How to Write a Killer Resume

There are many things I love about my job: meeting new people; being a warm and friendly voice in a world of grumpy recruiters and impersonal recruitment processes; playing matchmaker (it’s fun when you match the right person to the right job!); serving as coach/big sister/pseudo-mom to college students who are going through fall recruiting.

Then there are the things I don’t love so much – like reviewing resumes. LinkedIn is rife with accusations of applicant tracking system (ATS) nightmares and tricks to get through the application black hole. This might be true for large companies, but in the 10 years I’ve been recruiting, I’ve read resumes and cover letters myself. My eyes scan hundreds of resumes each year.

Unfortunately, hundreds of these resumes are mostly mediocre. Rather than lamenting the state of affairs, I’d like to counter headache-inducing resumes with practical advice on writing interview-snagging resumes.

Many professionals have eloquently written about the modern approach to resume writing. Natalie Severt’s blog post “How to Make a Resume: A Step-by-Step Guide” at Uptowork is one of my favorites. Her advice makes me want to scream, “Amen! Ditto! You tell ‘em, girl!” There’s no need for me to rehash what she’s already written. Please read and heed her advice.

Please also consider my additional thoughts on writing that killer resume:

Your resume is a marketing document

Remember this always. Your resume is NOT:

  • a legal or historical document
  • a biography
  • a list of job descriptions
  • a retelling of every duty you’ve had in your life

Your resume is an advertisement

You’re advertising you to employers. Let that sink in a little. In just one or two pages, you must communicate to the reader how you can bring value to their organization.

Get to the point (you can talk more later)

You have just a few seconds to capture the reader’s attention and inspire him or her to keep reading. Your goal is to get a follow up phone call with a request for more information. That’s all. Once you’re in touch, you can have meaningful conversations and share your full story. But you may never get that chance if your resume isn’t written with a marketer’s mindset.

Here are my top tips for creating a resume that grabs a reader’s attention:

  1. Be specific. Tailor your resume to the job for which you are applying. Scan the job ad to learn what the employer wants – and be sure your resume addresses those needs.
  1. Add some personality. Include a summary/branding statement at the top of your resume. Make it professional and give the reader some insight into who you are. Write it in first person. TALK TO ME (the recruiter). If you have room to fill on your resume, add hobbies and interests, but be careful: avoid things that could be controversial.
  1. Make the resume easy to read. Remember that recruiters usually quickly review many resumes at a time (fall recruiting candidates: I easily read over 200 resumes in a weekend). My eyeballs are over 40 years old, folks. I need some help. Here’s what I’m looking for:
  • Size 11 or 12 font (10 works, but it’s pushing it)
  • Simple font – no italics, no underlining
  • White space (it’s your friend)
  • No physical/mailing address – it’s unnecessary and it takes up space
  • Jobs listed in reverse chronological order (most recent job first)
  • Dates of employment in month/year format (e.g., October 2014 – October 2016)
  • One page if you’re a student or it’s early in your career; two pages if you have more experience; and if you bleed into three pages, you are dead to me
  1. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Read your resume out loud to yourself—it’s amazing how many more errors you’ll catch when your mouth and ears are engaged. Ask several other people proofread it, too. Don’t enlist just your friends; ask people who routinely look at resumes and other professional writing for feedback.
  1. Save your resume as a PDF. Double-check the final document before you submit it. A PDF is supposed to protect your formatting, but it can mess with line spacing, etc.
  1. For accounting student applicants only: Put your education section near the top of your resume. Include your GPA and CPA eligibility date. Is your cumulative GPA borderline and accounting GPA high? List both.
  1. Keep in mind that resume standards are subjective. You’re marketing yourself, remember? Know your audience. If you’re applying to a traditional employer, you might want to throw out my earlier advice about using the first person voice and stick to the traditional third-person voice, for example. How will you know which voice to use? Peruse the company’s social media and web presence for indications of their style. Adjust your resume accordingly.

I hope these thoughts are helpful. Remember to link over to Natalie Severt’s advice. Consider checking out Resume Genius (not an endorsement of their services, but I liked most of their general advice). Keep my tips in mind. If you follow our advice, you will end up with a killer resume that starts a conversation with employers. Good luck out there in the crazy job hunting jungle!