Resume Best Practices

Advanced Tips to Make Your Resume Stand Out

One of the first steps to landing a great job is writing a strong resume. If you haven’t done this before, the idea might sound a bit intimidating at first, but it doesn’t have to be. The key to writing a great resume is understanding the best ways to highlight your skills and experience and condensing that down to a brief, effective format.

Here are some advanced tips to follow if you want your resume to really stand out.

1. Do some research on what resumes in your industry or discipline look like.

Believe it or not, not all resumes are the same. Industries have different standards, ranging from the details employers want to see to overall resume organization. The best way to figure out which format is right for your industry is to find someone who works in your desired field and ask them for tips. You can also ask if you can use their resume as a guide. Good people to ask include professors, your parents and older friends who have internships or full-time jobs in your field.

Below are some sample questions you should ask as you do your research:

Question Most resumes should have… But not always
How many pages should my resume be? Most resumes should be one page only. In academia (if you’re trying to be a professor), multi-page resumes are common.
Should I include leadership experience from high school on my resume? Most resumes should not include anything from high school, including where you went to high school. If you’re a freshman or sophomore, you can still include just the highlights of the most impactful things you did in high school.
Do I need to include any grades or scores besides my GPA? Most resumes should include your GPA (unless it’s below 3.0) and don’t require any other scores. Finance and consulting recruiters often ask for your SAT scores, broken out by section.
What sections should I include on my resume? Most resumes should have an education section, followed by work experience. Leadership/volunteer experience, hobbies and skills may follow. Engineering recruiters often want to see the projects you’ve worked on, and it can be helpful to have a section on your resume listing out completed projects.
How should my resume look? What color should it be? Most resumes should be simple black and white, with the most common format. Design recruiters may appreciate visually distinctive and creative resumes, due to the inherent creativity involved in design jobs.

While you’re meeting with these people to do your research, bring your list of achievements with you, and ask them which ones they find to be the most impressive. Remember, your resume isn’t about what you think is great — it’s about the recruiter that you’re trying to impress and people with industry knowledge are more likely have a sense of what accomplishments will have the most impact.

2. Decide on your “story” — what are you trying to get across?

Think of your resume as a story. It’s a (usually) one-page opportunity for you to tell a story about yourself to recruiters. As much as it might be painful, think back to when you were applying to college. When writing your college essays, you had to decide what slice of yourself you wanted to share with admissions officers, and what qualities you wanted to highlight. This is very much the same thing, but your story is written in bullet points rather than paragraphs.

You should come up with a list of 5-7 attributes and skills that you want to get across to a particular employer. These attributes will almost definitely change for each industry, and sometimes for each employer. However, customizing your resume slightly for every company is one of the best ways to get noticed and it’s definitely worth the time investment.

Here are some examples you can use:

  • Consulting: leadership, achievement, impact, data analysis, social skills, hustle
  • Engineering: independence, attention to detail, technical skills, quick learner, follows tasks through to completion, empathy
  • Marketing: creativity, empathy, design skills, social skills, data analysis, impact

3. Find a resume template you like and fill it out.

You’ve done your research and you have a story to tell — you now know what you’re saying, who you’re saying it to, and how to say it. Now all you have to do is fill out your resume. Using sample resumes you’ve collected from people in your desired industry, determine the structure you’ll need in your resume and then fill it out accordingly.

Compile a list of the impressive things you’ve done, choosing the top items for each section and filling them out. For sections that require bullet points like work experience, leadership experience, volunteering experience or projects, add 1–3 bullet points for each item explaining what you’ve done. As you’re choosing what experiences to include and what bullet points to write, think back to the story you’re trying to tell, and ensure that each line of your resume shows off at least one of those attributes. Think about how you can make it sound impressive; anything can sound great when you word it correctly.

* Be specific — include details.

Don’t just say, as an example, “Completed three projects and various tasks as part of my job.” Explain exactly what you did and how you did it.

Example: “Designed new classification system for the entire office’s customer management system according to NAICS.” (Shows: attention to detail, organization and following tasks through to completion)

* Be concise.

You have very limited room on your resume, so every word is precious. Make sure every line is showing off the best you have to offer and demonstrating at least one of the attributes related to your story.

Improving the above example: “Independently restructured office’s customer management system according to NAICS.”

* Explain. Don’t assume they know what you’re talking about.

It’s easy to forget that employers won’t know the acronyms at your school, clubs or internship experiences. If you’re going to use an acronym, make sure you say what it is in parentheses the first time. Not everyone will be familiar with the systems, tools, programs or organizations you might be referring to.

Improving the above example: “Independently restructured office’s customer management system using NAICS federal industry classifications.”

* Show impact. Use numbers when possible.

It’s not enough just to say what you did, you really shine when you show off the impact that you made. Don’t just say you led a fundraiser, say how much you raised. Don’t just say you were a division head at camp, talk about how many campers and staff you were responsible for. Don’t just say that you found a way to save your company money — say how much money you saved, and why it was important.

Improving the above example: “Restructured office’s customer management system using NAICS industry classification, reducing customer service response times by 20% through improved request routing.”

4. Get someone else to review.

Have others review your resume including friends, Career Services and especially those in your industry. Take their feedback to heart and make edits accordingly. Again, your resume isn’t about what you think, it’s about what others take away from the story you’re telling. Pay particular attention to whether the people you’re showing your resume to understand everything you’ve written, can see the impact that you’ve made everywhere you’ve worked, and are picking up on all 5-7 attributes you intended to include.

Once you’re done, save your resume as “Resume – <First Name> <Last Name>.pdf” and send it out, knowing that you’ve done a great job.

Just as you’re always changing and doing new things, your resume is a living story. Make sure you always update it as you accomplish new things. You should also customize your resume for every industry you apply to, following the above process (for the companies you really care about, you may want to customize it for the specific company.)

By following these advanced tips, you’ll be sure to write a great resume and set yourself apart during the job hunt. And don’t forget to create a digital version of your resume with an easy and effective WayUp profile.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as How to Write a Thank You Note After An Interview and find answers to common interview questions such as Tell Me About an Accomplishment That You’re Most Proud Of.