It’s such a great time to advance your career! Not only is a new year exciting but walking into a new year in a candidate-driven market when there are more open jobs than workers available to fill them is almost too good to be true.
Even when the market is favoring your desire to advance or pivot your career, your professional resume is still the tool that helps you get through applicant tracking systems and get noticed by potential employers. If you’re ready to freshen up your resume and step out on the job market, here are my top resume writing tips for 2019 to help you succeed.
Resume Writing Tips for 2019
Resume Writing Tip #1: The Importance of Having a Direction, Plan, and Purpose.
This is the type of job market where you can actually be picky. You have choices and you don’t have to settle for what you can get. This is the time to evaluate what you really want to be doing all those hours you spend at the office during the week.
Have you ever sat back and wondered what your purpose is? What you should be doing with your life and your career? What you would actually ENJOY doing every day? What would make you feel fulfilled and provide professional satisfaction?
Help Finding Direction
It’s important to ask these questions. That’s why asking these questions and having a conversation about career direction with our clients is an important part of our resume writing service at Great Resumes Fast. You need a vision so your resume can have direction. If you’re writing a resume on your own, here are a few preliminary questions you can ask to help figure out the vision and next steps for your career path:
– What vision do you have for your career over the next one, three, five, or ten years?
– Which values are driving your goals?
– What’s your purpose?
– What are you passionate about?
– Why do you do what you do?
If you’re having trouble getting clarity about your career goals or you need some help charting that path here are a few resources I recommend:
– Work with a certified career coach to gain clarity and direction.
– Take one (or more) career assessments. Here’s an already compiled list of career assessments you can easily find on the internet.
– Try the StrengthsFinder 2.0. I personally took this assessment and highly recommend it.
– Research your personal brand using the Reach Personal Brand Survey. It surveys your network and gives you a great report about your personal brand.
Develop Your Plan
Once you’ve decided on a direction for your career, it’s time to plan which industries, positions, and companies you want to target. Knowing the industry, company, and position will help bring focus to your resume. The more focused you are on the specific industry, position, and company that you want to work for, the greater number of responses you’ll receive when you submit your executive resume.
The position title is in all caps at the very top. Directly underneath you’ll see keywords specific to the position and industry and over to the right an entire industry-specific section addressing the impact this client has had in finance and accounting. All three are keys to giving your resume the clarity, direction, and focus employers and executive recruiters need to see immediately.
Resume Writing Tip #2: Ask the Right Questions When Writing Your Resume
Asking the right questions can draw out the best content from your work experience to use in your resume. I know for some people you don’t even know what to ask. You’re looking at your experience and you’re so close to it that it’s hard to even know where to begin and how to look at it from the employer’s perspective. That’s one of the benefits of working with a resume writer who has an outside perspective. They’ll see things or think of questions to ask that you may never have thought of.
Here’s a blog post that I put together that breaks down the different sections of your resume and questions that you can ask to gather content within each section. It’s not all-inclusive or an exhaustive list and would not replace working with a professional resume writer, but it will help give you a jump-start.
It includes questions for your career summary like these:
– What am I most proud of in my professional life?
– Which of my skills do I feel most confident in?
– Why am I applying for this specific job?
And questions about your work history like this:
– Was I hand-selected, recruited, or sought out to fill this position?
– What have been the most important responsibilities I’ve had?
– Who have been the most impressive/well-known clients I have worked for?
You’ll find even more for those two sections as well as questions to help you gather content for the education section, your accomplishments, and fleshing out your personal brand.
Resume Writing Tip #3: Include Your Strengths on Your Resume
Including strengths on your resume may seem like a no-brainer compared to the opposite end of the spectrum which would be including weaknesses on your resume. But, that’s not what I’m talking about when I mean include strengths on your resume. What I’m getting at is the fact that most people don’t really do a calculated assessment of the top strengths needed for the specific position for which they’re applying. They then fail to match up their top strengths to the requirements for the position, missing an opportunity to align themselves as the best choice for the position.
If you haven’t yet, I strongly recommend that you take the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment. I don’t get kickbacks from recommending it. It’s a great assessment that will open your eyes to strengths you didn’t even know you possessed. It also puts words to those you know you have but aren’t sure how to articulate. Once you’ve completed it and have your results, you’ll know what your top strengths are and how those align to the opportunities you’re interested in.
Thoroughly evaluate the position(s) you’re targeting. Look for the requirements, necessary areas of expertise, and key strengths and compare those to the strengths on your StrengthsFinder (or the results from your Reach Personal Brand Survey that I mentioned earlier). Find out what’s compatible and include those abilities and accomplishments that exemplify those strengths within your resume.
Resume Writing Tip #4: Optimize Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Software
What a hot-button topic. So many people struggle with formatting, writing, and optimizing their resume to make it through an electronic screening system. Too many of them get stuck in the system and it creates so much frustration with the job search process. We recently created a detailed guide that you can download that dives deeper than I have the space to in this article on getting your resume through ATS and in front of a human potential employer. You can download the guide for free here: 15 Keys to Getting Your Resume Through Applicant Tracking Systems. I’m going to share my top three little-known tips to creating a resume that can get through ATS.
Keep contact info out of the headers/footers of the Word document. Some applicant tracking systems cannot read the headers and footers of your resume.
Use standard section headers like “Professional Experience” or “Education.” It helps the ATS parse the information into the correct place.
Different keywords carry varying degrees of weightiness. For example, “team player,” “strong leadership skills,” and “results-driven” will not carry the same importance as hard skills such as “capital investment accounting” and “operational budget planning.”
Resume Writing Tip #5: But Don’t Forget It’s a Person Who Calls You for the Interview
Often times, we’re so worried about getting through the dreaded screening system we forget there’s human HR professionals or hiring managers that will read our resume and ultimately they will be the ones calling us in for an interview. As someone who reviews resumes and has for over a decade, I can tell you I would so much rather see a resume that is easy to scan and not overly text-dense. I personally prefer color, visuals, graphs, and bolded sections that direct my eye where to look.
I’m not the only one. Ladders recently updated their popular recruiter eye-tracking survey for 2018. You can read the findings yourself but the study stated the average initial screening time for a candidate’s resume is just 7.4 seconds. That is not a lot for a C-level executive whose resume has years and years of experience.
The study found that top-performing resumes—where recruiters focused the longest—have several key common traits. Those include:
• Simple layouts with clearly marked section and title headers, all written in a clear font.
• Layouts that took advantage of F-pattern and E-pattern reading tendencies, with bold job titles supported by bulleted lists of accomplishments.
• A detailed overview or mission statement, primarily located at the top of the first page of the resume.
With these study-proven tips, you’ll want to avoid a text-dense resume that’s over-crammed with content. Be sure to leave white space, and direct the flow of content so the reader can easily follow.
Here’s an example from our executive resume samples page that illustrates the white space, title headers, and clearly marked sections the study references as well as the mission statement located at the top of the page.
Resume Writing Tip #6: Get Opinions on Your Resume
I’m not saying to ask other people “What do you think of my resume?” If you ask that you’ll end up with 100 different opinions and more confusion and bad advice than you ever wanted. Be specific when you ask for feedback. You want the direction of your resume to be clear to the reader. Here’s what you should ask:
– Is it clear what I do?
– When you read my resume can you tell what I’m great at?
– What position do you think I’m applying to or am qualified for? (This question is great for finding out if your resume is targeted as well as you need it to be for it to be a functional resume for your purposes.)
– If it’s not clear what I do or what I am great at, what do you think is missing?
– When you read this, do you think I’m qualified for (insert position title here)? Why or why not?
If the people you ask are unclear or unsure of what you do and why you’re great at it, then go back and try to be clearer about the position, industry, and company you’re targeting. Try these tips:
– Use the position title at the top of your resume.
– Include the most relevant keywords at the top of the resume.
– Write about accomplishments that align to the position you’re applying to.
Resume Writing Tip #7: Use Quotes to Validate the Quality and Effectiveness of Your Experience and Achievements
Social proof is an excellent way to validate the quality and effectiveness of your work. You can solicit short quotes or testimonials from your network, former supervisors, or pull them from recommendations on your LinkedIn profile.
Avoid choosing vague statements like “John is a great guy. We really value what he did for us.” Instead choose a testimonial that’s specific: “John always goes the extra mile for his clients. Because of his exceptional client care he secured a $2M contract with a previously competitor-aligned company.”
Using a short quote is a great way to brag about yourself without bragging about yourself, which is wonderful for those who are uncomfortable boasting about their wins. It also provides the much-needed proof and validation that employers are so hungry for.
Resume Writing Tip #8: Don’t Be Afraid Of Color, Visuals, Borders, and Graphs
Let’s go ahead and talk about this controversial tip right now. Every time I recommend that your resume layout include visuals, borders, graphs, graphics, charts, or shading, someone pops up and asks “What about ATS?”
OK, what about ATS?
You can create an ATS-optimized version of your resume that doesn’t include charts, graphs, or visuals. However, eventually your resume is going to get to a human reader and they’re going to be the one deciding whether to call you for an interview for that executive position you want.
Using charts, graphs, and visuals will not automatically kick your resume out of ATS. There are many ATS that can read these (technology is advancing). Even the archaic versions of ATS that some companies may still use can read a resume that uses borders, shading, and color.
Yes, there has to be balance, but you can achieve that balance through a few different ways:
1. Have a modern resume version and an ATS-optimized version. When you have to apply through an automated system, use the ATS version. Follow up with an email (if you know the email address) and include a PDF version of your modern, visually engaging resume.
2. Balance having both; leave out the charts and graphs but use the bolded text, borders, color, and shading that you know will be able to go through the system with no issues.
3. Work around ATS. Find and submit your resume via email, networking, using social media, or applying on LinkedIn where you can upload a PDF version of your resume for employers to see without the hassle of ATS.
You have options when it comes to creating a modern and visually engaging resume. When we work with clients to create a professionally written resume, we create two versions: a modern resume that is visually engaging for the human reader and one that’s more modest in design to breeze through ATS.
If you don’t want to create two versions, then go with option two above and have a balance of both.
Resume Writing Tip #9: Look for Themes Across Your Career
Finding common themes across your career can help you develop your personal brand if you’re unsure what it is or clarify your message if you already know your brand. I can’t recommend the Reach Personal Branding Survey enough if you’re in the discovery phase of the branding process.
Here are some questions you can ask to look for those themes:
– What benefit or contribution do you add to the company?
– What key achievements or successes have you had time and time again? Big sales? Successful restructurings?
– What would you say is unique about yourself and how you do what you do?
– What do others see as the value you add?
– Read through your LinkedIn recommendations and past performance evaluations and look for themes. When you put similar words and phrases together what picture do you get?
– What do others say are your greatest strengths or most valuable qualifications?
– How do others describe you?
– What do your boss, team, direct reports come to you for on a regular basis?
Here’s an example of the top third of a resume we recently wrote for a communications and marketing executive. He was very well-known for his community involvement and it became a vital part of his personal brand as a communications and marketing executive.
Resume Writing Tip #10: Don’t Cast A Broad Net. Narrow Down Your Focus
I’ve talked a lot about direction, focus, planning, purpose, and targeting. I don’t want to wrap up this advice without touching on one very important point about casting a broad net when it comes to your job search.
There is no one-size-fits-all resume. You can create and use one but even in a great job market your results will be fruitless.
Don’t create one resume to apply to multiple types of industries or positions.
Do customize your resume for each type of position or industry to which you’ll be applying.
Customize your resume by doing the following:
– Use the exact position title at the top of your resume.
– Underneath the position title include the top three keywords relevant and critical to the role.
– Choose accomplishments that are vital to the success of the position, industry, and company.
– In the work history section of your resume, put the most relevant bullet points first and those of lesser importance further down.
– Include any education, credentials, or certifications that are required for the position near the top of the resume.
– Repeat these customizations for each different type of position, industry, or company you apply to.
Resume Writing Tip #11: Hit on the Employer’s Pain Points
When I read a resume, I’m not just looking to see if the person has the necessary keywords, skills, and credentials. I’m reading the resume and thinking “Can this person meet the needs I have, solve the problems I’m facing, and contribute in a meaningful way?”
If you have an effective resume, when the employer reads it they should say “That’s exactly what I need help with!”
They should be getting excited about the possibility of what you can do for them based on what you’ve been able to do for others.
This is why it’s important to know and understand the needs and pain points of the employers, departments, and companies that you’re targeting. What needs are unique to them? What problems are they facing and need help solving?
There are some problems that will be the same for a particular role no matter what company you work for. For example, as an HR manager being able to screen, interview, hire, and onboard new employees quickly is essential to the successful running of a business. If I can cut the hiring time in half then I’m saving my company money and improving their productivity and efficiency. On the flipside of that, if it takes me months to find and hire a qualified new employee, my company is losing money and valuable time.
When I worked for Medtronic as an employment manager, it used to take them over a month to find, interview, hire, and train new team members. I was able to cut that time in half locating, hiring, and training new team members in two weeks. This increased the team’s productivity by 20% and saved thousands in lost revenue and time. It also became a theme across my human resources career as I was able to do this in several different positions across varying organizations.
I understand how important it is to have the right people in place as quickly as possible. Missing a key person is like limping along versus being able to run at full speed.
Even in my own company we’ve experienced such rapid growth that I’ve had to revamp our hiring and training process to be able to find top-performing resume writers who can dive in and excel immediately at creating effective, professionally written resumes for our clients.
I use my own personal examples to illustrate how to find the needs and pain points of the employer and then write about accomplishments that speak to your ability to meet those needs. If you’re unsure what their greatest needs are, they’re easy to research. Start with Google. Find out what common issues are with the company, position, and industry. You can even check out employer reviews on Glassdoor.com to find out what specific companies are struggling with and where they excel as shared from those with experience within the organization.
Once you know what the company’s struggles are, share examples of how you’ve overcome similar obstacles in your current or previous roles. You can do this using the CAR format
Challenge: State a challenge or obstacle you encountered.
Action: How did you overcome that obstacle?
Result: What was the result of the action you took?
Here’s an example of this in action on a recent client’s resume. I especially want to point you to the third bullet: “Eliminated costly forced overtime practices” to see how the challenge/action/result formula can work with accomplishments.
Resume Writing Tip #12: How Do You Make an Impact and Add Value?
This is a great tip to follow the resume sample that I just shared. What I love about the above sample is that you’re not guessing how this Senior Operations Executive made an impact and added value to the organizations that he worked with – we’re clearly showing you how he made an impact.
Here’s a closer look at the “Select Contributions” section we created for his resume:
There is no question how this operations executive made an impact and added value.
Here’s a look at the top third of his resume where we focus on impact and value—look specifically at the third bolded section that starts off “Recognized for…”
See how the numbers are worked into each section along with the company names? Numbers are a great way to show impact and value. Be sure to use client names, company names, sizes, dollar amounts, percentages, and keywords together to give the employer a clear picture of how you add impact and value.
I love the quote at the bottom from the client. It really helps bring clarity to his message while sharing his personality and passion. Most people wouldn’t include a quote from themselves on their resume but this conveys a strong message about his beliefs, values, priorities, and branding. He’s been told by many employers and recruiters that his resume shares his accomplishments and personality perfectly.
You can do the same on your own resume and it will be memorable to employers.
I hope these tips, resume samples, and resources have been valuable to you. It was my goal to provide you not only with lofty ideas but tangible and practical tips and advice you can put into action yourself. I also wanted to provide visual examples of these resume strategies in action so you could see what I meant. I’m a visual person—it always helps me to be able to see what someone is talking about so for those of you who are visual too, you’re welcome!
These resume writing tips for 2019 are not all-inclusive or exhaustive. If you’re looking for more comprehensive resume writing tips and guidance I recommend 131 Resume Writing Tips – The Most Comprehensive List of Resume Writing Tips on the Internet. It covers every single section of a resume from the name at the top to the credentials at the bottom offering tips, advice, and how-tos for everything about your resume.
Are you struggling to position yourself for your next career move?
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Schedule a call to discuss your resume concerns, goals for your next career move, and see if/how we can help you.
Some of my all-time most popular resume and cover letter articles are below for your reading enjoyment!
What Do You Put On Your Resume When You Haven’t Finished Your Degree – Yet?
6 Commonly Misused Words on Your Resume
1 Cover Letter Secret That Will Guarantee You Interviews
50 Strong Action Verbs You Need to Use on Your Resume Now
Are you tired of your resume being rejected by applicant tracking systems? I know how frustrating it is to submit your resume and receive no response. I hate seeing qualified people never break through the screening process. It shouldn’t be that way. That’s why I created this guide and I encourage you to download the FREE PDF so you can start seeing better resume response rates!
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About the author
Jessica Hernandez, President, CEO & Founder of Great Resumes Fast
Hi, I’m Jessica. I started this company back in 2008 after more than a decade directing hiring practices at Fortune 500 companies.
What started as a side hustle (before that was even a word!) helping friends of friends with their resumes has now grown into a company that serves hundreds of happy clients a year. But the personal touch? I’ve kept that.
You might have seen me featured as a resume expert in publications like Forbes, Fast Company, and Fortune. And in 2020, I was honored to be named as a LinkedIn Top Voice of the year!
I’m so glad you’re here, and I can’t wait to help you find your next perfect-fit position!
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