Making Your Resume Stand Out

So many job hunters cross the final “T” on their resumes, breathe a massive sigh of relief and then regard it as a piece of art chiseled in marble—not to be touched until the next job needs to be added to it.

Resumes, however, should be treated less like museum pieces and more like “living documents.” The single most important tactic for making your resume stand out from the slush pile on the hiring manager’s desk is:

Customize them. Like cover letters, resumes need to be specifically targeted to the opening.

Most of us have a range of work experience, with some jobs more pertinent to an opening, some less. If you tweak, tailor and recast your resume to stress relevant experience, you will more likely stand out because inboxes at companies are filled with cookie-cutter resumes, and hiring managers quickly notice giveaways or “tells” that indicate that a resume is one-size-fits-all.

For example, does a warehouse manager want to hire a forklift operator with inventory experience who’s looking for a good warehouse job, or does he want to hire someone working on their real estate license at night who operated a hi-lo once when they worked a summer job at a box store? That’s the difference between a chiseled-in-stone resume and a “living document.”

A lot of us look at job openings and think to ourselves, “I could do that.” Customizing your resume puts your best foot forward, and almost automatically gets you past the first cut.

Other advice:

  • Bullet points make your resume more scannable. But give them consistent styling, either with full sentences that include periods as end punctuation (like these bullets) or shorter lines that do not have any end punctuation. Be consistent throughout the resume.
  • Start with the latest, greatest information (e.g.,) your completed training, professional accomplishments or recognition you’ve received, and the full range of tasks you have done in the course of your work life. Update regularly, before you forget.
  • Write to your accomplishments, not just your day-to-day tasks. Whenever it’s plausible to tie your performance to financial gain for your current or past employers, do so. Companies want to hire people who can make a difference for their bottom lines.
  • Edit the resume with empathy for the addressee. What are they looking for? What would give them confidence in you as a candidate?
  • Proofread it again. Because it’s easy to insert typos or other errors during the editing process, ask a friend or relative to review it, or at least give yourself a day away from it so you can look at it again with fresh eyes to catch mistakes in facts, grammar, formatting, spelling of proper nouns, etc.

We live in a specialized world. A good cover letter and a customized, mistake-free resume will separate you from the crowd as a serious candidate and give you the best chance at getting an interview.

This approach is more labor intensive. It might mean you apply for fewer jobs in the same period of time. But it will give you a better chance at the ones you’re most excited about.

Of course, if you can still play the numbers game—it just means more effort on your part to have the same number of irons in the fire.

Good luck!