The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Stand-Out Resume

Taking the time to craft an effective resume is incredibly important when looking for a new job.

You’re competing with other job seekers, so, naturally, you want your resume to stand out from all the rest. But other applicants are not your only competition: you’re also competing with a hiring manager’s attention span.

How much time do you think a prospective employer devotes to reading a resume?

According to Glassdoor, approximately six seconds.

In other words, you have six seconds to:

  •  convey who you are, what you’ve done and what you’ve accomplished
  •  impress the hiring manager
  •  demonstrate that you are qualified for the job
  •  set yourself apart from other applicants

Talk about pressure.

It’s no wonder people find resume writing to be stressful and overwhelming. And why so many people get stumped when it’s time to sit down and write.

But don’t panic.

We’ve put together a comprehensive list of resume tips and recommendations in order to help make the writing process simpler – and to increase your odds of impressing a hiring manager and getting that interview.

Before You Get Started

You have a recruiter or hiring manager’s attention for a small amount of time. It’s important that your resume quickly conveys the story you want to tell: My experience and skills make me the right person for the role.

Want to get set up successfully? Follow these steps:

1. Choose the right resume format.

Resumes are not one-size-fits-all. Take some time to think about what job, or jobs, you are interested in. The type of job and the industry will determine what skills or experience you should highlight in your resume.

Applying to multiple jobs? Customize accordingly. The style of resume you use will depend on where you are in your career – and where you want to go next.

So what resume format is best for you? Here’s a quick snapshot of the three most popular:

  • Chronological – This is usually the go-to style for resumes. It starts off with your contact information then jumps into your work experience, with your most recent, or current, position listed first. It goes in reverse chronological order from there. Then, you can add education or any additional information, such as certificates or volunteer work.
    When to use: Great if you have a strong work history and are interested in continuing in the same line of work. Employers like this style because it’s really easy to see what someone’s experience.
  • Functional – This type focuses more on skills than it does experience. Instead of jumping into your work history, functional resumes lead with a “Qualifications” or “Professional Summary” or “Accomplishments” section at the top. There, you will break down the skills or experience you have gained over your career.  At the bottom of the resume, you can include a concise list of your work experience.
    When to use: Have gaps in your resume or looking to get into a new field? A functional resume might be a good choice.
  • Combination/Hybrid – This style of resume is a cross between chronological and functional and focuses equally on skills and work experience. The top of the resume will showcase your skills and accomplishments. Below that you will list your work history in reverse chronological order.
    When to use: This resume format is ideal in that you can show an employer what you bring to the table, but you’re sharing your employment history in an easy-to-read way.

2. Make sure your email address is professional and appropriate.

Having an email address on your resume is extremely important. Just as important is making sure it’s professional. It’s something that often gets overlooked by job seekers, but something that potential employers do notice.

Unsure if your email is professional or not? Have someone else read it aloud to you. Or simply imagine how you would feel having a hiring manager read it back to you. If you feel comfortable with that, you’re good to go. Not the case? An email with just your first and last name or initials is always a safe bet.

3. Consider not adding a mailing address.

Mailing addresses were included on resumes, once upon a time, because people used to have to physically mail their resumes to potential employers.

Nowadays, mailing addresses are unnecessary to include, as most communication is done online, and especially since you are providing other ways to get in touch with you, such as email and phone number.

It’s also worth noting that some employers may not consider you for a job, thinking that you live too far. How far you’re willing to commute should be entirely up to you.

Writing Your Resume

Person writing resume at home on a laptop

Next, we’ll walk through what information you should include in the body of the resume, in order to really showcase your experience and expertise.

Here are the top 5 things to consider when you begin writing.

1. Select relevant work experience to include in your resume.

This is an area where people typically struggle. How far back should you go in your work history?

If you’re looking for a job in the same field, you’re probably safe leaving off any work history older than 10 years. If you’re looking to switch careers, highlight any previous roles that would showcase that you have the skills necessary for the job you’re applying to.

Keep in mind how long your resume will be if you include all of your experience. Will it be one page? Two pages? More?

Remember, you have only six seconds to showcase your skills and capture the employer’s interest. You want them to absorb as much useful information as possible. The longer the resume is, the more difficult that becomes. When in doubt, keep it to no more than two pages.

2. Highlight promotions and achievements.

Employers are interested in hiring individuals who can add value to the organization.

Rather than focus on including a long bulleted-list of job duties you performed in a specific role, highlight what you accomplished in that role.

Whenever possible, include any quantifiable achievement in the form of percentages, dollars or other numeric values. It’s easy to say you’ve been the “top performer” or the “highest earner,” but having these numbers on your resume prove that.

Here’s a suggestion from the American Staffing Association:

Instead of just listing names, dates, and job skills, describe the benefits and results of your performance. For each entry, list your major accomplishments, emphasizing recent achievements. What problems or challenges have you faced? What actions did you take to overcome them? How did your actions benefit the company?

New to the workforce? It’s OK to include school-related accomplishments, such as Honor Roll, Dean’s List, Perfect Attendance, or any noteworthy extracurricular activities/volunteer work.

Show employers what you bring to the table.

3. Keep job duties clear and succinct.

Instead of writing a paragraph about your responsibilities in a previous role, create a bulleted-list outlining your key duties and accomplishments in the job.

When writing about your current or most recent position, it’s okay to provide a little more information.

For older roles, consider limiting yourself to five main points.

If there is a specific job you are interested in, find ways to align your job duties with what is expected in the role you’re after.

This makes it easier for the employer to quickly get an idea of the skills you gained in your last role, and how it fits with the job you’re applying to.

Always keep in mind that the purpose of a resume is to get you an interview. You’ll be able to provide more detail once you are sitting down with the employer.

4. Don’t fear gaps in employment.

Life happens. Continuing education, family obligations and illnesses are just some reasons why someone may have been out of the workforce for a long period of time.

But these employment gaps can make putting a resume together a little tricky.

If you have gaps in employment, consider using a functional resume format. This will give you the opportunity to highlight your skills and qualifications, with the work experience listed at the bottom.

5. Stick to what matters.

Avoid adding information about hobbies or travel experiences. Yes, we know that you have activities you enjoy outside of the workplace. But when trying to sell yourself to an employer, what you do for fun has no bearing on the skills you’ll bring to the company. (Once you land the job and build relationships, you can talk about how you spend your weekends.)

Adding the Finishing Touches to Your Resume

1. Review the formatting and layout of your resume.

Having a professional appearance, doesn’t only apply to what you wear to your interview. It applies to how the resume looks as well.

Make sure the template you selected is simple, and that it’s not too busy and distracting. Flashy, creative resume templates make sense if you are applying for a design job, but not if you are applying for a warehouse or administrative position.

When in doubt, Arial, Calibri and Cambria are ideal fonts to choose from, and 10-12 is a comfortable size to read.

Wondering if you should include photo in your resume? Don’t. Photos in resume are completely unnecessary, and take up space on your resume. What you look like doesn’t matter. The skills and experience you bring to the table, however, do.

Look over your resume. Is your resume clear and easy to read? Are your skills and experience noticeable at a glance?

Remember, you want your resume to stand out from all the other resumes a potential employer is looking at – but it should stand out in the right way.

2. Proofread, proofread and proofread some more.

Grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes are a big no-no.

Any small mistake can be misinterpreted as a lack of care or effort towards landing a position. Of course, when you’re writing it gets a little harder to notice small issues or typos. Once you’ve finished putting your resume together, a good practice is to step away from it for a moment, then come back and edit it.

After you’ve reviewed it, have someone you trust put a fresh set of eyes on it. They can let you know if there is anything you may have overlooked.

Your resume is a representation of you on paper so make sure to put some care into it.

One Thing Worth Noting

There is one more thing to consider when you’re looking for a job and submitting your resume to job openings:

Be mindful of your online presence.

According to a survey conducted by CareerBuilder in 2018, 70 percent of employers have used social media as a tool to screen applicants. That’s right – your potential manager could be looking at your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts! So, it’s incredibly important to make sure your social media profiles are either set to private, or are free of anything you wouldn’t want your boss to see.

A social platform that you could use to leverage your chances of landing a job is LinkedIn. This site is designed to connect professionals. If you’re not on LinkedIn, create an account. If you are on LinkedIn, make sure your profile showcases your abilities. Highlight your accomplishments, your skills, volunteer activities, etc. Ask for endorsements or recommendations. All of this helps make you a more desirable candidate.

Utilize All of Your Resources

Having a strong resume definitely increases your chance of landing an interview, but sometimes having a great resume is not always enough.

The reality is that not all resumes get in front of hiring managers.

That’s why we’d like to share one more resource that could help you with your job search: staffing agencies.

Recruiters are knowledgeable, resourceful and can connect you to employers hiring in your area.

Not only that, recruiters often offer resume edit suggestions and many agencies also offer skills assessments. These tests measure your proficiency in a variety of areas – computer programs, typing, industrial skills – which you can include on your resume.

Partnering with a staffing agency is also a great way to gain experience in, or transition to, a new field. Recruiters can also help you navigate any employment gap issues.

Still unsure of whether a staffing agency is right for you?  Check out this article, 5 Great Reasons to Work with a Staffing Agency.

Let TERRA Help You with Your Job Search

We’ve given you a lot of tips and suggestions on how to write or improve your resume, but if you are looking for more resume-related tips, check out some of our other blog posts:

If you are in need of a new job, fast, consider partnering with us. Every year we help thousands of people find fulfilling employment

Our recruiters are experts in understanding what hiring companies are looking for and can set you up for success.

Not only that, we can help you double your resume reach, and can connect with you some great companies currently hiring near you.

We believe in the power of people, and we believe in the power of jobs. That’s why our mission is simple: Success Stories Created Daily.

To get started, check out our current job openings. We have offices in the Seattle-Puget Sound, Portland-Metro, and Phoenix-Metro areas.

We look forward to working with you!

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