10 Tips for Writing a Professional Resume

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Last on many people’s lists of things to do is writing a resume. But a powerful resume is what gets you to the next stage – the interview. Writing a resume that will land you an interview can be a daunting task, but if you follow these 10 rules, you will succeed.

1. Readability Is Key

When you write your resume, put yourself in the reviewer’s shoes and imagine having to read many resumes that are dense and difficult. Not a favorite task for most hiring authorities. The first rule is making your resume easy to read.

Keep your paragraphs short – no more than three lines apiece. Longer paragraphs can be off-putting. Brevity is your best bet.

Some hiring authorities will take no more than six seconds to review your resume before deciding whether to read the rest. I suggest you bold important information so it stands out during the six-second scan.

2. Target Your Resume to a Particular Job

This is a concept that makes many job seekers cringe, but it is essential to embrace. No two jobs are alike in the employment market. Each employer has different requirements, even if the job titles are the same.

It’s important that you understand the requirements of the job and address them on your resume. Doing this will make reading your resume a pleasure, because you’ve shown that you understand the employer’s needs and potential problems.

Remember, it’s about the employer, not you.

3. Beat the Applicant Tracking System

Human resources, recruiters, and hiring managers receive a lot of resumes – hundreds for each position – so they need a way to cut down the number of resumes they have to read. Enter the Applicant Tracking System (ATS), the answer to their problem.

Your resume must contain the skills, phrases, experience, and other keywords to make it through the ATS. How do you determine the required keywords? A great program for this is Jobscan. It analyzes your resume against the job description and tells you which keywords your resume has and doesn’t have.

4. Include Your LinkedIn Profile URL in Your Contact Information

Any job seeker who is in the game has a LinkedIn profile. If you have a great LinkedIn profile to match your professional resume, be sure to direct prospective employers to it by including your LinkedIn URL in your contact information. 

My only warning is that you don’t copy and paste your resume to your LinkedIn profile and leave it at that. Create a profile that is more creative and personal, one that shows off your personality while also expressing your value.

Related: Building Your Personal Brand

5. Don’t Forget a Branding Title

This is something I see on the best of resumes. It’s what sets the best candidates apart from the rest. It tells an employer who you are – e.g., your occupation and areas of strength. For example:

Marketing Specialist

Content Generation | Trade Shows | Social Media | Cost Control | Vendor Relations

6. Write a Performance Profile That Delivers a Punch

This is a section on a resume that sometimes gets overlooked in a reviewer’s rush to get to the employment section. However, if you throw something in that immediately expresses your value – such as a bolded accomplishment statement – your performance profile will not be overlooked.

Example: Operations manager who consistently increases companies’ revenue in excess of 60 percent annually …

7. Don’t Forget Your Core Competencies

Consider the person who is reading tons of resumes and how they’re looking for the key skills for the position.

Now consider how easy you’ll make their job if you have a section that lays out those skills and any additional skills that could serve as tie-breakers.

8. Most Important Is a Strong Experience Section

A strong experience section is the main course of the reviewer’s dining experience. It’s what resume reviewers focus their attention on the most; it’s your chance to sell yourself and close the deal.

All that was mentioned above is fruitless unless you tie it together. A professional resume’s experience section must include:

– A summary in paragraph format for each position comprising overall duties. For example, “Hired to improve manufacturing production and communications among departments. Managed a team of 15 software and hardware engineers that grew to perform in a collaborative manner.”

– Key accomplishments in bullet format that are quantified using numbers, dollars, or percentages. A professional resume will sell you with accomplishments, whereas an average resume will comprise mainly of duties.

Wrong: Responsible for directing engineers to deliver data storage software.

Right: Directed 15 engineers to deliver – on time – data storage software, boosting sales 55 percent in a down economy.

9. Length Is Important; Keep It Short

ThrowThe length of your experience section must be relevant to employers’ needs today, not 25-30 years ago. Age discrimination can also be a concern, so showing 10-15 years is a safe bet. Remember: It’s your goal to get to the interview, and then you can sell yourself with your years of progressive experience.

10. Education Anchors Your Resume

This section usually anchors your resume – unless it’s a strict requirement, in which case it would follow the performance profile.

Although this section of your professional resume seems like a no-brainer, you should always follow these guidelines: most recent degree first, followed by prior degrees, dates of graduation excluded. For example:

Master of Arts, Communications with a Concentration in Marketing, University of Boston, Boston, MA.

Bachelor of Arts, English. Bentley University, Waltham, MA.

Now that you understand how to write a powerful resume, it’s time to get to work. My final bit of advice is write your own resume. If you do hire a professional to help you, work very closely with them.

There is a lot of work ahead of you, but you can do it.

Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 15 job search workshops at an urban career center.

By Bob McIntosh