4 essentials to a killer resume

A lot of people dread updating their resume. Some people hate it so much that they stay with one company for decades so that they don’t even have to create a resume. OK, that’s probably not why most people stay at jobs for decades at a time. But I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people hate working on their resume.

When I’m reviewing resumes for friends or clients, I ask myself two questions: Are these bullet points relevant and do the bullet points make my friend sound smart?

I’ll usually start with their current or most recent job. This is most likely the position that’s the closest fit for whatever they’re applying for, so we want it to be as strong as possible.

The importance of verbs

The verbs on your resume tell recruiters and hiring managers quickly what kind of skills you have. A lot of resumes aren’t read all that closely – people don’t have time for that anymore. Sometimes a quick scan is all your resume will get. This means that the words you choose – especially the verbs – are critically important to being noticed.

Are the verbs – or action words – in your bullets strong or weak? I have a list of go-to power verbs that I think look great on a resume. Some of those words include: managed, implemented, owned, proposed, executed and coordinated. If a hiring manager reads nothing more than the first two or three words of each bullet point on your resume, you want them to see that you’ve proposed projects, implemented projects and managed projects. This tells the hiring manager that you spend enough time thinking to come up with gaps within the department/company; that you developed a good enough proposal to have it approved; that you can coordinate with others because you got the project implemented; and that you have project management skills. This makes you sound well-rounded and able to handle a multitude of work.

For all previous jobs, be sure you’re using past-tense verbs to describe what you did. That might sound picky. But you aren’t in the role anymore, so don’t let your resume sound like you are.

Share your results

You also want those bullet points to show what a difference you’ve made. They should include any major accomplishments (“grew response rates by X%” or “doubled our email list signups”) that were a result of your work and/or your ideas. If you don’t have specific measurements to highlight, that’s OK, some roles won’t. You can include any kind of process improvements or other department/division changes that you helped launch or implement.

If you don’t have any of this to include, now might be a good opportunity to look for processes you can change or new projects you can start. Work like this looks awesome on a resume and will be a perfect topic to discuss at an interview. Even if the project fails miserably, you can use that as an example of a lesson you learned.

The art of spinning

The most important thing is to look at each bullet point on your resume and think, “Did I spin this to showcase my skills?”

“Spinning” is what good PR people do: they turn a bad situation into either a good situation or a not-so-bad situation. For example, let’s say I’ve started about seven different craft projects I’ve found on Pinterest, but haven’t finished a single one. Maybe this means I’m lazy or that I give up on things when I realize they take work. But a good PR person would never want to admit that, so instead I’d “spin.” I’d tell myself and others that I believe in trying new things in order to find what I’m really passionate about, and that this process helped me realize that I need to be passionate about what I’m working on in order to succeed.

Spinning on your resume isn’t quite the same – you aren’t necessarily trying to hide flaws or shortcomings. But you are trying to make mundane or otherwise unimportant things sound a lot more interesting and relevant to a recruiter or hiring manager.

For example, one of my previous job duties was to edit content written by people in my department and a few outside my department. The boring way to state that would be: Edit content for various publications. Yes, that’s what I did, but it doesn’t showcase any sort of skill. Instead, I’d write: “Collaborated with business partners across the company to ensure accurate, clear messages for field and corporate audiences.” This statement conveys that I know how to work with others (collaboration), I know what’s important in content (accurate, clear messages) and that I know how to tailor content by audience (field and corporate audiences). That’s way more descriptive and useful for any recruiter or hiring manager who’s trying to figure out if I have the skills to be successful in their role.

Update regularly

When I’m actively applying for jobs, I typically update my resume for each job I’m interested in. Because a lot of HR departments use software to scan resumes, you want to make sure that each resume you submit uses words from the job posting. Resumes with the keywords move on to the next round while those that don’t, well, don’t.

Depending on the roles you’re applying for, you might be able to get by with only minor tweaks.

If you aren’t actively job hunting, you might feel like there’s no real need to update your resume. While that might be true, you never know when an amazing opportunity might pop up – and you need to submit your application that day.

Updating your resume today, even when you have no intentions of leaving your current job anytime soon, also helps so that when you DO decide you’re ready to explore other options, you’ve already captured a basic list of what you do. You’ll have updates, sure, but you’ll have documented things you did earlier during your tenure that you may have forgotten about by now. My recommendation? Update your resume at least once a year. Aligning it with your company’s performance review schedule might help make populating those bullets a little easier since you’ll have already documented your most recent achievements for your year-end review.

Working on your resume isn’t super fun, but sometimes your resume is your only way of connecting with a recruiter or hiring manager. Make sure your resume uses words and phrases that are relevant to the position and showcase your skills and achievements, and don’t forget to update on a regular basis so you’re ready for any opportunity that comes your way.


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