Before you even shake hands, the person you are meeting is sizing you up. Your clothing, your hairstyle, and facial expressions are all markers of your style. You can't make first impressions twice, so creating a professional resume that makes an impact on a prospective employer is critical.
Most recruiters will only spend a few seconds scanning your resume to evaluate your suitability for a job. What you convey in these important documents represents your personal brand. A great resume quickly and convincingly conveys the following:
- Who are you?
- What have you accomplished?
- What value will you add to an employer?
Your resume can make or break a demand for your services. The stakes are high, but it's not difficult to create a resume that gets you noticed in today's competitive market. Here's how to create a professional resume in six steps:
1. Start with a solid resume template
Considering how little time most recruiters will spend looking at your resume, it's critical to create a document that is easy to read and effectively highlights your core competencies. Your resume isn't the place to get flashy with flowery fonts and colored paper to help you "stand out" — but that doesn't mean you can't have a bit of fun with the format, either.
LiveCareer's resume builder offers hundreds of templates to choose from. These professionally designed templates offer an array of designs, so you can choose the one that best reflects your story and the job you're seeking. The builder's suggestions will help you pick a resume format and design template that are appropriate for the job you hope to land.
2. Choose a resume format that suits your experience and industry
The first step to creating a resume that works hard for you is deciding how to package your information. Use our resume builder to help you choose the right format and style. These three standard formats are suitable for most professionals:
Chronological: This format outlines your experience in order from your most recent (or current) role to oldest. A chronological flow helps you demonstrate career growth and advancement over time.
Best for: People who have a solid work history or who have spent a big chunk of their career in one industry.
Functional: A functional resume format organizes your experience into skill-based categories to highlight accomplishments most relevant to the job you're applying for.
Best for: Job seekers who have worked in many different industries, are switching careers, or have gaps in their employment history.
Hybrid: A hybrid or combination resume features a summary of qualifications section that highlights skills and achievements relevant to the job, as well as a chronological listing of career experience.
Best for: People with unconventional career paths
3. Write a winning professional summary
Hiring managers who read your resume will likely do so in two steps.
- First, they will likely have an applicant tracking system (ATS) scan your resume for keywords and experience that match the requirements outlined in the job posting. If you've hit the right keywords, you'll move on to the next step.
- The second step depends entirely on having passed the first step. If a recruiter sees your resume, it means your experience matched with their needs. From there, they'll start at the top and scan down to peruse your experience.
Try to think like a hiring manager and imagine how you would approach your resume. A well-written summary of your qualifications is a proven way to catch your readers' attention. Don't make them hunt for the information they need to know.
Your professional summary should highlight the traits, skills, and experience that will make you a valuable employee. This part of your resume should use your unique combination of personality, experience, ambition, and skills to set you apart from every other applicant. Your professional summary should be brief and to the point — only three or four sentences — and include answers to the following three questions.
- Who are you as a person? Are you a team player? A natural-born leader? Tell your prospective employers about yourself as a person and as an employee. If possible, provide examples of how you've put your best qualities into action.
- What qualifies you for the job? Highlight your main skills and capabilities. For example, if you are a spreadsheet wizard, focus on that. If you speak multiple languages, make sure to say so.
- What are your relevant skills? Your professional summary should showcase what you'll bring to the table if you are hired, not just offer a list of your career goals. Make your professional summary relevant to the job ad and ask yourself, "What problem is the employer trying to solve with this hire, and how can I add value?"
Don't pander to the employer by saying, "This is my dream job and career peak," if it's not true. Of course, you also shouldn't tell the employer that this position will just be stepping stone on your way to greatness. Focus on how you'd like to learn and grow in your career, and explain how the company and job you are applying for fits into that path.
Consider having an expert help you polish your professional summary. Resume reviewers can offer well-crafted descriptions and keyword-rich phrases that capture your experience. These descriptions help potential employers see the star you are and what you have to offer an employer.
4. Use action verbs in your work history section
If the hiring manager has made it all the way down to the work history section of your resume, well done! Now your job is to keep their attention. Active language will ensure that your resume stands out from the crowd. Specifically, use action verbs to focus attention on the benefits you bring to the table. Don't rely on the tired phrase, "responsible for…" Make your duties pop with the right language.
LiveCareer suggests using words such as:
Joe Chappell is the managing director of global marketing and communications for the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants. He suggests an alternative to writing a dry list of your job responsibilities: "Focus on your impact and not just your responsibilities. Remember: responsibilities describe the job; your achievements describe you!"
Put simply, focus on how you have made a difference in your previous jobs. Chappell adds that your resume should always include metrics and quantify your achievements: "Don't tell me you are results-oriented. Show me the results."
State the outcome of your achievements to show that "results-oriented" is part of your professional brand. Your resume should tell your unique story by:
- Focusing on the results of your experience to show your potential.
- Emphasizing how specific accomplishments have led to your career advancement.
- Highlighting activities that demonstrate past success, leadership, or expertise.
5. Edit your resume, then edit again
Don't spend hours creating a great looking but completely generic resume, and then deliver the same thing to each potential employer. You probably won't get any job offers, and you'll have wasted your time. To create a professional resume that's dynamic and versatile, treat your first draft as a template. You'll start with the same template for each position, but you'll fill in the blanks with specific information that will interest each individual hiring manager.
A good job hunter does their homework on each company they apply to. Your summary of qualifications, professional experience section, and even your cover letter should all be geared toward showing the hiring manager how you can fill the specific needs of his or her company. A truly professional resume is one that looks like it was created specifically for that hiring manager.
6. Run your resume by a professional
If you have any doubts about your resume's ability to float to the top of the heap, consider calling in the pros. Resume-building services can optimize your resume for an ATS system so that you make it past the machines to an interviewer's eyes. Our professionals will help your resume jump to the top of the pile on a hiring manager's desk.