Top 3 Tips for Resume Content, Writing, and Format
Writing a resume feels like a giant hurdle to getting a job. They’re a strange beast; you’re being asked to translate experiences from one situation to explain, in 2 pages or less, how those experiences make you a good fit for another role. Ugh. Decades ago, job trajectories were pretty straightforward, and so was resume writing. Today, more and more job seekers are experiencing what the military community has always known: when you have a meandering career, gaps in work history, or a previous work history that doesn’t appear to be aligned with your new career goals, resume writing can feel daunting.
On top of a changing landscape, you are likely going to put way more time and energy into creating one than the hiring team is going to put into reviewing it, so you’ll want to make sure that you spend some of that time making it easy to get a lot of information out of a quick read.
These tips and tricks can help you spend your time building the perfect resume for your next career move.
Resume Content Tips:
Content is Queen, and translation is the key to the castle. I could keep going, but I’ll spare you. Content is critical to a resume because it’s how you tell the hiring team why you have the necessary experience without being able to talk to them. That means understanding what they’re expecting in a job seeker, understanding what you bring to the table, and understanding how to show that there’s a match between those two things.
Find the keywords.
Find a few (5-7) job posts for the role you’re interested in. This is an important step that is often skipped. After you find the roles, you’ll want to look for similar keywords in the duties and requirements sections. A quick and easy way to determine what those words are is to use a phrase counter or word cloud generator. It will help you identify the “must haves” that are common for this role AND, most importantly, it will give you the language you need. Remember, we’re translating here.
Find the experience.
Remember that work isn’t the only experience you have. Have you done volunteer work? Have you taken care of a family member with special needs? Doing this type of work has still given you certain skills that can be transferable to other positions.
Find the evidence.
Determine what experience is relevant to the role based on the search. After you’ve decided what type of role you want, you’ll want to mine your experiences to determine what experiences were a good fit. This doesn’t mean you include every job you’ve had; include the ones that have given you experience in skills relevant to the job you’re applying for.
Resume Writing Tips:
If resume content is what you say, resume writing is how you say it. Keeping your writing simple, active, and specific results in a document that’s skimmable. Skimmable is important when hiring teams are using AI sorting or are reading more than 50 applications. They need to see quickly that you’re worth interviewing. The writing is what opens that door.
Keep it simple.
Remember, if there are eyes on your resume, they’re not spending a lot of time, so make sure that your writing is concise.
Keep it active.
Use an active voice when writing your resume. For example, “Responsible for managing the training for employees” becomes “Directed employee training implementation”. There are a ton of action word lists floating around the internet, but I appreciate the way that Career Services at the University of Colorado, Boulder themes their list.
Keep it specific.
Future employers want to see results. To stick with the example above, adding concrete results makes it clear you’re successful. For example, “Directed employee training implementation for a total of 15 trainings serving 400 employees.”
Resume Format and Design Tips:
Format and design provide visual cues to improve the hiring team's ability to get as much information out of your resume as possible. Length gives you an idea of how much content you should be including; headers improve readability, and a simple design can make the other steps in the process (like entering the same information into an application form) much easier.
Keep the document to one page unless you’ve been in the professional workforce for more than 10 years; then, you can move onto a second page.
Use headers in your resume to separate sections. This means you’ll want to divide up the sections of your resume in ways that make sense. If you’re pivoting careers or have been out of the workforce for a while, this might look more like a functional resume instead of a chronological breakdown.
It’s ok, and might even be better, to keep the design of your resume simple. The important piece of the resume design is that it’s accessible. You want to keep it easy to read, skimmable, and concise.
Is this the end-all, be-all list for resumes? Nope. But they are the most impactful ways to spend time taming the resume beast.