Top 10 Resume Writing Rules To Help You Write A Flawless Resume
Resume writing tips from Australia's #1 executive resume writing firm.
Writing an outstanding resume is not possible without knowing essential resume writing rules. Follow instructions in this resume writing guide to write a resume which knocks the socks off recruiters and hiring managers.
Top 10 Resume Writing Rules To Help You Write A Flawless Resume
7 min read
You want to write a killer resume capable of grabbing recruiters by the eyeballs. And you don’t have time to read volumes of internet posts to formulate that winning approach. What’s the trick to writing a resume of this calibre?
The rules of resume writing are evolving as quickly as the recruitment industry itself. In today’s digitally-driven world, staying ahead of the job search game can be a moving target.
That’s why I’m here to help.
By the time you finish reading these 10 resume writing rules, you’ll have the tools needed to write a resume that is highly persuasive, compelling and unique.
And, most importantly, will position you as a winning candidate in the eyes of recruiters.
Entrepreneur and marketing whiz Gary Vaynerchuk wrote that, ‘Great marketing is all about telling your story in such a way that it compels people to buy what you are selling.’
All great stories have structure. And superb resume writing means ensuring that your resume tells the story of your career, with each role positioned as a relevant, intentional step towards your intended direction.
This is not the same as lying / misrepresenting.
It’s an ability to artfully explain your career moves, especially ones that can be viewed as “problem” areas (such as gaps or career transitions), in a way that fits the overarching narrative.
Often, I work with clients who have taken a role that:
was slightly off their career path
didn’t work out for whatever reason
was undertaken alongside their ‘day job’
When such a role doesn’t fit with the professional branding story they are trying to tell, it confuses their value proposition.
If you have a role like this, you need to think carefully about how to include it (if at all).
One option could be to include an ‘Additional Experience’ section at the back of your resume where you can talk about these roles succinctly and highlight the transferable skills that can be applied to your brand.
Another resume writing trick is simply to list this role in your employment summary (and omit it from the main body of your resume).
Think carefully about your job roles, what skills they demonstrate and how they fit in with your personal brand.
Each word on your resume needs to serve a distinct purpose. Since there’s no way around using prepositions and articles, focus on maximising your verbs and adjectives.
Power every bullet point with an action verb that accurately reflects your experience and the role you’re targeting. (TIP: Senior positions demand high-impact verbs: “shaped”, “championed”, “spearheaded”, “led”, “drove”.)
As for adjectives, avoid buzzword fillers such as “detail-oriented”, “results-driven”, “strategic thinker”, “team player”. Everyone uses them and your goal is to be unique.
Once upon a time, writing professional profiles of resumes in the third person was considered to be the gold standard of resume writing.
Now it’s considered old-fashioned.
Your Professional Profile is the introduction to your brand and needs to paint a picture of you as a relatable professional person—in your voice.
“John is a seasoned Entrepreneur with 20 years’ success in business leadership. He is recognised for his energetic approach in transforming start-up ventures into multimillion-dollar entities.”
“I am a seasoned Entrepreneur with 20 years’ success in business leadership, applying an energetic approach to transform start-up ventures into multibillion-dollar entities”.
The difference may seem subtle, but recruiters want to connect with something (and someone) tangible. Not a third person anything.
Other throwbacks to avoid:
Forget about mailing that heavy paper stock copy (unless you want to raise eyebrows – and not in a good way). Printed resumes are done. Recruiters will be viewing your resume online (and most likely on a mobile device).
Ditch the hotmail address and the home phone number. Consider creating a personal website with your own domain name and email address (firstname.lastname@example.org). It’s a sure sign that you take your brand—and your work—seriously.
While we’re on the subject of pronouns, remember that their use should be restricted to the Professional Profile section of your resume. They should not feature in the main body of your resume (where you should be expanding on your individual roles).
For example, rather than saying:
“I develop and execute multi-brand marketing strategies that deliver revenue growth.”
“Lead the development and execution of multi-brand marketing strategies that deliver revenue growth.”
If the recruiter has made it this far in reading your resume, they know who you’re talking about. The pronouns simply take up the critical real estate.
Rule 5: Create A Killer Headline.
Besides being your foot in the proverbial door, your resume is an ideal career fact sheet for recruiters.
Considering one of those buzz word-ridden Objective Statements? Forget it. Those firmly belong in the 1990’s.
Kick off your resume with a fact-based headline that targets the role you’re seeking, buoyed by relevant skills, specialisations or achievements.
Executive Sales Director | Acquisition & Business Development
CEO | FMCG
Rule 6: Spotlight Your Employers.
There is one very valid (but not obvious) reason for including a short blurb about the organisations you are affiliated with – recruiter snobbery.
Connotation and association are natural human reactions.
Your resume could end up in the “no” pile if the organisations you have worked for are unfamiliar to the recruiter (while your competitors are citing companies such as Google, Westpac or Woolworths).
The antidote is to include a short (no more than two lines) summary on the organisations you have worked for that focuses on the size, scale and value of that particular business.
TIP: Don’t just copy and paste from the ‘About Us’ section of the employers’ websites. Include only the key facts that will offer useful insight to recruiters, such as business specialty/company structure, geographical presence, employee numbers and annual turnover.
Rule 7: Front-Load Your Achievements.
An eye-tracking study undertaken by usability research pioneer Dr. Jakob Nielsen found that the dominant reading pattern online looks like the letter ‘F’.
What this means for resumes is that after a recruiter has read your headline (aligned with the first horizontal line of the ‘F’), they move on to focus on the left-hand-side of the text (or the vertical line of the ‘F’).
It means your achievements will have more impact if you front-load your sentences to show quantifiable results:
“Designed and implemented a leadership training and development program that resulted in a 10% increase in staff engagement rates.”
“Increased staff engagement rates by 10%, designing and implementing a leadership training and development program.”
While you don’t need to rewrite your entire resume for every role, you do need to reposition your experience for each, so that you’re speaking into the needs of recruiters, every time.
Each time you apply for a role, create a new version of your resume which contains a targeted USP, and revised bullet points, key skills, assets, and keywords.
Rule 9: Avoid Ambiguity.
Have a gap in your work history? Many people do.
However, calling yourself a “consultant” to cover up any gap is a huge red flag—especially if you use vague language. If indeed you’ve been a sole trader, freelancer or independent consultant, be sure to provide specific details such as:
your clients’ names
the duration and scope of those engagements
your impact on their business
your personal approach to building your freelance business and acquiring clients
Dates are critical to set the recruiter’s mind at ease. Most importantly, when in doubt, tell the truth.
Rule 10: Choose A Clean Design.
Yes, this is a post about resume writing. But if the design of your resume isn’t designed with its destination/recipient in mind, all your brilliant work will amount to nought.
You send your resume off for a job.
The first person who casts their eyes on your resume is a recruiter who is in their late 20’s.
The first time they’ll see your resume will be on their mobile device, while they’re driving to/from work, waiting for a client, etc. (Remember the 6-second statistic above.)
If your resume looks dated, clunky or simply like “hard work”, this recruiter will struggle to give it their attention.
And yes, even if the writing and content are great.
Think of your resume as a modern web page – and start by using a contemporary resume template. Make sure it clearly communicates your story in a logical sequence of information that draws the reader in.