How to Write a Winning Resumé

No one really teaches us how to write a resumé. Yet how we write them can make all the difference.

Whether you’re gainfully employed at your dream job or still looking may depend on how you write your resumé. What’s on that piece of paper can either help you pop out of the pile or land in the reject pile.

When I’ve had to look through piles of resumés, it’s been all too clear that most people race through the process of constructing them. And the result is often blah. You would be surprised by how little some resumés reveal.

Sometimes, applicants—like one friend—fluff things up. At the time, he was an assistant vice president at an international bank. His resume said that he “telephonically interfaced” with clients. This just made me laugh. And when I pointed it out to him, he realized it sounded like a pompous way of saying that he talks on the phone.

And he sounded like a robot. It didn’t sound like the real person I knew. I think that people feel so uncomfortable writing their resumes that they sometimes default to what they think sounds professional, with sometimes unintended consequences.

Maybe he didn’t want to say that he answered the phone. But he could have written that he cultivated or managed the bank’s relationships with high net worth customers.

You shouldn’t have to inflate anything to make a point.

But you can do far more than simply list your job functions or tasks. What spin did you put on a job when you did it? Think in terms of results and accomplishments. Where did you go beyond the call of duty? Think like a marketer and consider the benefits or results you delivered.

Use specifics to bring your examples to life. Here are examples that I used for years that came under a creative problem-solving heading:

  • Used social media and SEO to grow a daily healthcare e-newsletter’s mailing list by 20 percent, or 10,000 subscribers, in just seven months
  • Taught 75 GWU students per semester how to identify assumptions and project implications of key 17th to 20th century economic, political and social theories
  • Streamlined processes and boosted accountability in a law school admissions office that handled 8,000+ applications a year

Let’s talk about that last bullet point. Here’s a little context. At the time, I was a law school admissions counselor. Our office dealt with thousands of applications each year. Only when the application was complete did it go into the regular files. But the incomplete files often ended up parked on someone’s desk. And when those applicants called the office, it was often a bit harrowing when we had to run around, looking for a lost application file.

To make things easier for all of us and, yes, to boost accountability (that’s the benefit), I designated a file drawer just for the “weirds,” applications that were missing components. That way, when those people called, we knew exactly where to go to check the file. This simple solution reduced confusion and really did streamline our work process.

Some resumé writing tips to help you stand out:

  • Think of whom you’re writing to and imagine what they want to know. What are you like to work with?
  • Remind yourself of when you went beyond the call of duty: What did you accomplish?
  • Think in terms of benefits. How did you make a difference?
  • Don’t be afraid to sound human.
  • Quantify where possible to give people a better idea of the magnitude of your work.
  • Bullet points are your friends. Avoid walls of text, which can be intimidating to read.
  • If you’re of a certain age, you shouldn’t feel like you have to include every job since the dawn of time. It’s okay to just stick with listing relevant jobs from the past 10 to 15 years.

Your main takeaway today: Your resumé should be a fluff-free zone. Point to the results you have delivered. Details will bring your work experience to life and show recruiters not only what you’ve done, but how you think.