Everybody knows it’s important to have a résumé, especially when seeking your first job out of college or pursuing other opportunities along your career path—but you won’t find uniform agreement on what makes a great one. Even the experts don’t always offer the same advice on everything, from how long a résumé should be to exactly what details should be featured. To complicate matters further, a lot of the information you’ll find about building résumés is outdated. Remember—just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s up-to-date. Some tips even go back to the days when printed résumés were the norm, and a major decision was choosing the paper that would look the most impressive. Here’s a look at what you should and shouldn’t be doing to create a great résumé in today’s world, according to the experts.
Seek help from those in the know
First, “Don't take résumé advice from people that aren’t familiar with today's best practices and the technological challenges of submitting online applications,” says Cathy Lanzalaco of Inspire Careers LLC, a professional career coaching organization specializing in college students and new grads. “Seek out experts at your college career center or a professional résumé writer for accurate advice.” One campus-based expert is Ryan Smolko, Associate Director of the Career Center at Muhlenberg College, who points to the evolving use of automated processes for reviewing applications submitted by job seekers. “Résumés have certainly changed as companies are using more sophisticated applicant tracking software,” he says. It’s important to adapt résumés through strategies like using keywords from position announcements and job descriptions throughout the document.
Know what makes an effective résumé
The most effective résumés today are action oriented and results focused, demonstrating your unique skills and abilities. “The old days of copying and pasting a course list and final grades on a piece of paper and calling that your résumé are long gone,” says Lanzalaco. “Go deeper and show employers you have what they need to get the job done.” Every word on our résumé counts, especially when you’re applying through online job sites or pursuing positions at large companies that receive a ton of applications.
“Create a résumé that’s keyword rich and focused on the job you want,” Lanzalaco advises. Your résumé will be scanned for keyword compatibility when you apply online for jobs, so study ads for job openings, then integrate keywords and phrases directly from those postings. Otherwise, your résumé could be dropped from consideration without ever being seen by a human being.
Details that make you stand out
Keep in mind that using keywords is just a start; other content is also vital. In deciding what details to include, a great strategy is to put yourself in the position of your intended audience. When prospective employers are reviewing your résumé, what makes yours different than the other applications they’ve received? “Uniqueness is your superpower,” Lanzalaco adds. She advises separating yourself from your peers and your competition through personal branding. Take pains to identify just what makes you different—whether it’s your impressive skills, experience, personal style, or how you approach teamwork.
“Your résumé is most likely to stand out when you connect with yourself and get crystal clear about your one-of-a-kind value,” says Cathy Wasserman, career coach and co-author of The Empowered Job Search: Build a New Mindset and Get a Great Job in an Unpredictable World. “What specific skills, experience, ideas, curiosities, and perspective do you bring?” She recommends sharing your unique value in specific ways, both at the top of your résumé in a “summary of expertise” or “professional profile” section as well as throughout the body. This approach can help bring your résumé to the next level and give readers a clear and engaging lens through which to view your experience and what you can offer them. “Once you do this, consider the needs and goals of specific positions [you’re applying for],” Wasserman says. “Then make small tweaks to build a bridge between you and employers that’s authentic and rooted in what you truly have to contribute.”
A list of your accomplishments and traits
Are you a leader among your peers? Lanzalaco suggests listing any special projects, responsibilities, or recognition you were chosen for and describing what made you a candidate for these opportunities. Did you start a fraternity, launch a new club, mentor freshmen, serve as an RA in your dorm, or tutor struggling students? Then you’re a leader, she says, and leadership is a valued trait employers want to know about.
Give yourself time to revise
Developing a first draft and then taking time to revise your résumé is a must. As you work to craft the perfect document, it pays to study examples that might serve as models for your own. And keep in mind that a résumé isn’t just a summary of your qualifications; it also stands as an example of your ability to communicate them concisely. Lanzalaco recommends eliminating the phrase “responsible for” when describing your previous work experience. “This is old, passive language that doesn’t tell the employer anything,” she says. Instead, choose power words such as “achieved,” “accomplished,” “led,” “managed,” “delivered,” or “improved.” Tell specifically what you did and how you did it. Presenting just the right words also means using them consistently. If you used past tense in the first item of a list, each item in that list should also be in the past tense.
When putting together the various elements of your résumé, don’t go it alone. Instead, take advantage of all your available (and contemporary) resources. While ideally this will include in-person tips from a campus career coach or other professional, up-to-date books and online info can also be helpful. Check the dates that materials were published; if they’re more than a few years old, make sure they’ve been updated with details on submitting résumés electronically. Once you have a fully developed résumé in hand, ask a trusted friend, co-worker, or advisor to look it over and offer suggestions. Revising a second or third draft can bring a positive result that will make all your effort pay off. Who knows what doors your carefully crafted résumé might open?
Want to read more articles from this author? Check out Mark Rowh’s author page on CollegeXpress for great advice on everything from volunteering to graduate education to college costs and more.