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.
Let’s get started on your resume writing skills.
RULE 1: CREATE A COHERENT STORY.
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.
(Bonus Read: Should You Include Your Date Of Birth On Your Resume?)
RULE 2: USE RAZOR-SHARP LANGUAGE.
Each word on your resume nneds 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.
RULE 3: ELIMINATE THROWBACKS.
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.
RULE 4: AVOID INFORMAL GRAMMAR.
Your resume is a formal, professional document – and should be written as such.
This includes tiny details like the use of contractions.
‘I’m’ and ‘I’ve’ is perfectly acceptable when writing your LinkedIn profile. However, when writing your resume you should avoid contractions and use the formal format: e.g. ‘I am’ and ‘I have’.
Fortunately, this is a quick problem to fix. A 5-minute time investment ensures that you’re pitching your language at the right level.
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.
Financial Controller | CPA | FP&A
Senior Supply Chain Manager | Planning & Execution
IT Program Manager & Consultant | CSM | PMP
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.”
(Bonus Read: How To Write Resume Achievements Like A Pro).
RULE 8: TARGET YOUR AUDIENCE.
The recruiter for that CFO role you want at a medium-sized online retailer simply won’t wade through the Senior Financial Controller resume you used to apply at Westpac.
Studies show that a recruiter gives each resume an average of 6 seconds of attention. So don’t squander what little time you have.
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, MODERN 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.
(Related Reading: How To Write A Resume That Seduces Recruiters).
BONUS TIP: SAVE YOURSELF.
It may seem obvious, but time and time again I see resumes that are saved with names that don’t do you any favours with recruiters.
- CV – not helpful for filing/finding
- Ann_Draft_CV / CV Draft – Doesn’t suggest much effort in preparation
- John_Sales_Only_Resume – Could suggest a second sector choice
- Alex_2006 – Looks like your resume hasn’t been updated since WWI (or thereabouts)
First impressions count.
And if a recruiter makes a negative judgment before even opening your resume the odds get stacked against you.
Keep it simple, for example: e.g. Goodwin_James or Goodwin_James_[company/recruiter name]
GET STARTED ON THAT KILLER RESUME.
Follow these 10 rules, and you’re on your way to writing a resume which successfully grabs the attention of recruiters.
But remember, resume writing is not a quick process. I recommend that you invest a few hours per day across a couple of weeks if you really want to write a top-grade resume.
Of course, as I mentioned above, you can save yourself a great deal of time by hiring a professional resume writer. If that’s the path you choose to take, be sure to read my guide to choosing the best resume writing service first.