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This is the ultimate guide to writing a standout résumé

Pro Tip: Put yourself in their shoes. If you’re reading hundreds of résumés, the ones that concisely convey the right information and are easily readable will grab attention.

This is the ultimate guide to writing a standout résumé
[Source illustration: uniquepixel/Getty Images]

The red hot U.S. labor market might be shifting toward a cooling period. Rising inflation, interest rate hikes, and a possible recession on the horizon are driving some companies to slow or pause hiring. As the screws turn and things get tighter, the relatively open job market will become more competitive by the day. This is why it’s important to have a strong résumé to ensure that yours will make it into the final pile of potential hires. 

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Keep it simple

Short and sweet is best for résumés. Just think: If you’re a hiring manager reading hundreds of résumés, the ones that will likely be best concisely convey the right information and are easily readable. To ensure this:

  • Stick with black text on white paper
  • Use clear headings
  • Break up different sections with spaces and borders, and big blocks of text with bullets or dashes

Keep your résumé to at most two pages for experienced job seekers and one sheet for newer professionals. Cut the fluff and excessive jargon, and don’t over format. Résumés tend to look boring. and that’s okay. You can use bold, italics, or underline, but not all three in the same sentence. Too much formatting can be distracting.

Also, many companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) that are programmed to read traditionally formatted résumés. It’s difficult for an ATS to read columns, fancy fonts, and charts. Additionally, recruiters may have difficulty reading overly formatted résumés. Instead of a fancy résumé, keep it simple. Use a font that’s easy for both humans and machines to read, and use formatting sparingly.

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Design it for the job you want

If you want to make it past the first round of cuts and have the chance at an interview, your first move should be to identify target job openings and design your résumé with those jobs in mind. This is important because many companies will receive a lot of applications, and any résumés that don’t seem relevant or are too generic will likely be tossed after a first glance.

Every job has requirements for specific qualifications, skills, and experience, and tailoring your résumé to the employer and the job enables you to present your experience in a way that quickly showcases that you’re well-suited for the role. So do the research: 

  • Check the company’s website 
  • Find its mission statement
  • Peruse its social media feeds
  • Read its blogs
  • Dig into its goals as a company
  • Understand its clients

All of this will enable you to further tailor your résumé to match what the employer is looking for. Then, read the job description and make a list of any specific job requirements, skills, attributes, experience, and qualifications. If they list responsibilities and duties that you have previously handled, write those down too, and be sure to pull out any specific keywords or phrases from the job posting. This will help ensure you make it past the ATS.

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Read through your list and check off any items that relate to your previous skills, experience, or responsibilities. Once you know exactly what relevant qualities you have to offer, set down the most useful ones in the place they will be seen quickly. Put your core skill set at the top of your résumé. Lower priority items can be worked in further down.

Showcase your skills

Companies will have a vested interest in the skills you possess. This means that knowing which are relevant to the job is important when considering which skills to include on your résumé. And while it should go without saying, let’s be safe: Be honest in your résumé. Any professional skill listed on your résumé should be a skill you actually possess. There’s nothing worse than showing up on your first day and asking your boss to train you on some workplace tool you said you knew how to use. Skills come in all shapes and sizes, so here’s how to make sure your skills section highlights the right ones for the job you’re seeking. 

Generally, there are two types of skills: hard and soft.

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Hard skills are technical skills that are specific to a particular job and are often measurable. For designers, their hard skills would include specific design software, for example.

Soft skills are personal, creative, or social abilities that come naturally or can be improved over time. Some examples of soft skills are flexibility, communication, people skills, time management, and empathy.

Again, tailor your skills for the job you are applying for, and use what is most relevant to the open position. 

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Here’s an example of what hard skills might look like on your résumé:

Accounting and office software administration: Proficient in Intuit Payroll, QuickBooks, Blue Cherry ERP System, FRS Accounting System, 4Gen Accounting System, and Microsoft Office Suite to improve time to process payments by 3x.

Writing and communication: Proficiency in MS Word, Google Docs, WordPress-based content management system to produce up to four 1000+ words-long articles weekly. Used InDesign to create a 90-page user guide for a cloud-based webinar app. Navigated complex content application platforms to submit grant applications that received $160,000 in funding.

You can see that these are technical skills that would be directly relevant to a specific open position. Also, take note of how these skills are written to directly relate to results. It’s great to know you can use Microsoft Word, but it’s even more important to show what you can do with that knowledge.

Here are examples of soft skills: 

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Project administration: Create partnerships and alliances with legal, developers, equipment buyers, regional VPs, merchandisers, store team leaders, and outside vendors.

Project management: Coordinated 10 people to create a YouTube video ad for a client that resulted in the client’s revenues increasing by over $50,000 within a month.

Forget basic, highlight unique

You’ll tailor your résumé to suit the job you’re seeking, but don’t forget to include the information that might set you apart from the crowd, and drop the unnecessary info. 

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Objective statements used to be at the top of almost every résumé and told the employer what you are looking for in a job. Instead of an objective statement, use a concise summary or list of your qualifications to present your most relevant skills and experience to employers.

Skip listing hobbies or interests unrelated to work. It’s best to leave out anything that might make your résumé stand out for the wrong reasons. An instance where you should include hobbies or interests is when it is relevant to the job. For example, if you are switching careers from real estate to working in a brewery, that bathtub beer you’ve been brewing could be relevant. 

Another way to highlight your unique skills is to get specific. Most people searching for jobs know the basics of Microsoft suite. Most people know how to make a spreadsheet. But, if you can make pivot tables and trendline charts, run macros, and power queries, then you’re unique and you should highlight that. 

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Specify remote work if you want it

The times they are a-changin, and so are the office norms. Most jobs will specify if they are remote, hybrid, or in person, so don’t be shy about sharing your preference and the skills that go with it. Be sure to mention in your work experience whether your roles were remote, in person, or hybrid.

If you do have previous remote-work experience, highlight the various digital platforms you have used to communicate and collaborate with clients and coworkers. Highlight the soft skills hiring managers are looking for in remote workers, such as self-discipline, self-motivation, and time management.

Also, consider mentioning if you have a dedicated workspace and a fast, reliable internet connection. And, make it a point of emphasis when you’re putting down achievements from work: Trust me, increasing revenue through acquiring new clients over Zoom calls is impressive.

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Don’t forget that it pays to show you’re flexible. A potential hiring manager might ask you to come into the office to work on a special project, and noting that you’re willing and able to work with the company will go a long way. “Some great skills employers love to see on your résumé if you are looking for remote work are: written and verbal communication, the ability to work independently, time and task management, organization, comfort with technology, and specific knowledge of remote communication tools like Zoom, Skype, Dropbox, Google Suite, etc.,” shared Toni Frana, FlexJobs’ expert career coach.

Show don’t tell

It should go without saying that it’s better to show a potential employer your skills, accomplishments, and values rather than writing a list. So how do you show in a résumé? Through your work experience! And not by just reciting the various things you have done, but by highlighting the results you achieved through your work. To do this, familiarize yourself with the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Results) and write your résumé to show these steps.

Here’s a work experience example:

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  • Oversaw accounting, cash control, payroll, and receiving departments for a unit producing $1.7 million in weekly sales.
  • Spearheaded all back-office functions, supervised 35 employees, and supplied technical assistance to the location and the region.
  • Boosted sales revenue by 12% through designing an auto-generated sales forecasting and goals tool.

Notice that the situation and task aspects of the STAR method are laid out in the brief job description and then how the action and result aspects of the STAR method are touched on in one concise sentence. 

Results: Boosted sales revenue by 12%

Action: Through designing auto-generated sales forecasting and goals tool

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Consider this template

Although the skills and experience may not align with your own, this is a basic template of how you can design your own standout résumé. Remember to rely on the STAR method to highlight achievements and not your daily tasks.

Skills

Operations management: Maintain compliance and quality assurance, oversee applications for permits, and negotiate better terms on contracts.

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Human Resources management: Hire and supervise multiple teams, design training and mentoring workshops, lead regular team retros and one-on-ones to set and track goals and improve communication and retention of high-performing employees.

Project administration: Create and nurture partnerships with developers, equipment buyers, regional VPs, merchandisers, cross-functional team leaders, and outside vendors to improve workflow.

Experience

Startup        Anytown, USA

Finance Director             April 2018 – Present

Consistently delivered the highest quality, full-spectrum financial and administrative services for a startup in the FinTech space, including financial review, income statement analysis, balance sheet, and bank statement reconciliation. Performed audits, created budgets, calculated and adjusted prepaid and month-ending journal entries, and determined and logged monthly interest on two company loans.

  • Decreased costs by 30% through audits and eliminating redundancies.
  • Guided and regulated Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable departments, including reconciling customer and supplier invoicing resulting in savings of 15%.
  • Reviewed and renegotiated business agreements to ensure the best rates.
  • Authored financial documentation and provided data to support upper-level management’s operational choices resulting in 3x increase in efficiency.

Large retailer      Anytown, USA

Accounting Specialist Team Leader                 October 2015 – April 2018          

  • Oversaw accounting, cash control, payroll, and receiving departments for a business unit with $50K weekly sales. Spearheaded all back-office functions, supervised 35 employees, and supplied technical assistance to the location and the region.
  • Boosted sales revenue by 12% through designing an auto-generated sales forecasting and goals tool.
  • Decreased store organizational costs by 20% through tracking accounts and renegotiating vendor contracts.
  • Escalated cash management operations by 50% and lowered labor costs across the entire organization by eliminating repetitious functions and executing a dual control system for calculating daily cash deposits.
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