specific details when you just fill-in-the-blank.

Example of charts and graphs used in a resume

Charts, graphs, callouts, color, and other strategically used design elements can give your resume compelling eye appeal

Your resume is your advertisement to prospective employers. It needs to sell them on your qualifications and it needs to engage them. Quickly. Before they move on.

Do you need help writing a resume or perfecting one you’ve written? Request a quote for our resume writing services  or book a one-on-consultation and resume review with me. It will be my pleasure to work with you.


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About the author: Michelle Dumas is a multiply-certified, national-award-winning professional resume writer and career marketing expert widely recognized as pioneering thought-leader and trend-setter in the employment services industry. With 20 years of experience, Michelle has helped 10,000+ job seekers in all 50 U.S. states and across the world land rewarding jobs and build fulfilling careers.

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