Sometimes the hardest thing an emerging and even established business professional can do is sell themselves. Whether the struggle stems from humility or self-doubt, nothing embodies this challenge more powerfully than the resume: that one-page summary of your years of life lessons and work experience.
Because your resume represents your personal accomplishments and occupational capabilities, you need to ensure you're making a strong enough first impression to put your foot in the door and score that cherished in-person interview or next step in the application process.
To do that, however, you need a resume that leaves your reader wowed, confident in your skill set and ready to reach out to you.
In general, most professionals can agree on these best practices for your resume:
- Avoid templates, since they can be quite recognizable
- Have your layout in mind ahead of time, so you know the space you have to work with
- Arrange your education and work experiences chronologically, including names of schools and companies, your title, and relevant accomplishments
- Divide your resume into sections, like Contact Details, Education, Work Experiences and Special Skills
- Embolden the descriptions of your job duties with strong verbs
However, although most can agree on the basic requirements of a resume, there's a lot of room for improvement in the content you choose to include in your resume.
We’ve compiled a list of eight tips to help you make a strong first impression and improve your odds of reaching the next step in the job or school application process.
8 Tips for Building Your Resume
1. Build your resume for the position you want.
Are you applying for a particular position or to a certain academic program? If so, make sure you tweak your included career positions and role descriptions, so they maximize your impact in each role and emphasize the skills you will utilize in the position or program you’re applying for.
Similarly, you’ll want to emphasize the impact of your work, rather than listing tasks you were responsible for. What information or data can you leverage to quantify your impact? Did leads go up 235% in your first year as program manager? Did you contribute to a revenue increase of 43% annually? This is your time to sell yourself, so be sure you’re talking yourself up with the strongest information available.
2. Keep your resume as up to date as possible.
Was your most recently listed role in 1986? If it is, you will definitely want to update it—or respectfully bow out of the competition for the position now.
Even if your current or most recent role isn’t related to the position for which you’re applying, make sure you keep your resume relevant to where you are in your career now. Chances are your current role still allows you to illustrate some of the skills that will be applicable to this potential position, like basic time or project management techniques, attention to detail, and more.
3. Fill any large gaps in time.
If you were unemployed for a couple of months for whatever reason, don’t stress! Everyone needs a vacation or has a break some time. Just be ready to clarify why you may not have been working at the time, should the question come up in an interview.
If there are several years that go unaccounted for on your resume, however, a potential employer will likely notice and wonder what you were up to during that time. If you weren’t furthering your professional development, as it can be a red flag in the hiring process.
4. Don't forget about what you do outside of the office.
Try to think outside of the box and see if there’s some service you were completing outside of the workplace that you could make work for your resume. This could include assembling a community club or school organization, leading a citywide march or event, organizing a magazine or journal in your free time, any volunteer work you’ve completed, and more.
Your accomplishments outside of work achievements matter just as much, if not more, because they highlight your willingness to go above and beyond for what you care about, showcasing your interests and ability to potential employers. In addition, imagine the boom in hiring odds if your reader knows or has benefited from any of the organizations with which you’ve volunteered!
5. Format your resume wisely.
When it comes to laying out the details of your resume, be sure to avoid overwhelming a reader with too much going on on the page. Optimize the white space by left-aligning all items, rather than dividing the page vertically into two or three columns, so your roles and descriptions stand out as much as possible.
Most of all, list your name, contact details (with an appropriate email address—email@example.com, for instance, is not professional enough for employers), and links to your relevant social media pages, personal website, blog, portfolio of work examples, or CV.
After all, you want your reader to take away a thorough understanding of your skill set and a total confidence in your ability to contribute to their company or program.
This emphasis on formatting leads us to Step 6—one of the simplest, strongest, yet most abused resume requirements.
6. Limit your resume to one page only —
When it comes to your resume, there is no room for overachieving, and one of the easiest ways to earn your resume a one-stop trip to the garbage bin is ignoring the very basic rule of keeping your resume to one page.
Be respectful of your interviewer’s time—including the time it takes to review your qualifications for the job.
7. Replace the objective statement with a personal summary.
When it comes to what follows your contact information, professionals often panic, fretting about those pesky mission or objective statements. Well, there’s good news for those who fretted—objective statements are a thing of the past. Now, many are opting for a short personal summary in the place of their former statement.
In fact, many professionals are in favor of cutting both the objective statement and personal summary entirely in order to allow you to maximize your academic and professional career highlights. After all, you only have one page for all you’ve done.
8. Proofread, revise and send to a friend or Admissions Advisor to review.
Unfortunately, the number one reason a resume is never read belongs to the most preventable of mistakes: typos, grammatical errors or other similarly unnecessary accidents. Because of this, you should take pains to proofread your resume, reading the lines aloud to yourself as you go, which helps writers catch their own proofing errors at a greater rate.
Once you’ve proofed your resume and revised it as needed, be sure to send it to a trusted friend, mentor or colleague to review it. Similarly, if you’re applying to a university, strongly consider sending your resume to the university’s Admissions Advisors beforehand, as they can help you tweak your past to best fit your academic goals and get you closer to your envisioned future.
Ready to Revise Your Resume?
Keeping these tips in mind, you should now be able to make any necessary revisions to your resume, so you can give your interviewers compelling reasons to take you to the next step of the hiring or admissions process.