Stand Out & Get Hired: Research-Based Resume Writing Best Practices
Picture this: you’re in a race, but it’s not just any race. It’s a race where the track keeps changing, the rules keep evolving, and the finish line keeps moving.
That’s what today’s job market feels like. Your resume is your running shoes in this race—it’s got to keep up, stand out, and, most importantly, it’s got to fit just right.
Navigating the ever-changing landscape of resume writing best practices can feel daunting. The modern trends shift, the technologies advance, and what worked yesterday might not work tomorrow. But here’s the good news: you’re not alone in this.
As experts in resume writing, we work with thousands of job seekers every year. Staying up-to-date on the latest resume writing trends and best practices isn’t just important to us—it’s essential. It’s the cornerstone of our work and how we ensure that our clients have the best possible chance of landing their dream jobs.
Just as every journey requires the right path to reach the destination, your job search journey needs the right resume format to land the ideal job. The resume format you choose can significantly impact how recruiters perceive your application. It can highlight your strengths, downplay weaknesses, and make your resume more appealing. However, it’s crucial to understand that different formats are suited to different career backgrounds and objectives.
Chronological Resume: The Straight Path
The chronological resume format is like a straight path. It lists your work experience in reverse order, starting with your most recent job. This simple format is ideal for those with a strong, consistent work history and linear career progression. However, a pure reverse-chronological resume is rarely used anymore, as it can make it harder to highlight specific skills and achievements.
Functional Resume: The Scenic Route
The functional resume format is like taking the scenic route. It emphasizes your skills and abilities over your chronological work history.
On the downside, while this format can be helpful in some specific situations, recruiters often view it skeptically. It can raise red flags, making the candidate appear to be trying to hide something. A functional resume can also cause compatibility problems with applicant-tracking software, and if your resume doesn’t make it into these systems, a human hiring manager may never even see it.
Combination Resume: The Guided Tour
The combination or hybrid format is like a guided tour. It merges the best of both worlds. It integrates elements of both the chronological and functional formats, allowing you to showcase your skills and abilities while also providing a detailed work history.
This format is the most common and recommended for most job seekers. It eliminates the problems associated with the other two formats, offering a balanced approach that appeals to recruiters.
The reality is recruiters often have only a fleeting moment to review each resume. Studies indicate that 40% of hiring managers confess to spending less than a minute on each resume, with a quarter admitting to spending less than half a minute. However, an eye-tracking study revealed a more startling fact: on average, recruiters dedicate a mere 7.4 seconds to each resume. This is one key reason why the combination format is ideal—it makes the resume easy to read and to scan quickly to come away with key points.
Here are some resume best practice tips to help you choose the right format:
Consider Your Future Goals. If you’re planning a career change or if you’re new to the workforce, you might find the functional format useful. However, remember to use it cautiously and consider integrating elements of the chronological format to avoid raising red flags.
Remember, the goal is to make your resume stand out, showcasing your skills, experiences, and career trajectory to the hiring manager. Choose the format or resume template that allows you to present these elements in the most compelling way.
Navigating from Resume Objectives to Resume Summaries
Tailoring Your Resume to Each Job Description: Mapping Your Journey to the Employer’s Needs
You should craft your resume to align with the unique requirements of each job description. A significant 63% of recruiters favor a resume that’s customized to the specific job requirements. However, a surprising 54% of job applicants overlook this crucial step, missing an opportunity to make their resume resonate with potential hiring managers.
Understanding the Job: Charting Your Course
The first step in this process is akin to charting your course on a map. You need to understand the job posting thoroughly. This means identifying the critical skills, experiences, and qualifications the hiring manager is seeking. It’s about understanding the terrain you’re about to navigate and planning your journey accordingly.
Highlighting Relevant Skills and Experiences: Packing the Right Gear
Once you’ve charted your course, the next step is to pack the right gear for your journey. In resume terms, this means ensuring the most relevant skills and experiences you possess are prominent and easy to find in your resume and that irrelevant information has been removed. You may even choose to include a separate skills section in your resume.
Just as you wouldn’t embark on a mountain hike without the proper equipment yet wouldn’t carry anything you don’t need, you shouldn’t apply for a job without showcasing key aspects of your background that make you the right fit. Similarly, unnecessary equipment would weigh you down. For the same reason, you should include only relevant information on your resume.
The language you use can significantly influence the impression you make on recruiters in other ways too. It’s akin to the dialect you use on your journey—it can either help you connect with the locals or create unnecessary barriers. Here are some best resume practices to ensure your content is as effective as possible:
Present vs. Past Tense. When describing your job duties and accomplishments, use the present tense for your current job and the past tense for all previous roles. This helps to clearly distinguish between your ongoing responsibilities and those from your past, making your career progression easier to follow. For instance, use phrases like “manage a team of five” for your current job, but “managed a project budget of $500,000” for a past role.
First-Person Perspective Without Pronouns. It’s best to avoid using first-person pronouns like “I,” “me,” or “my.” Instead, write in the first-person perspective without the pronouns. This style, known as the ‘implied first person,’ makes your resume more concise and focused on action and results. For example, instead of writing, “I led a team of five,” simply write “Led a team of five.”
Proofreading and Spell Check. The importance of proofreading your final document cannot be overstated. Even minor spelling mistakes or grammatical errors can create an impression of carelessness, potentially costing you the job. Use the spell check feature of your writing software, but don’t rely solely on it. Manual proofreading is essential to catch grammar mistakes that automated checks might miss. Remember, a polished and error-free resume can help you stand out in a crowded job market and make a strong first impression on potential employers.
Remember, each job application is a unique journey, and your resume is your map. By tailoring and targeting your resume to each job description, you’re making your journey more targeted and effective and significantly increasing your chances of reaching your destination: landing the job interview.
Taking Your Resume to the Next Level: A Journey Beyond the Basics
In the journey of crafting your resume, understanding the basics is akin to packing the essentials for a long trip. However, to truly make your journey successful and memorable, you must go beyond the basics.
This next section will guide you through the advanced resume writing best practices and tips that can take your resume to the next level, ensuring you stand out in the competitive job market.
The Power of Action Verbs and Quantifiable Achievements
Action verbs and quantifiable achievements guide recruiters through your professional journey. They provide clear and compelling evidence of your skills and accomplishments, making your resume more engaging and persuasive.
Past tense action verbs, such as ‘spearheaded,’ ‘strengthened,’ ‘designed,’ or ‘navigated,’ add dynamism to your resume, making your experiences and achievements more vivid and impactful. In fact, there is evidence using dynamic verbs in your resume can improve your chances of getting an interviewup to 140% because they show recruiters not just what you did but how you did it, giving them a clearer picture of your capabilities.
Quantified achievements provide even more concrete evidence of your skills and abilities. Unfortunately, a shocking 36% of resumes don’t include any quantified results.
This gives hiring managers a clear measure of your success and the ROI they can expect from hiring you. Knowing this, it isn’t surprising that research has suggested that including measurable results on your resume can improve your job search results 40%. Many of the best resume templates acknowledge the importance of accomplishments on your resume and use bullet points to call attention to them.
The Importance of an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Friendly Format
These systems function as ‘gatekeepers,’ managing the influx of applicants and their resumes throughout the hiring process. They filter and rank resumes, making them an essential hurdle you must clear in your job search.
While the idea of these seemingly impersonal ‘gatekeepers’ might cause some unease, it’s worth noting that an impressive 94% of recruiters find that ATS has positively impacted their hiring process. Therefore, these ‘gatekeepers’ are here to stay, and learning to navigate this terrain is crucial.
Adopting an ATS-friendly format increases the likelihood of your resume making it past this digital gatekeeper and landing on the recruiter’s desk. Here are some tips to help you master this terrain:
The Role of Keywords in Optimizing Your Resume for ATS
We’ve already mentioned this, but it bears repeating. Just as a seasoned explorer uses a map to navigate unfamiliar terrain, keywords guide the ATS through the landscape of your resume. They help the system decode the content of your resume and determine its relevance to the job.
To optimize your resume for ATS, you need to become a skilled cartographer of your own professional journey. This involves identifying the landmarks (keywords) in the job description and marking them prominently on your map (resume). These landmarks could be specific skills, qualifications, or experiences the employer seeks.
However, using these keywords naturally and in context is crucial, just as landmarks appear naturally along a route. Overstuffing your resume with keywords, or ‘keyword stuffing,’ can be as detrimental as a cluttered, unreadable map.
Interestingly, research shows that, on average, candidates miss 49% of relevant keywords on their resumes when applying for a position. This is akin to missing half the landmarks on your map, making your journey unnecessarily challenging. Ensuring your resume is rich with the right keywords can be a game-changer in reaching your desired destination: landing the role you want.
Identifying Essential Keywords. The initial step in keyword optimization involves carefully reading the job description. It’s about pinpointing the specific skills, experiences, or qualifications the employer has emphasized. Think of it as a treasure hunt, where the treasure is the set of keywords that will make your resume shine.
Write Keyword-Rich Resume Content. Once you’ve pinpointed the relevant keywords, it’s crucial to incorporate them effectively into your resume. However, ensure their placement feels organic and contextually appropriate. Just as a cluttered map can be as challenging to read as one that’s too sparse, a resume that’s overstuffed with keywords can be as off-putting as one that lacks them. Balance is key.
Experiment with Keyword Synonyms. ATS systems have evolved to understand synonyms and related terms. For instance, if ‘project management’ is a keyword in your job title or description, the ATS may also pick up on words like ‘project manager‘ or ‘managing projects.’ It’s like understanding that ‘river,’ ‘stream,’ and ‘brook’ all indicate flowing water. So, don’t hesitate to use different but related terms to describe your skills and experiences.
By using keywords effectively, you can create a map that guides the ATS through your resume and leads you straight to the interview stage of your job-hunting journey.
The Value of Emphasizing Transferable Skills
In the journey of career progression, transferable skills are a universal currency you can use in any new job or industry. You can apply these skills in various contexts, such as communication, problem-solving, or leadership.
Emphasizing these skills in your resume can show recruiters your versatility and adaptability, making you a more attractive candidate. It can also help you stand out from other candidates who may have more specific but less transferable skills.
The Balance Between Being Succinct and Comprehensive
The length and organization of your resume can significantly influence its effectiveness. It’s a delicate balancing act between being concise and comprehensive. The sweet spot for a resume length is between 475 and 600 words, roughly equivalent to two pages. However, 77% of resumes fall short of this ideal length. The average resume length is around 489 words, with the median length slightly shorter at 369 words. Here are some tips:
Include the Relevant; Exclude the Irrelevant. While keeping your resume concise is crucial, it’s equally important to ensure it’s comprehensive. Your resume should encapsulate all the vital information while avoiding superfluous details or filler content. Surprisingly, studies indicate that 51% of all resumes contain such “filler” as irrelevant keywords, cliches, and pronouns.
Understand Resume Length Preferences. The length of your resume should correspond with your experience level. A substantial 77% of employers suggest that candidates with extensive experience should submit a resume exceeding one page. Particularly for management roles, recruiters are nearly three times more likely to lean toward candidates with a two-page resume.
Avoid Long, Wordy Resumes: While a longer resume may suit certain roles, an overly long resume can be counterproductive. In the business sector, resumes that surpass 600 words can reduce a candidate’s chances of being hired by a significant 72%. Moreover, 17% of hiring managers confess they won’t consider a resume longer than two pages.
In essence, crafting a resume is about striking the right balance. It should be long enough to showcase your skills and experiences comprehensively but concise enough to maintain the reader’s interest and ease of reading.
Advanced Resume Tips: Charting Your Course to Success
As we approach the end of our journey, it’s time to delve into the advanced strategies that can elevate your resume from good to exceptional.
These strategies are like the hidden trails experienced travelers use to reach their destinations more efficiently and enjoyably. They can help you showcase your unique value proposition, tell a compelling story, and stay ahead of trends in best practices when crafting a great resume.
Leveraging the Power of Resume Storytelling
Storytelling is like the narrative thread that weaves your professional background and experiences into a compelling story. It’s not just about listing your skills and experiences; it’s about connecting the dots in a way that tells a coherent and engaging story about your professional journey.
To leverage the power of storytelling in your resume, focus on the ‘so what?’ of your experiences. Don’t just say what you did; explain why it mattered, what impact it had, and what it says about you as a professional. Here are some more resume tips:
Weave a Career Narrative. Your resume should not just be a list of jobs and roles; it should tell a story of your professional journey and the value you’ve delivered along the way. To create this narrative, identify the common thread that runs through your career. This could be a specific skill, a unique approach, or a particular passion that has driven your career choices. Once you’ve identified this thread, weave it into your resume, using it to connect your experiences and highlight the consistent value you’ve brought to your roles. Remember, the goal is to show progression and impact, painting a picture of a career driven by purpose and marked by significant contributions.
Use the CARS Technique. The CARS (Challenge, Action, Result, Strategic Impact) technique is a powerful tool for telling compelling stories in your resume. This technique involves outlining a challenge you faced, the action you took to address it, the result of your action, and the strategic impact it had. By structuring your experiences this way, you can provide a clear and compelling narrative showcasing your problem-solving skills, ability to deliver results, and strategic thinking.
Show Authentic Personality. While it’s important to maintain a professional tone in your resume, don’t be afraid to let your authentic personality shine through. This could be through the words you choose to describe your experience, the colors you choose for your resume design, or the way you describe your experiences. Remember, employers are hiring not just a set of skills but a person. By showing a bit of your personality, you can make your resume more memorable and engaging and help potential employers see how you might fit into their team culture. Just ensure that what you share is appropriate for a professional context and adds value to your overall narrative.
Creating a Professional and Visually Appealing Layout: The Power of First Impressions
Just as a traveler appreciates the beauty of a well-designed map, recruiters appreciate a resume with a visually appealing layout. In fact, the visual aspect of your resume can significantly influence a recruiter’s first impression of you. Studies suggest that within the first 15 seconds of meeting someone, people form their first impression, and approximately 70% of their impression is based on appearance. The same principle applies to your resume—it’s your professional packaging, and attractive packaging helps sell.
Keep it Professional: While it’s important to make your resume visually appealing, it’s equally important to maintain a professional look. Avoid overly bright colors or distracting graphics. Instead, opt for a clean, modern design with a balanced use of color and white space.
By creating a professional and visually appealing resume layout, you can ensure your resume stands out from the pile, grabs the recruiter’s attention, and leaves a lasting impression. After all, a visually appealing layout can make all the difference in the average 7.4 seconds that a recruiter spends reviewing each resume. You can review more example resume designs in our portfolio.
Incorporating Digital Elements: Enhancing Your Resume’s Online Footprint
Your online presence can significantly influence your job prospects in the digital age. In fact, resumes that include a link to a LinkedIn profile are 71% more likely to land an interview. However, surprisingly, less than half of all resumes take advantage of this opportunity. Here are some strategies to effectively incorporate digital elements into your resume:
Be Professional With Your Email Address.Your email address is more than just a point of contact—it reflects your professional identity. An unprofessional email address can deter as many as 35% of potential employers. Therefore, it’s advisable to use an email address that incorporates your name or initials, steering clear of nicknames or numbers that could be perceived as unprofessional.
Incorporating these digital elements into your resume can enhance your online footprint, providing recruiters with a richer, more holistic picture of your professional capabilities. This can significantly increase your chances of progressing to the interview stage of the hiring process.
Staying Current with Industry Trends and Leveraging AI
Just like a seasoned traveler stays up-to-date with the latest travel trends and technologies, a savvy job seeker stays abreast of the latest trends in resume writing and leverages the power of AI.
AI is increasingly used in recruitment, from AI-powered job matching to automated resume screening. Understanding how these technologies work and how to optimize your resume for them can give you a competitive edge.
For example, many companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to screen resumes. These systems use AI to scan resumes for keywords and rank them based on their relevance to the job description. By understanding how ATS works and optimizing your resume accordingly, you can increase your chances of getting past this initial screening and landing an interview.
Embarking on Your Career Journey: The Power of an Exceptional Resume
Embarking on the path to crafting an exceptional and effective resume is a journey, not a mere destination. It’s an ongoing process of learning, adapting, and refining. By embracing these resume writing best practices, you’re not just ensuring your application propels you to the interview stage, but you’re also laying the groundwork for success in your future career journey.
Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. So, take that step today, start crafting your exceptional resume, and embark on your journey to career success. Safe travels!
Michelle Dumas is the founder and CEO of Distinctive Career Services, one of the internet's longest-standing and most respected professional resume writing firms. Michelle is a 6X certified and 7X award-winning resume writer and career consultant. To learn more about the services offered by Distinctive Career Services visit https://www.distinctiveweb.com
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Widely recognized as one of the industry’s longest-standing resume writing firms and an industry pioneer on the internet, Distinctive Career Services (aka Distinctive Documents) is respected for our unmatched expertise, quality, and commitment to clients. Since 1996, we have met the resume development and career marketing needs of well over 10,000 discriminating professionals in all 50 U.S. states and internationally.
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