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Smart People with Bad Resumes

Jenny Preswick
Dec 19, 2016 · 3 min read

Countless intelligent, educated, and qualified people struggle to get job placements, and often a terrible resume is at fault. Their resumes are a chronological list of places they showed up at. Duties or activities are bulleted under drab headings and dates. The basics have been covered, but they don’t convey anything meaningful.

Common sense is necessary but not adequate for creating a resume that sticks. You already corrected your typos, now here are tips to use your resume to showcase achievements rather than document job descriptions. These changes will drastically increase the callback rate applicants receive.

Tip 1: The Look

A professional resume is generally 2 pages, and a cover letter is 1. The documents themselves offer a chance for you to create a “brand” for yourself. You can easily accomplish this by creating a header or logo with your name and contact information that is on all your documents. Maintain a consistency of formatting and style. Don’t go too crazy with fonts; usually two complimentary choices are enough.

Tip 2: What to Include

Ideally, you should be tailoring your resume for each job you apply to. Not every position you’ve ever held needs to be listed; placement on the pages should be according to relevance. If you have education that applies directly to the job, list it first. If a particular past role is most relevant, place experience higher on the pages. Remember that your reader is reading many resumes quickly, so put the most impactful information at the top, where they are likely to see it before moving on.

Tip 3: What to Say

Read the job posting carefully, then think of ways that your past experience relates to the specifics. Making a list may help. If the posting calls for experience with something you have done before, that’s great, write that thing at the top of the description. However, if you are branching into a new field, or otherwise have limited experience, focus on how the experience you do have can be a transferrable skill to a new job. For example, if you’ve worked as a barista and you want to get into sales, talk about your customer service and teamwork skills, not about how you made coffee or kept a clean space.

Tip 4: How to Say It

Whether you describe your experience in bullets or in a paragraph is up to you. More importantly, each description should start with an achievement followed by how it was achieved. The most impactful part should start the sentence. For example, write that you “Increased sales by 200% through targeted marketing emails” not “sent targeted marketing emails and improved sales by 200%”. Once again, this is because resumes are often skimmed so you should start with the results. Writing achievements also allows you to expand on transferrable skills, as you can truthfully attribute them to various efforts. This tailoring vitally shows that your skills are applicable to new roles.

Tip 5: Don’t Throw Away Your Education

This tip applies to your schooling, your volunteer work, internships, or really anything that you’re putting on your resume. So many people list education with school attended, degree type, and dates. That’s it. Is that really all you have to show for your time there? This is another excellent place to talk about your more diverse learning and work as transferrable skills. Write about what your focuses were, and what techniques you practiced.

Finally, remember that real estate is valuable on a resume, don’t put anything on there that you don’t intend to expand on in a worthwhile way. Focus on achievements and transferrable skills, and always tailor your documents to the position.

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