The Resume Paradox: Fitting In Versus Standing Out

Resume Builder _fitting In

To create a successful resume, you’ll have to build a document from the ground up that accomplishes two distinct tasks: Fitting in and standing out. Your resume should present you as someone who plays by the rules and respects established business standards.

But if all you can do is blindly follow directions, and your resume (or worse, your entire career) resembles a kind of paint-by-number, then how can you expect to stand out among hundreds of others who followed the same path and made the same decisions? How can you make it clear that you’re one in a million, a real find, a godsend?


You’ll need to let employers know that you understand how professionalism works and why it’s sometimes necessary to color inside the lines. But you’ll also need to make it clear that you can offer specific skills, experiences, and talents that no other candidate can. Here are a few ways to make this complex message clear:

1. Use your cover letter. 

Lean heavily on your cover letter to demonstrate your unique voice. Resumes involve slightly more structured language and rigid rules than cover letters do. Think of a resume as a sonnet with defined lines and rhyme structures. By comparison, a cover letter is pure prose, and it’s okay to use this platform to speak in your own voice. Let your passion for this work, your interest in this company, and your pride in your accomplishments come through in your words and sentences.  

2. Drop all buzzwords and generic terms. 

Go through your resume line by line and remove every empty phrase that could easily be used by every single applicant for this position. Don’t waste valuable space on the page by calling yourself a “hard worker” (who isn’t?) or explaining the basic requirements of your previous positions. Of course you “served customers daily” as a retail associate, and “managed accounting responsibilities” as an accountant. Delete these meaningless claims and replace them with real accomplishments, no matter how small.

3. Explain what drives you. 

In ten words or less, why did you step into this field? In another ten words, why do you stay? If you could, where would you take this company, or any company (let’s just say your dream company), in five years? If you have a vision of the future in which both you and your employers are thriving, share it.

4. Identify your proudest career accomplishment. 

Stop writing for the time being and think about the proudest moment (or top three moments) you’ve experienced on the job during your entire adult life. No matter what you did on these occasions, it’s probably something that not many of your competitors can claim. Find a way to build the central message of your resume and your cover letter around these events. For example, if your sense of innovation won the day, say so in the heart of your sales pitch.

Know the Rules & Know When to Break Them 

Visit LiveCareer for a resume builder that can keep your resume in line with professional and established formatting standards. Within that structure, let your unique personality and your specific set of talents take center stage. 

Ready to build a strong resume? Create My Resume


Resume Tips
Read more

The Worst Resume Grammar Mistakes


Need A Job-Search Game Plan? Our FREE ebook Can Help.

Resume Tips
Read more

What to Put in Your Resume


More Resume Tips

800-652-8430 Mon- Fri 8am - 8pm CST
Sat 8am - 5pm CST, Sun 10am - 6pm CST