Skip to section
Key studies consistently find that employers take between 6 and 7 seconds to perform an initial scan of your resume. In other words, they decide your future during this very short timeframe.
For those of you who don’t work in recruitment or HR, this may seem incredulous.
What can you accomplish in 6-7 seconds? How could you possibly scrutinise a resume and decide a candidate’s fate at the same time it takes Bill Gates to make $500?
And yet, enough time for recruiters and talent acquisition professionals – whose paychecks depend on the quality of their candidate screening decisions – to decide whether your resume is worth their time.
They don’t always get it right, but that’s how the game is played.
Here are the best ways you can make your resume stand out within those crucial 6-7 seconds.
1. Sharpen The Top Third.
The first few sections of your resume are critical. They’re usually known as The Top Third – and include your profile, key assets, plus contact details.
(Related: Should You Include Your DOB In Your Resume?)
You can give The Top Third more punch by ruthlessly editing it for relevance. Exclude everything except:
- Your contact information – this includes your name, mobile number, email address and links to your LinkedIn profile or a professional website.
- Resume headline – it must appear just below your name and contain a snappy, short statement that communicates the core of your commercial value. When written effectively, it provides a point of focus to the human eye and makes the resume stand out.
- Professional profile – gives the recruiter or hiring manager a glimpse of “WIFM”, or “what’s in it for me”. In a few short paragraphs, it outlines your unique commercial value proposition.
- Key skills – this section is essential for ensuring that your application passes ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems). List six-eight compelling skills that are aligned with, and tailored towards, the role you are applying for.
For a full list of inclusions and exclusions of standout resume, take a look at this guide.
2. Optimise For ATS.
Before your resume even lands in the inbox of the hiring manager it will need to pass the scrutiny of the harshest of all resume critics – Applicant Tracking Systems (or “Robot Recruiters”).
ATS technology is the digital equivalent of a human gatekeeper. It helps recruiters save time by eliminating resumes that don’t meet pre-determined criteria of relevance.
How to pass the dreaded ATS test and make your resume stand out?
The short answer is – ensure that your resume includes a healthy mix of keywords from the position description of your target role.
For example, if you’re applying for an enerprise Saas sales role, the PD is likely to mention:
- achievement against sales targets
- account management experience
- pipeline management
- conducting qualification calls
- strong communication skills
Make your resume stand out to the ATS by adding a sprinkle of these keywords throughout.
By the way, I wrote a comprehensive guide to beating the ATS; you’ll find it here.
4. Start Achievements With Action Verbs.
Your resume achievements can’t be wishy-washy. They must be snappy, sharp, unambiguous and commercially relevant.
To that end, ensure that each of your achievements kicks off with an action verb.
- Empowered – positions you as someone who is able to give energy and confidence to an individual or a group of people.
- Initiated – demonstrates your proactiveness.
- Transformed – showcases your ability to drive change.
Let’s take a look at how an action verb can add weight to your achievement. Compare this:
“Improved the culture of XXX.”
“Transformed the culture of XXX by introducing a customer-centric model that raised retention levels of key staff by raising the accountability of managers.”
Can you see how the second option offers more punch and business context? The action verb at the beginning of the achievement makes it weighty and impactful.
Additional pro tip – match the action verb to the core nature of your industry. For example, if you’re targeting jobs in the finance industry, use action verbs such as:
For a sales position, use verbs such as:
For a full list of powerful action verbs that make your resume stand out, read my guide here.
4. Remove Buzzwords.
Avoid overused, meaningless cliches that take up valuable space, but say nothing at all. For example:
- Team player
None of these make your resume stand out in a meaningful way – because you’re expected to be a loyal, hard-working team player to even be considered for the role.
Eliminate all buzzwords. ‘Nuff said. You’ll find the full list here.
5. Tailor The Resume To Target Roles.
You must align your resume to each of the roles that you apply for.
The sharper the resume’s alignment, the more it will stand out to recruiters and hiring managers.
First, align the Title and Key Skills section of your resume. Applying for a role as an Operations Manager? Make sure that the title of your resume is, indeed, “Operations Manager”.
This holds true even if your last role was not in operations.
Let’s say you have a lot of operations experience, and are applying for operations management roles, but since 2019 you’ve been working as a project manager.
Does this mean that you need to write “Project Manager” in your resume’s title?
To make your resume stand out, position yourself as an operations manager, despite the detour into project management.
But you will need to reposition the project management role through the lens of operations management, to highlight aspects that are relevant in the context of your new direction.
(Related: How To Write A Resume That Impresses Recruiters).
6. Quantify Your Achievements.
Your achievements must tell the full story of where, how and why you have added the most value.
Go beyond the duties and responsibilities. Show full business context and impact of your achievement on the organisation – and quantify them where possible.
Ideally, add percentages or dollar signs.
As a professional resume writer, I use a simple yet impactful formula that works across all levels: Achieved Results By Taking Actions (ARTA).
The following example is inspired by a recent resume for an E-Commerce Manager:
Boosted sales by 12% and eliminated Google remarketing costs (achieved result) by designing and implementing an in-house remarketing platform to re-engage with customers (by taking action).
Or how about this one from a Project Manager:
Increased data bandwidth by 200% (achieved result) by working with Telstra, XXX IT State Coordinators and the Network Team to successfully coordinate a WAN upgrade incorporating fibre, firewalls & switches to every hospital (by taking action).
Use this formula to elevate your achievements and demonstrate to hiring managers how you add value.
I hope that my tips for making your resume stand out will help you land a great job, quickly. All the best in your career.