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How to Make Your Resume Stand Out as the Best

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A recruiter receives 250 resume applications for every job posting. After reading hundreds of applications, I wouldn’t be surprised if the resumes all start looking the same to them.

How can you make sure your resume stands out from the ones they receive? This article will show you how.

How do you make your resume stand out as the best
How do you make your resume stand out as the best? (graphic source)

Before we dive into these great ways to make your resume stand out quickly, first consider using a professional (stand out) resume template. We have hundreds of great designs that are ready to customize to your work experience and needs. 

Now let's get into these killer resume tips to make your resume content, writing, and design better, so you can stand out as the best applicant and land the job you're aiming for:

10 Ways Make Your Resume Stand Out With Great Content

1. Open Strong to Stand Out Quickly

The first 20 words of your resume are critical because that’s the rough equivalent of what a person can read in six to seven seconds—the average time a recruiter spends reading your resume.

Your email and contact details at the top are exempt from this, mainly because recruiters won’t bother with them until they’ve vetted your application.

With 20 words, that’s just enough for the first one or two bullet points of your professional summary. Use these points to summarize your expertise and career progression.

For example:

“Full Stack Engineer with 15 years combined experience in iOS development, web development, and Internet of Things (IoT).”

That’s one bullet point with a job title, length of tenure, and a list of key skills all in 18 words.

2. Add Side Projects to Your Resume

Side projects show that you’re a hustler, and that you use your free time to acquire new skills to improve the quality of your work.

Side projects, including freelance and volunteer work related to your job works best in increasing your credentials. But you could also list gigs indirectly related to your day job. For instance, working as a property manager part-time builds administrative and customer service skills, two skill sets transferable to many industries.

These side projects could be listed along with your day jobs to show your growth in and out of the office. But if you have multiple or simultaneous gigs, it’s better to list them in a separate section to avoid confusing recruiters with your work timeline.

3. Leverage Failure on Your Resume

Stories of failure are the last thing recruiters expect to see in a resume. Your application is guaranteed to stand out if you share one of your less than perfect moments.

But you have to be careful in doing this. The failure itself is just the bait to get their attention. What comes after that is more important. Either they get a bad vibe from you and stop reading your resume, or they continue reading.

Share a short story of a project or task that failed with one of your previous employers. Then emphasize what you did to correct it, how long it took to fix, and the result. Just don’t overuse this strategy by sharing one fault per job title in your employment history.

Another reason this works is because a recruiter will think you’re less likely to commit the same mistake, and waste company resources in the process.

4. Customize Your Resume for the Job You Want

About 36% of employers ignore applications if the resume isn’t tailored for the position they advertised.

Good news is you don’t have to change your whole resume for every job you apply to. Here are a few pointers to make your resume look personalized:

  • Format specific skills and other keywords mentioned in the job ad in bold.
  • Copy their jargon from the job ad you're applying to. For example, did they write Photoshop or Photoshop CS6? Customer service representative or customer champion?
  • Delete unrelated employment history and skills from your resume.

5. Add Context to Your Resume Job Titles

No job title is self-explanatory, yet this is how candidates think when it comes to their application. Job titles like “content writer,” “marketing manager,” and even the more specific ones like “iOS Developer” are not self-explanatory, especially for a recruiter that may or may not have background knowledge in what you do.

Let’s use “Marketing Manager” as an example. It’s vague and unless the reader goes through every line in your professional history, they won’t know the following vital points:

  • The industry you work in: travel, insurance, SaaS products. It all makes a big difference.
  • The type of marketing you do: digital marketing or traditional media
  • The type of media you’re familiar with: print, audio, digital
  • The platforms you can work on: radio, Facebook, Google, magazines, TV
  • The type of clients you work with: small business owners, B2B, CEOs

Your resume will stand out if your job title stands out as well. And one of the surefire ways to do that is to be specific. In the example above, instead of “Marketing Manager” the applicant can use “Online Marketing Manager for Life Insurance and Investments.”

Now this is not to say that you should fill your employment history with responsibilities. Rather it’s important to include the specifics of your job, then find a way to effectively tie it into an accomplishment. The remaining skills and tasks where you don’t have a notable accomplishment can still be listed in your resume’s skills section.

6. Show Off Soft Skills on Your Resume

Employers value soft skills more than you realize. While the job market is better today and a tad friendlier to fresh graduates, many employers feel they lack the skills needed to thrive in the workforce.

Below are some of the skills they think applicants lack, according to Career Builder’s survey of 2,186 hiring managers and HR professionals:

  • Problem solving – 48%
  • Leadership – 42%
  • Teamwork 39%
  • Written and verbal communication: 37%
  • Creative thinking: 35%

Demonstrate these skills in your resume. If you’re not sure how to write about your leadership and problem solving skills, read this guide’s section writing soft skills in your resume.

Jaclyn Westlake of The Job Hop suggests:

“Adding hidden gems to show off your personality and spice up the recruiter’s day. You can do this by adding a witty bullet point such as, ‘Prevented participants from falling asleep by infusing humor in boring meetings.’”

8. Play to a Recruiter's Social Habits

Career Builder surveyed more than 2000 hiring managers and found that 60% of them use social media to screen candidates. If you work in the following industries, your social media profiles are more likely to get scrutinized:

  • IT: 76&
  • Sales: 65%
  • Financial services: 61%

Setting your profile on ‘friends only’ or private isn’t to your advantage. Two in five employers surveyed says they won’t interview candidates they can’t screen online.

Now that you know this, you can use it to your advantage.

Add links to your LinkedIn and other relevant social media profiles on your resume. If you’re a contributor to an industry blog, list your author’s profile page so recruiters can read your articles. Anything that adds credibility to your online presence is worth including.

9. Get a Recruiter's Inside Track

Reach out to your network or email recruiters you know for an informational interview. Then ask them questions about the company and the position they’re trying to fill.

If there’s no time or you have no contacts in your target company, research them online. Read their recent press releases, company website, and employee reviews to get a feel of their corporate culture and talent needs.

The information you uncover in this research can help you customize your resume according to the company’s needs.

10. Curate Work Samples for Your Resume

Since the majority of resumes are submitted and read online, you can include links to show samples of your work within the resume, instead of having the recruiter check a separate website for your portfolio.

For instance, you can link to samples of design, applications, or articles you wrote directly from the work history section of the resume. If you work in sales, you can also link to an excerpt of your sales presentation. This is another tangible way to show your skills on your resume to make it stand out better.

Sample Work Included in Your Resume

  • Must be related to the company’s industry, client base, or products
  • Doesn’t contradict the company’s point of view or image
  • Represents the work that you’re expected to do

How to Make Your Resume Stand Out Through Powerful Writing

Let's look at how to write a resume that stands out with a few useful tips, from selecting the best power words, to using the correct verb tenses, and more. 

1. Use Top Power Words (Great vs Bland Power Words)

You already know that power words emphasize the skills and accomplishments you list in a resume. But there’s so many power words out there that it’s hard to choose which one to use. Some power words don’t boost your qualifications enough, but other words are too fancy, and they might not sound normal in the context of a resume.

Consider the following comparisons:

Bland

Impressive

Shakespearean

Increased

Raise, Surge, Boost

Burgeon, Accumulate,

Teach

Train, Instruct, Direct

Indoctrinate, Enlighten

Research

Explored, Investigate, Analyze

Inquest, Scrutinize, Probe

If you must, use a thesaurus to find great power words to make your resume stand out, but be careful of the words you choose. Make sure your word choice doesn’t make it look like you’re exaggerating though.

2. Describe Accomplishments, Not Just in Numbers

Adding numbers and percentages aren’t the only ways to make your accomplishments believable.

“Supervised a team of 5 developers” doesn’t say much, so you need to add some context. Add the type of project you worked on or the platform used.

Adding information about your team’s department, projects, products or service, clientele, and targets also help build a complete picture of your accomplishments.

Stand Out Accomplishment Examples

  • Recognized Top Seller of XYZ invoicing software for 4 consecutive months
  • Developed ABC iOS travel app 3 months ahead of deadline
  • Created B2B sales training program for pharmaceutical marketers

3. Use the Right Resume Verb Tense

Don’t write present tense verbs for your previous job, and don’t write past-tense verbs for your current jobs. It sounds obvious but a lot of candidates forget to check verb tense consistency in their resume. 

Granted, some hiring managers won’t notice this. But you can’t write ‘attention to detail’ as one of your soft skills then get caught with mismatched verb tenses on your resume. There’s no coming back from that. 

9 Formatting and Design Tips to Make Your Resume Stand Out

Let's look at how to make your resume stand out with the correct formatting and the right creative design choices.

1. Highlight Like an Ad Writer

Your resume is an advertisement of yourself. As such, you should think of it like a copywriter would think of ad copy.

Open strong (see Tip 1 at the beginning of this article) then use the remaining top part of your resume for your notable accomplishments.

Use bold formatting to highlight significant accomplishments and keywords. The goal is to emphasize the critical words that tell employers what they want to know about you right away. You want your key points to stand out on your resume even if they’re only scanning it.

2. Use a Different, Non-Wacky Font

Use a different but still formal and legible font. Times New Roman and Arial fonts are too common nowadays, so try other non-cursive fonts like Calibri, Cambria, Helvetica and Verdana.

Garamond and Lucida sans fonts look classy but not too familiar looking like Times Roman, so that might just make your resume look a tad different and more modern.

3. Stop Playing With Your Resume's Margins

One page resumes with wafer thin margins are hard to read, and sometimes the information is not properly interpreted by an applicant tracking system (ATS).

Don’t sacrifice your eyesight, or that of a recruiter to squeeze your resume into a single page. Use proper margins and don’t be afraid to use two pages if you have to. There are other ways to write a concise resume without sacrificing the document’s readability.

4. Describe What's in A URL

Adding a link to your online portfolio doesn’t guarantee that the recruiter will click it.

You have to motivate them to do so. Add a short description of what they can expect to see in your portfolio.

For Example

behance.net/graphicdesigner1: A collection of my graphic design and illustration work used for branding and product campaigns.

5. Consider Eye-Movement (Flow)

You can get creative when designing your resume, but the resulting layout should be easy to follow and not too crowded.

People read from left to right, so that should be your main guide in positioning the most important aspects of your resume. Use color, columns, and headings to strategically guide the reader’s eye flow. 

Also, start with a professional resume template that stands out and you'll get a better result quickly: 

6. Think Outside The Box (For Your Industry)

“Having recently recruited for a marketing role, we've received some really eye catching resumes where candidates didn’t just listed their experience and expertise. They visually displayed their skills.

This made recruiting a lot more fun than reading through black and white documents”, says Sarah Dowzell, COO and Co-founder Natural HR.

A little creativity can go a long way in making your resume stand out. In creative industries like film, video, design, and programming, submitting an out of the box resume will give you a huge advantage over applicants who apply with a traditional resume. The Clean Resume template has a stand out, modern blend of minimal design and creative elements that could be used to apply to job sin multiple industries:

Clean Resume templates that stand out with minimal creative design
Clean Resume template that stand out with minimal creative design.

Check out these sleek and creative resume templates for more options to help you stand out with a great design:

Note: Some industries don’t appreciate creative and out of the box resumes so use your better judgement on if using one of these is best for the job you're applying to. In the right context though, they can be the differentiator to getting the job.

5 Sending Tips to Make Your Resume Stand Out

Yes, the way you send your resume can also make your resume application stand out. Here’s how:

1. Pay Attention to Instructions

Do they want it in MS Word or PDF? Do they want it as an attachment or sent in-line on your email? Do they want you to use your name as the document’s file name? All these seemingly little things are important.

It’s common practice for employers to filter out applicants who don’t follow instructions correctly. Read the whole job advertisement from top to bottom to make sure you don’t miss any critical instructions.

2. Send Your Resume on Monday

A study on Bright.com revealed that applicants who send their resume on Monday are more likely to get interviewed. Applications submitted on Saturdays get the worst results, with only 14% of the applicants moving forward to an interview.

3. Have Someone Else Send It

Your resume says you’re awesome, but what’s even more amazing is if someone else vouches for you.

Referrals are hired 55% faster than applicants who came from online job sites.

That’s another incentive to improve your networking skills. Reach out to your online and offline friends, or talk to your university career center to find someone to refer you.

5. Use the Recipient's Name

A survey from Career Builder reveals that 84% of applicants don’t make the effort to research the hiring manager’s name. So you’ll definitely stand out if you use the correct name to address your job application.

Besides, writing “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Hiring Manager” is one way to prove you didn’t personalize your application.

Need more ideas to make your resume stand out? Check out this Envato Tuts+ guide:

Don't Forget to Follow-Up

Recruiters are swimming in resumes for different positions they’re trying to fill. Even if your resume was impressive, there’s still a chance they haven’t seen it. That’s why you need to follow-up.

Send a short follow-up email two to three days after you’ve emailed your application. Reiterate your interest for the job and ask if the recruiter has had the chance to read your application. Learn more about how to write a follow up email after an interview: 

Don’t hesitate to follow-up. A polite, well-timed follow-up email is one the easiest ways to make your resume stand out.

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