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Wondering how to write a resume that positions you as a winning candidate? No problem – today I’ll give you all the tools, skills, knowledge and resume examples you need to write your own killer resume. But let me guess – the last time you needed one, floppy disks and Walkmans were all the rage, right?
I say this because, if you’re like most professionals, for most of your career you didn’t need a resume.
You often knew just the right person to get your foot in the door. Or you were tapped on the shoulder.
In recent years, however, technology has changed the rules of the job search game.
This means taps on the shoulder have become more rare – and landing that next opportunity is beyond the powers of your trusted long-held networks.
To compete seriously, you need a stand-out resume.
Yours, however, is sorely outdated. And your resume writing skills are, well, unhoned. It’s time to finally learn how to write a resume, then.
How To Write A Resume That Blows The Socks Off Employers In 2021.
An effective resume is more than a mish-mash of your previous roles and buzzwords.
In other words, it should never say that you’ve “managed a team of 15 analysts at KPMG for 10 years” and claim that you’re “a highly motivated self-starter“.
Instead, it must clearly articulate how you’re uniquely positioned to solve a specific set of commercial challenges – and why you should be hired over other, similarly qualified candidates.
Easier said than done, right?
Don’t be discouraged.
Most people are terrible at writing about themselves. By learning to write your own resume you instantly overtake the masses and place yourself in the top percentile of jobseekers whose resume has the power to get noticed.
Follow my step-by-step advice below to give yourself an edge over the competition.
By the way, do you want to be absolutely certain that your resume hits all of the right notes? Consider using my:
- recommended free resume builder, if you’re on a budget.
- premium resume writing service, if you’re a mid-career professional.
- executive resume writing service, if you’re a senior leader.
1. Start At The End.
Most people begin writing their resume by crafting the resume’s profile.
This is a mistake. You should leave the profile blank until the very end.
Instead, begin writing your resume by planning its structure. Next, fill out the peripheral sections (education, board roles, etc.).
(Related Article: Should You Include References On Your Resume)?
Finally, zero in on the job descriptions, ensuring that your achievements are constructed correctly (more about these in a moment).
Once all the other sections are in place, write the profile; treat it as an exercise in summarising who you are as a professional.
2. 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.”
Follow this simple 3-step formula to craft strong achievements:
Let’s see if you can spot the formula in action:
“Achieved NPS scores higher than 77% over a 24-month period, exceeding company average by 15%.”
“Piloted ABC program with a 95% participant completion rate, leading to its implementation into the APAC region’s business practice and contributing to a 24% revenue growth in the region.”
That being said, writing outstanding resume achievements is a complex topic that deserves an article of its own. Take a look here for my comprehensive guide to resume achievement writing.
3. Make It Look Sleek.
4. Create A Killer Headline.
Considering one of those buzzword-ridden Objective Statements? Forget it. Those firmly belong in the 1990s.
Kick your resume off 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
5. Exclude Old Roles.
Writing a resume means deciding which of your previous roles deserve to be included.
You should not include every single role that you’ve had since university.
Here’s a guideline that will help you cull the chaff:
- Include between three and six of the most recent and relevant roles from the past 10 to 15 years.
- List earlier career history in a summary section that includes titles, organisations and tenure.
6. Target Like A Missile.
A resume is a marketing document, not a historical record of your career. In that sense, its content will change depending on the type of role that you decide to apply for.
This means that, despite all the options available to you, you must narrow down the list of roles you’d like to apply for, BEFORE you start writing your resume.
This will enable you to target specific pain points of hiring managers by repositioning and recontextualising aspects of your experience.
Let me explain how this works in real life.
Let’s say you’ve been at NAB for the past 10 years. You started out as a manager, got promoted a couple of times, at some point becoming a Head of Operations – and today found yourself in a GM role.
A pretty successful decade in my books.
Now, if you decide that your next step should be a more senior GM role, your resume will need to accentuate your stakeholder management and leadership skills. In other words, you’ll need to write a resume that demonstrates how you achieve results through other people.
However, if you decide to leverage your operations experience to apply for Director of Operations roles, you’ll need to illuminate an entirely different set of skills, while placing others in the background.
7. Use High-Impact Words.
Each word on your resume needs to serve a distinct purpose. Since there’s no way around using prepositions and articles, focus on maximising the power of 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.
8. 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.
9. Punch Like Mike Tyson.
If your resume has overly flowery language, it might come across generic and vague. Learning how to write a resume involves ensuring that your sentences are fluent, yet direct.
For example, instead of saying…
“Conceptualised novel IT operating model, utilising model to effortlessly streamline divisional operations and drive exceptional cost-savings.”
“Designed innovative IT operating model to streamline division, increasing efficiency by 41% and delivering $200K in cost-savings in Y1”.
10. Write Your Professional Profile In The 1st person.
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.
11. 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.
(Bonus Read: Resume Grammar Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making).
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.
12. Save It Like You Mean It.
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:
Goodwin_James or Goodwin_James_[company/recruiter name]
Learning How To Write A Resume Is An Art.
Writing an effective resume takes time – and many iterations.
As with most things in life, it’s possible to take shortcuts, but these tend to come back and haunt you – through lost job opportunities and rejection letters.
The passion you have for your work, as well as your ability to deliver tangible value, should shine through in every word of your resume.
My advice? Don’t try to wing it.
Once you’ve learned how to write a resume, you’ll be able to sell yourself to employers every time you need a new job.
It’s Your Turn To Write The Perfect Resume.
If, at this point, you’re curious about how to find the perfect resume writer for your professional needs, read my guide on how to choose a resume writing service.
Take my advice and beware of those painfully generic professional resume writers whose services abound these days.
If I were one of them, I might sum up this article with a tired old adage such as “you can write the perfect resume by telling, not selling.”
But since we’re all originals here, I’ll close with a Hopi proverb:
“Those who tell the stories rule the world.”