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5 Resume Tips to Help You Stand Out From the Crowd

Wednesday, September 9, 2015
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You seldom get a second chance to make a first impression. In the job market, your resume is often your first impression. You need to make it count.

A clear, concise and compelling resume can set you apart from others and create a positive first impression. But, what can you do with your resume to rise above the competition? Here are five key tips to get your resume noticed in a crowded field of candidates.

#1: Develop Your Resume With an Eye Toward Marketing

Marketing is something we associate with a product or service. Similarly, a seller has a target population. They research that population to identify needs and desires. Then, they craft their unique selling proposition to distinguish themselves from the competition.

What is your unique selling proposition? Start with identifying your target market, from both a career and industry perspective. Based on your research, what are those employers looking for in their ideal candidate for the career you seek? Use this information to connect what they need and desire to the unique qualifications you have to offer.

#2: Visual Appeal Does Make a Difference

Looks matter, at least when it comes to resumes. Your resume is scanned in seconds; a clear and crisp visual presentation will make it much easier for someone to scan.

What makes a resume visually appealing? Start with your margins. Your resume should be like a picture in a frame, with the frame being white space around your content. Crowding content on your resume will discourage someone from looking at it. In addition, make sure there’s white space between categories to create a consistent flow.

Don’t use fancy fonts that are hard to read; Arial is still widely accepted, but the traditional Times New Roman can make you look boring and dated. Fonts such as Garamond, Helvetica, Georgia, Tahoma, and Calibri are equally effective and can make your resume stand out in a positive way. Use an 11- or 12-point font size. Design elements such as bold, italics, and underlining can highlight important content, but overuse can be distracting. Finally, use concise bulleted statements rather than chunky paragraphs for your content. All of these will contribute to a document with maximum visual appeal.

#3: Be Strategic and Customize Your Resume

Be sure to customize your resume for the type of positions for which you are applying. Begin with making a list of the categories you want on your resume. Next, prioritize those categories from most to least important based on your market research. For instance, if you have a one-page resume, what would you want someone to focus on if they could only view the top half?

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In addition, consider customizing your category headings. If you’re seeking a finance position, and you have held finance responsibilities, highlight that related experience by putting it in a category labeled “Finance Experience.” Why should you do this? Because category headings are like headlines in a newspaper; they’re meant to draw someone to the content. Customizing is part of your marketing strategy.

#4: Transform Your Resume From a Job Description to a Performance Document

Employers believe they can predict future success through past performance. It’s essential to transform your resume from a passive job description to an active performance document. This requires you to develop results-based statements that provide evidence—namely accomplishments and achievements.

In general, accomplishments and achievements can be classified into quantitative and qualitative terms. Quantitative includes numbers, dollars, and percentages. These not only demonstrate accomplishment and achievement, but breadth and scope of responsibility. Qualitative includes things as promotions, honors, awards, selections, recognitions, and commendations.

Some job seekers are uncomfortable with doing this because it sounds like bragging to them. But, remember that your resume is akin to marketing. It’s about clearly communicating your unique selling proposition in concrete terms, providing the evidence for “why you.”

#5: Incorporate Keywords for Electronic Scanning

In this digital age, more employers are using Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to screen resumes. When flooded with resumes for job openings an ATS helps narrow the field to a manageable number.

How does an ATS work? It’s a software application that filters resumes automatically based on given criteria and keywords. The more relevant keywords you have on your resume, the greater your chances the ATS will screen in your resume for a closer look. However, Applicant Tracking Systems have become more sophisticated and now take the context of keywords into account. As a result, it's important to include the keywords within your accomplishment statements and throughout your resume as opposed to merely providing a list.

How do you identify these keywords? Take advantage of multiple sources, including job postings, company and professional association websites, resume and keyword books, and career profile websites like O*NET OnLine. Once you identify them, find legitimate ways to incorporate them into your resume. For more details on how to format your resume for online applications, check out the ATD blog post, “How to Avoid the Online Application Black Hole.”

Although there are times when we just want to blend in, this is not one of them. Using these five key resume tips will help you stand out from the crowd and get you closer to the career you’re pursuing.

Check out the TD at Work Career Management Collection, for more advice on such questions as:  how to identify your career brand and what tools you can use to market that brand, how to assess what you have to offer employers, and how to manage life and work. 

About the Author
Ed Hallenbeck is the owner of Career by Design Consulting, a private career consulting firm in New York’s Capital Region. He has an extensive background providing professional career consulting services to a diverse group of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as adults in transition. In addition, he has 15 years of experience as a human resource manager in both the public and private sector. Ed holds an M.A. in Community Psychology and a B.S. in Education. He has been designated as a Master Career Specialist by the National Career Development Association. He is also internationally certified as a Job and Career Transition Coach, as well as a Job and Career Development Coach.
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