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How to breathe new life into a tired résumé format

Get comfortable adding some visual interest to your résumé’s appearance, without sacrificing the essential facts about your background.

How to breathe new life into a tired résumé format
[Photo: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash]

If you’re not getting results when sending out your résumé, it probably means it’s time for an overhaul. So how do you freshen things up and grab recruiters’ attention in today’s ever-changing job market?

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When applying for a job, the last thing you want is to get lost in a sea of identical applications. With the current pandemic continuing to affect job prospects, it’s more important than ever to stand out from your competitors.

The truth is, writing a good, yet forgettable, résumé is an easy trap to fall into. With so many candidates following the same advice, it can be hard for individuality to shine through. At the same time, it’s essential to tailor your application to each recruiter, which can mean sacrificing the achievements you’re proud of, to focus on those that are the most relevant for the role.

So, how can you strike a balance? Is it possible to tick all the boxes, while still showcasing your unique capabilities? Consider these steps to make your résumé shine, even in a precarious hiring landscape.

Find out what excites recruiters

Recruiters love it when you speak their language, so it’s worth learning what excites them, so you can communicate more effectively.

The biggest mistake most candidates make when writing their résumé is assuming that they already know what will impress recruiters. Avoid setting yourself back by making assumptions.

Read up on your target jobs before sending any applications out. Identify specific buzzwords, and from there put together the specific skills, qualifications, and experiences recruiters ask for, time after time. Make sure you strategically place these into your résumé, but be careful not to overstuff, as this could jeopardize your delivery. It’s also worth researching what’s going on in the industry overall by looking at current news, trends, and projects. This way, when you begin writing, you’ll come across as clued up, confident, and interested—an exciting prospect for recruiters who are tired of wading through uninterested candidates.

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It’s also worth exploring individual companies’ websites, blogs, and social media to understand them better. You’ll be able to identify key company figures and judge company working culture and dress codes. Arming yourself with as much information as possible is crucial, not just for résumé writing, but also for any potential interviews you might land.

Switch up your style

At one point in time, the typical résumé was pretty boring and was still given consideration. We’ve all had this traditional advice drummed into us—formatted on one page, bulleted, while listing every job you’ve ever had.

These days, it’s much more acceptable to make your résumé look eye-catching, as long as you’re still putting content at the forefront.

Review your résumé’s format for its intrigue; would a recruiter pick yours out of a pile?

For many recruiters, creativity is essential—and making your résumé stand out visually is a way to demonstrate your ability to think outside the box. Nowadays it’s okay for you to use a bit of color to highlight your most important experiences and attributes, and to also show some personality.

What is really frowned upon is a messy résumé. As a recruiter, I’ve seen many candidates lose roles because their résumés were impossible to navigate.

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To avoid this, organize your résumé in a logical and easy-to-follow manner. Divide your content into neat sections, delete unnecessary text boxes, avoid flowery fonts, and break up large chunks of text. All of these details are distracting and can slow recruiters down, preventing them from reading your résumé in detail.

Create an unforgettable profile

As the first thing recruiters see when reading your résumé, your profile provides the perfect opportunity to grab their attention. Think of it as an elevator pitch, and you’ve only got 30 seconds to sell yourself and convince recruiters you’re the right candidate for the job.

Your profile should ideally be no longer than a few lines, so keep it short, punchy, and attention-grabbing. Only include your most important and relevant characteristics, which promote your profile for different roles.

The biggest thing to avoid here is meaningless clichés. Ambiguous phrases like “dedicated team player,” “goes the extra mile,” or “strong communicator” come off stilted and predictable. When broken down, these phrases lack substance and don’t pertain to specific roles. You want to sell yourself as an expert within your field, focusing on your hard skills instead of drawing attention to empty filler phrases.

Finally, make sure your profile doesn’t linger on previous jobs too much, so you don’t appear stuck in the past. Use your profile to showcase the skills that you’re excited to use in the future, so recruiters know you’re ready to take on something new.

Throw in some facts and figures

Everyone knows to list their achievements on their résumé, but when multiple applicants are writing the same things, how do recruiters know they’re making the right decision? And how can you physically demonstrate how capable you are?

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It’s all about proving your impact. There’s no point listing your responsibilities in a role if you don’t point to results. In other words, you need to explain how the actions you took helped the company to meet its goals and objectives. One way of proving your impact is to quantify your results by using numbers and statistics.

Instead of saying, “I worked on cost-saving projects,” you could say, “I reduced the budget by 25% over six months.” Factual statements add legitimacy, as well as originality, to your résumé. It’s great for multiple reasons— it clearly illustrates your results in a way that is easy to understand, and it also proves that you’re trustworthy and credible, making recruiters more likely to appreciate your résumé as a whole.

Editing your résumé is a time-consuming task, but it will always pay off if you approach it intuitively. Things are tough right now, but you can use this introspective period to spend more time on your résumé, creating an appealing record of your accomplishments so you can grab the next, big opportunity.


Andrew Fennell is the founder of CV-writing advice website StandOut CV and a former recruitment consultant.

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