How to Create a Masterpiece Resume

The Art of Resume WritingI absolutely love the art and science of writing resumes — combining the well written word with data-driven insights into today’s complex employment marketplace to tell a compelling story. Crafting a masterful resume is more than just the right words. It’s the precise balance of content and context, structured for visual appeal. I enjoy the strategic component of collaborating with my clients on their personal brand and determining how to best position them for their next role.

In resume writing, less content is almost always better than more. It is important to make your point succinctly and then move on. But brevity poses its own challenge. You must be very intentional with your language and carefully consider every word choice. That is where my professional training and years of writing resumes come in.

Using a design-led approach, I tell my clients’ stories with powerful career narratives written in their own voice. Before I can do that, I need to get to know my clients’ personality traits, values and qualifications. Many people take their strengths and accomplishments for granted and don’t add them to their resume. Over the years, I have developed a highly effective coaching process that draws out the most important resume material. I won’t rush this information gathering phase, because I have learned that what transforms a resume from average to stellar is the “resume gold” that comes out of our conversations.

It’s Not Bragging

It can be hard to write about yourself in a way that resonates with employers while staying authentic. No one likes a braggard, and there is a fine line between being confident and sounding pretentious. Offering an objective perspective and insight into employers’ hiring preferences, I promote my clients by citing facts. I build a series of eye-catching professional achievements to show a pattern of success so the reader can understand the exceptional value the candidate offers.

Remember that when we speak in person, our vocal inflections and body language communicate far more than our words. When communicating with only the written word, we need to use the right tone and cadence to convey our message properly. To paraphrase my book editor Andrea Susan Glass, “In good writing, words don’t get in the way of the message.” I keep this in mind with every career marketing document I  help my clients create.

Marketing 101

Your resume is your commercial and works with your LinkedIn profile to solidify your personal brand. When creating a client’s resume, I present them as the ideal candidate who will resolve the organization’s problems. Going back to marketing basics: we must speak the audience’s language while addressing their pain points. As I highlight a person’s unique value, my goal is to create a positive experience for the reader and pique their interest, so they invite the candidate in for an interview.

Yesterday’s Resumes Put People to Sleep

I can’t actually remember when I wrote my first resume. It was probably for my first job after graduating from UMass-Amherst in the late 80s. Back then, resumes were not much more than your contact information, a list of previous employment and educational information typed up neatly (using a manual typewriter) on expensive bond paper. That was long before word processors, so one error or revision meant retyping the entire page. It was a costly and time-consuming process. Ah, the good ‘ol days! Today, I compose right into my computer where spelling and formatting don’t limit my flow of ideas. I love the freedom of developing the story before proofing, layout and formatting.

Resumes used to be quite simple documents. There was no branding strategy to set yourself apart from other candidates. We used black ink on white paper with absolutely no style elements other than capitalized, underlined and bolded text. Resumes contained only the facts of where and when you worked, your job duties, and your supervisors’ name and contact info. But I enjoyed creating them for my friends and family, and I learned how to ask them about their strengths, qualifications and career goals. Even back then, I was targeting the resume to the job and addressing the hiring manager’s pain points, although I did include the now cringingly outdated Objective.

Today We Tell People’s Stories

After writing thousands of resumes and completing hundreds of hours of training, I have refined my craft and expanded upon my natural talent. And I still love it. My clients are successful because their resume tells a compelling story that intrigues the reader. I weave my clients’ voices into these career narratives to set them apart from their peers. In today’s heavily saturated job market, you have to rise above the noise to gain the competitive edge. If you don’t do that, you are invisible.

The goal of a resume is to quickly show recruiters and hiring managers that the job seeker would be an asset to their team. If a resume is too vague or generic, the job seeker won’t look like an expert in their field. You need to focus your resume on what you do, how you do it and what makes you special. It requires focus. Citing specific professional accomplishments provides the proof points that pull the reader in and compel them to read further. These facts clearly illustrate how previous employers have benefitted from the job seeker doing their job so well.

Take my client Adanté, for example. Over a 6-month period he had applied for “hundreds of jobs” and never had a nibble, let alone an interview. The problem? His resume was not getting through the applicant tracking systems because it didn’t tell a clear message. It didn’t include any of the key qualifications that would show that was he a good match for the role — only previous job duties. I rewrote Adanté’s resume, playing up his areas of expertise and including specific examples of successful outcomes. He landed interviews as soon as he applied using the new resume, because the online filters considered him a good match, as did the human readers once his resume was flagged for review.

Grab Them at Hello

Engage your audience right away with an exceptional branding statement. Many job seekers have told me that this is the most difficult part of the resume development process for them, and it is what prompts them to reach out to me. When you are on the inside looking out, and not trained in this area, it can be hard to know which of your attributes to emphasize. That is why I developed my proprietary Gain the Competitive Edge Career Coaching Exercises. The workbook helps my clients articulate their career drivers, ideal work environment and professional successes, which is powerful resume content. My clients find this guided self-assessment as valuable as I do, because many have not ever examined the sources of their professional satisfaction or frustration.

Give Them Proof

I am the “Queen of Quantifiable Career Achievements,” because I can find ways to legitimately quantify achievements within any type of role. Past success is considered indicative of future performance, so describing professional successes with numbers ($, #, % or ranking) substantiates how previous employers have benefitted from you doing your job so well. Creating accomplishment bullets is one of the more challenging aspects of resume development for job seekers and is one place where my industry training is especially valuable. As a professional resume writer, I am trained to dig deep and ask the right questions to discover a person’s on-the-job accomplishments and tie these to the results they delivered. Knowing the hiring manager’s perspective helps me to put achievements into context so the reader can see the value the person offers an organization, which correlates to their marketability.

Sharon came to me when her job search was going nowhere. Her self-written resume was too “vanilla”— a great ice cream flavor but not a characteristic you want your resume to have. It described her as a stable and capable employee, but not the shining star that she was. She had not included any specific accomplishments, just a laundry list of her duties and responsibilities. It did not inspire anyone to consider the bench strength she could add to their team or want to meet her. Together, we amped up her resume by focusing on continuous improvement projects she had led and problems she had resolved. We quantified her results by specifying the financial savings and productivity gains she had helped the company realize.

Presentation is Everything

To be seen as a valuable candidate and make it a pleasing reader experience,

  • Use the reverse chronological format
  • Make it easy to read in a legible font (I prefer Arial 10)
  • Clearly defined sections with standard section headings
  • Create succinct 2-line bullets – large blocks of text are too hard to read
  • Balance your text with ample white space (I recommend .5 margins top and bottom; .8 left and right)

You’ll Look Only as Professional as Your Resume Does

Typos, grammatical and syntax errors, over-capitalization, and formatting inconsistencies can cause your resume to be tossed into the “No” pile. Employers generally don’t want to hire lazy, sloppy workers. They want employees who are thorough and pay attention to detail. Your resume and cover letter are typically the first samples of your work that a potential employer will see. If you don’t put in the time and effort needed to create well-written professional documents, hiring managers might very well question the quality of your everyday work product.

Show Them You Deliver Quality Work. When hiring managers read your resume, they are evaluating your hireability and how you might benefit them. They may also be subconsciously judging you as a person.

  • A well-written, easy to read resume = a strong communicator
  • A modern resume layout = current and relevant skillset
  • An error-free resume = a well-organized and careful person

Takeaway: 6 Steps to Writing a Great Resume

  1. Clarify your ideal role, company and industry and target that one goal.
  2. Focus your message on the employers’ needs. How will you help the business succeed?
  3. Don’t be boring – tell your story in a way that draws in the reader.
  4. Incorporate keywords that represent the experience, soft skills and qualifications the role  requires.
  5. Include specific examples of the results you delivered, quantifying with $, % or #.
  6. Proof it carefully and have 3 types of people review it for you: someone who knows you well, someone who does not know you or your industry at all and a current hiring manager.

With the rising confidence in the job market, many executives are beginning to look for their next opportunity. Now is the time to fire up your job search. If writing your resume is not something you want to tackle yourself, I’ll be glad to help! Hiring a professional resume writer has a great ROI. Most of my clients land interviews sooner than they would on their own with better job offers, too.

An inspirational career transition coach, Trish (Thomas) McGrath has been helping people build rewarding careers since 2009. As a trusted advisor, job search strategist, resume and LinkedIn expert, she guides her clients through the job search process to make it less overwhelming and more successful. Contact Trish at trish.mcgrath@edgecareersolutions.com or (860) 658-6480 to see how she can help you gain the competitive EDGE you need to succeed©.