Writing a Resume That Gets Results

Your resume is a summary of your qualifications, no longer than two pages (One page is even better when you are a recent graduate or have limited experience.).  Think of it as an expanded business card. You use a business card to introduce yourself or leave it behind as a reminder of who you are and what you represent. In this case, the product/service you represent is you!

Just as you would never rely on a business card to sell your product or service, you should never rely on your resume to get you the job. The resume is your introduction to prospective employers, telling them about your education, work experience, abilities, and accomplishments. Ultimately, the resume’s job is to prove to employers that they should take the time to interview you. Your goal is for your resume to represent you as someone who could meet their needs.

In this article, you will learn about:

Your Resume Only Has 7 Seconds
A Guaranteed Way to Make Your Resume Stand Out
Applicant Tracking Systems
Big Six Marketing Tools
ChatGPT Tips
Steps to Writing a Successful Resume
     Define Your Objective
     Analyze The Typical Job Requirements for Your Job Target
     Choose The Most Appropriate Format
     Write 10-20 Quantified Skill Statements
     Write a Draft of Your Resume
     Develop a “Highlights of Qualifications” or “Summary of Qualifications” Section
     What Should Go At The Top Of Your Resume
     Place Your Educational Information Strategically
     Other Relevant Information for Your Job Target
     Editing Your Resume
     Make Your Resume Visually Appealing
     ATS Do’s and Don’ts
     Choose the Correct File Format
     Get Feedback From the Right People
     Tailor Your Resume in 5 Minutes or Less
     Want More Help Writing Your Resume?

Your Resume Only Has 7 Seconds

Careerblog reports, “The average time a hiring manager spends looking at a resume is 7 seconds, so your resume needs to make a very quick impression.” In that brief time, your resume will go into either the “yes” or “no” pile of resumes.

An excellent resume clearly states your qualifications (in descending order of importance) for the position you are applying for. You will need to spend several hours thinking, writing, and rewriting. There are no shortcuts to writing a good resume. Since your resume forms an employer’s first impression of you, it must exemplify your best thought and effort.

A Guaranteed Way to Make Your Resume Stand Out

Novoresume reports, “61% of recruiters say customization is a guaranteed way to make your application stand out. Customization includes providing a cover letter, addressing the hiring manager by name, and providing a link to your portfolio, website, or relevant social media.”

To maximize your chances of getting interviews, every resume you send needs to be customized for the job and employer.  The good news is that by having the right type of resume, you can customize it in five minutes or less.

Applicant Tracking System or ATS

Many organizations receive hundreds of resumes daily, which can be overwhelming; therefore, employers often collect resumes electronically (via the Internet or e-mail) and review them with an “applicant tracking system” or ATS. The ATS, a crucial gatekeeper in the hiring process, is the first to scan for the needed skills or experiences that the job requires. For your resume to be considered, it must “hit home” immediately by including the keywords for which the software is programmed to search.

This is crucial because, according to a report from Gitnux, only 25% of resumes make it past the ATS and arrive before a human recruiter. This means 75% of resumes don’t qualify because of formatting, content, or lack of keywords. In this article, you will be provided with a powerful tool, a formatted Word Doc, to use and guide you in having the correct content and keywords to maximize your chances of getting interviews.

An ATS is normally focused more on the first third of your resume. Rest assured, the steps below are designed to help you include the most important information near the top of your resume, ensuring your qualifications are highlighted effectively.

Big Six Marketing Tools

Your resume is the foremost among the “big six” job search marketing tools. It’s the key that unlocks the door to your professional opportunities.  The other marketing tools, such as your Strengths SummaryLinkedIn (Resume 2.0), a Cover Letter for advertised jobs, a Personal Contact Cover Letter for networking, and a Direct Employer Contact Cover Letter for finding jobs in the ‘hidden’ job market where approximately 80% of jobs are found, all rely on a strong resume as their foundation.

Your resume is the first of the big six marketing tools. It’s a standalone document and the cornerstone of your job search strategy. By investing time in its development, you’re strengthening this crucial tool and building a solid foundation for the other five marketing tools and for successful interviewing.

ChatGPT Tips

ChatGPT is a helpful tool for crafting your resume.  It’s like having an intelligent assistant who can advise you on making your resume more impressive. ChatGPT can help you choose the right words, organize your achievements, and make your resume look professional. It’s like having a virtual coach for creating a standout resume that gets past the applicant tracking systems and impresses employers.  In many resume development steps, we have included ChatGPT tips to help you create a customized winning resume faster.

Steps to Writing a Successful Resume

1. Define your objective.

Find one or two job targets–that is, job titles–that fit you best and focus your job search on them. Being focused in your job search will help you to write a better resume with the right keywords, search for jobs more effectively because you will only be looking for specific jobs, allow your contacts to help you find jobs, and help you interview more effectively because you know what type of work you want to be doing. Return to Discover Your Career Matches if you need to clarify your career direction.

If you need an “interim or survival job,” focus on your previous work and marketable skills.

If you have determined a specific objective, include the job title or a brief statement describing the position desired. It is best to state your objective at the top of your resume.

Here are some examples of objectives:

A position as a recreational therapist

A position in therapeutic recreation designing and implementing progressive programs.

Recreational Therapist

Your resume objective is a short, targeted statement that tells the employer that you are focused, and it makes sense for them to take time to look at the rest of your resume and set up an interview with you.

But wait, I have been told I shouldn’t use an objective. Because objectives often focus on what the job seeker wants rather than what they can do for the employer, some believe objectives should be removed entirely. If you choose not to have an objective, another good option is to have a branding statement. For example, an experienced sales manager might have a branding statement such as “Professional Sales Manager With More Than 15 Years of Experience.” The branding statement can be centered at the top of your resume under your contact information. Here is an example of a resume with a branding statement.

ChatGPT Tip: Ask the AI software to provide ten job objectives or branding statements for [your target job]. Here are a few results for a Recreational Therapist:

“Passionate Recreational Therapist dedicated to enhancing the well-being of individuals through engaging and personalized therapeutic activities, fostering holistic growth and positive outcomes.”

“Results-driven Recreational Therapist with a proven track record of creating tailored therapeutic programs that empower individuals to achieve physical, emotional, and social milestones, promoting overall wellness.”

“Innovative Recreational Therapist known for developing and implementing creative and stimulating recreational activities that contribute to clients’ physical, emotional, and social health.”

“Compassionate and client-focused Recreational Therapist with expertise in utilizing recreational interventions to improve the quality of life for individuals facing physical, cognitive, or emotional challenges.”

“Skilled Recreational Therapist committed to fostering a supportive and inclusive environment, utilizing recreational activities to promote self-expression, social interaction, and overall mental well-being.”

2. Analyze the typical job requirements for your job target.

Through Discover Your Career Matches, you have already learned about many job requirements for your job target(s). Using the O*NET job descriptions and conducting Informational Interviews, you now know many of the specific transferable, personal, and content skills needed for the job. An additional step before preparing marketing materials is to analyze advertised jobs to identify consistent skills you want to include in your marketing materials. By examining 3 to 5 jobs, you will see the consistent transferable, personal, and content skills to include in your resume.

Later, when you apply for advertised jobs, the analysis process you’ve learned becomes a powerful tool. It allows you to customize your resume and cover letter in five minutes or less, a time investment that can significantly boost your chances. By tailoring your application to the specific job requirements, you’re more likely to get past employers’ applicant tracking systems and stand out from the competition. This is especially effective as most applicants use the same resume for all the jobs they apply to online.

ChatGPT tip: You can ask the software to analyze a job description, providing you with a breakdown of the transferable skills, personal skills, and knowledge you should emphasize in your resume. For instance, you can use this prompt: “Please analyze this public relations assistant job description and identify the transferable skills, personal skills, and knowledge that I should emphasize in my resume. Here is the job description: Company Description….”

Next, you can prompt ChatGPT to “identify how many times each skill is described in the job description.”

Here are part of the results:

Certainly! Here’s a breakdown of how many times each skill is in the job description:

Transferable Skills:

  1. Calendar and Schedule Management: Mentioned 3 times.
  2. Communication Skills: Referenced 5 times.
  3. Organization and Multitasking: Mentioned 4 times.
  4. Collaboration: Emphasized 3 times.
  5. Travel Coordination: Highlighted 1 time.
  6. Attention to Detail: Mentioned 4 times.

Personal Skills:

  1. Proactive Approach: Highlighted 1 time.
  2. Motivation and Willingness to Learn: Mentioned 2 times.
  3. Agility and Decision-Making: Mentioned 3 times.
  4. Collaborative Attitude: Emphasized 2 times.
  5. Highly Motivated: Mentioned 1 time.

Knowledge:

  1. Brand Communications: Referenced 7 times.
  2. Fast-Paced Environment: Mentioned 1 time.
  3. Corporate Processes: Mentioned 1 time.

Now that you have this breakdown, it’s time to put it into action. Consider using it to prioritize and emphasize the skills that are mentioned more frequently when tailoring your resume for the Public Relations Assistant position. This will help you align your application with the job requirements and increase your chances of success.

3. Choose the most appropriate format.

Depending on the job you’re applying for, you can choose a chronological, functional, or hybrid format. A chronological resume arranges your qualifying experiences and training in reverse chronological order. A chronological format is most effective when you are applying for a position that is similar or directly related to work you have done previously. Whenever possible, it is best to use a chronological format.

Suppose you are a student with an internship related to your job target. In that case, you can use a chronological format and list your internship under “work history” or “relevant experience.”

While a chronological resume is the most common and straightforward format, there are situations where it might not be the most effective choice. Here are some scenarios when a chronological resume might not be wise to use:

Frequent Job Changes: If you have a history of frequent job changes or short-term employment with various employers, a chronological resume can highlight this pattern, potentially raising concerns about your stability or commitment to employers.

Employment Gaps: A chronological resume can emphasize gaps in your employment history. A different resume format, such as a functional or combination resume, might be more suitable if you have extended periods without employment.

Career Change: If you are making a significant career change and your experience doesn’t directly align with your new goals, a functional or combination resume focusing on skills and achievements rather than job titles and dates may be more effective.

Limited Work Experience: For individuals with limited work experience or recent graduates, a functional resume highlighting skills, education, and relevant coursework may be more beneficial in showcasing qualifications.

Non-Traditional Career Paths: In some cases, individuals with non-linear or non-traditional career paths, such as freelancers, entrepreneurs, or those with a diverse range of experiences, may find a chronological resume less effective. A skills-based or functional resume might better emphasize their abilities.

Age Discrimination Concerns: Unfortunately, age discrimination can be a factor in hiring. If you are concerned about potential bias due to age, a skills-based or functional resume might help de-emphasize your chronological work history.

Returning to Work After a Long Absence: A chronological resume might not be the best choice if you re-enter the workforce after a significant absence. A functional or combination resume can help draw attention to your skills and achievements.

Consider tailoring your resume format to highlight your strengths better and downplay potential concerns in these situations. A functional resume, a combination resume, or a skills-based resume can be alternative formats that might be more appropriate.

You will generally want the most important information that targets your job objective near the top of your resume. Research has shown that when employers look at documents like a resume, they will focus on the first third of your resume, and by the time they get to the rest of your resume, they are not reading much of what you wrote.

A functional resume highlights your skills and lists your qualifications in their order of importance regardless of the time of occurrence. In a functional resume, you use the skills and duties from your work history (paid and volunteer), education, and leisure activities that relate to and qualify you for the job objective. Use the functional format if you plan a career transition or do not have specific work experience related to your desired job.

While there is no perfect style or format for a resume, most people find having a template to start with makes resume writing much easier. Here are three templates to choose from depending on your situation:

Chronological resume template for recent college graduates.

Chronological resume template for experienced workers.

Functional resume template.

4. Write 10-20 quantified skill statements.

Write skill statements demonstrating you can do the job you target in your objective (or at least prove that you can learn how to do it quickly). Regardless of your resume format, you will attract employers by describing your skills and how they can meet an employer’s needs. Ultimately, the results you can produce are the only thing an employer is interested in. The following bulleted items illustrate quantified skill statements demonstrating quantified and specific results regarding dollars, percentages, and numbers. While you may not be able to quantify all of your skill statements, it is always good to think about the results that you have produced. Ultimately, employers are most interested in the results you can produce for them!

Here are some examples:

  • Initiated a new training program for service technicians that increased their productivity by 33% and saved the company approximately $300,000 in non-recoverable labor expenses.
  • Restructured lesson plans and developed a parent participation strategy that resulted in a 79% success rate in a reading program for at-risk children.
  • Designed and implemented a new team support, cooperation, and motivational program that reduced employee turnover by more than 60% and increased efficiency.
  • Developed a workload distribution and resource utilization program, then retrained personnel, saving approximately $8,000 annually in overtime expenses.

(Here are additional examples of quantified accomplishments.)

As you can see, each skill statement starts with a transferable skill name: identified, initiated, restructured, designed, and developed. (Here is a list of transferable skill names or “action words” for your resume.) These words connote action. The skill statement then describes how the skill was used and, most importantly, what result was achieved. Please note that while quantifying results is not always possible, strive to give at least a subjective description of the results you produced.

ChatGPT Tip: Use ChatGPT to brainstorm skill statements. Here, you can add your transferable and content skills related to the job. Next, add a job description from Indeed.com that represents your job target. Ask ChatGPT to write 20 bulleted skill statements for the job. You can also ask it to quantify the skill statements with dollar figures, numbers, and percentages. ChatGPT will provide you with quantified skill statements that you can edit and use either under your jobs in a chronological resume or under headings in your functional or hybrid resume.

For a functional resume, add another prompt and ask ChatGPT to place the skill statements under three categories.

While ChatGPT can make writing a resume easier, you should still plan on two or more hours to complete it. But keep in mind that the work you do in writing your skill statements will help you not only to write a great resume but will help you write your “big six” marketing tools (Strengths Summary, LinkedIn, Cover Letter for advertised jobs, Personal Contact Cover Letter, and Direct Employer Contact Cover Letter) where you must prove you have the skills that are important to the employer.

5. Write a draft of your resume.

Once you have written your skill statements, you can begin a resume draft by placing those skills in the chosen format. In a chronological format, your skill statements will go into a section entitled “Work Experience” or “Professional Experience.” For a functional resume, you can also use the title “Professional Experience” or “Relevant Experience.” Use past tense for previous activities, experiences, or acquired skills. Use present tense to refer to ongoing or current activities.

If you choose a functional format, you will also want to include a “Work History” section that provides the names of the companies you have worked for, their location, the job titles you held, and the dates you worked at each company.

ChatGPT Tip: You can ask ChatGPT to draft a resume; however, you will only get good results by including the right prompts. Start by finding a job description on Indeed.com that is of interest. Make sure it has a reasonably long job description. Enter the job description and ask ChatGPT to produce a Chronological, Functional, or Hybrid resume draft. Ask ChatGPT to include headings for Summary of Qualifications, Professional Experience, and Education. If you ask for a Functional format, ask ChatGPT to put bulleted skills statements under three headings that organize the skills. If you don’t get the desired results, you can provide additional directions to ChatGPT, such as “Please write more skill statements that use these skill names [transferable, personal or content skills]. You can use the ChatGPT results to write a better resume faster.

6. Develop a “Highlights of Qualifications” or “Summary of Qualifications” section to begin your resume.

This section aims to gain the employer’s attention by highlighting your key qualifications. This section can include years of relevant experience, key accomplishments, content skills (for example, computer knowledge), and personal skills (such as hardworking, honest, flexible, loyal, etc.). Here are examples:

 JOB OBJECTIVE: Administrative Assistant

 SUMMARY OF QUALIFICATIONS

  • Dedicated administrative professional with [X] years of experience
  • Excellent record of dependability and reliability.
  • Effective telephone communication skills.
  • Exceptional communication and interpersonal skills, fostering positive relationships with colleagues and clients
  • Proven ability to implement effective systems for record-keeping, document management, and task-tracking
  • Efficiently manages office operations, coordinating schedules and prioritizing tasks.
  • Experienced in using computer programs including Microsoft Office, Adobe, and PhotoShop.
  • Committed to maintaining a well-organized and productive work environment.
  • Detail-oriented with a keen eye for accuracy and precision in administrative tasks.

OBJECTIVEOffice Manager or Program Manager

SUMMARY OF QUALIFICATIONS

  • Ten years of administrative and management experience. Responsibilities have included human resource functions such as training, hiring/firing, and employee supervision/evaluation; facilities management; scheduling, time cards, payroll; accounts receivable and accounts payable; purchasing and inventory control.
  • Fast learner, detail-oriented, able to prioritize effectively with little or no supervision. Enjoy working in a busy environment with multiple task demands.
  • Creative and flexible in organizing and planning.
  • Excellent monitoring and follow-up skills.Strong people skills; highly effective in promoting a positive, productive work environment.
  • Reputation for work excellence and high-quality service to customers/clients.
  • Computer skills include Microsoft Office, Quattro Pro, ACT, and StaffTrak.

ChatGPT Tip:  You can use ChatGPT to brainstorm your Summary of Qualifications.  Here are two ways to use it:

a)  In the ChatGPT prompt box, enter your transferable, personal, and content skills related to your job target.  Also, enter the job objective.  Here is an example of an Administrative Assistant:

ChatGPT prompt for administrative assistant

b)  Copy a job description that is of interest from any job board, such as Indeed.com.  Paste the copy into the ChatGPT prompt and ask it to provide a Summary of Qualifications for a resume.  This will produce some qualifications that are true of you.  You can edit and use any that are appropriate.  If you don’t get the information you want, you can add more specific directions, and ChatGPT will use these additional directions with the directions you have already provided.

7. Place your name, address, phone, personalized LinkedIn URL, and e-mail information at the top of your resume.

Use a phone number where you can be reached, or a message can be left. If you don’t currently have an answering machine or voice mail, invest in technology that will be there to answer when you are not. An employer may not call a second time. Keep the message on your answering machine brief and professional.

8. Place your educational information strategically.

Generally, your education should be first under your “Highlights of Qualifications” section only if it is your most important qualification to date for the job for which you are applying or if possession of a requisite degree (or degrees) is a requirement for your job target. However, as your education recedes in time, it also recedes as a factor in your current qualifications.

In reverse chronological order, list the institutions you attended, their locations, and dates of attendance or graduation. (If it has been more than ten years since you received your last degree, you may not want to list dates.) A college graduate doesn’t need to indicate the high school attended unless some aspect of that experience particularly supports your objective. Include degrees received, academic major(s), and areas of concentration. Job applicants with limited work experience may also want to mention special academic honors, student activities, etc.

9. Include other information only if it is relevant to your job target. 

Other factors that can be included are professional memberships, publications, special honors, qualifying licenses, interests, civic activities, etc. Remember, however, that you only want to include information that helps prove you can do the job. The resume is not a forum for telling your life story.

10. Edit your resume.

When editing your resume, remember the following: there is no perfect format (choose the one that best represents you); there should be a reason for everything you include; after your objective, organize information in descending order of importance; use correct spelling (have someone proofread your final copy even if you are a good speller); do not abbreviate; avoid jargon, and, as a general rule, limit your resume to one or two pages.

11. Make your resume visually appealing.

Highlight key information by using boldfaced type or CAPITALIZING it. Bullets (large dots) effectively draw the employer’s attention and eye to competencies, accomplishments, and achievements. Use white space for eye appeal and easy reading.

12.  ATS Do’s and Don’ts.

While you want your resume to look good, you must also know about Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). These days, your resume may automatically land in the employer’s ATS.  Your resume has information scanned, “parsed,” or pulled out by the ATS.  It then produces a digital candidate profile where the recruiter or employer can search the ATS by keyword and get a list of resumes that best match the qualifications that the employer is seeking.

There are specific things you can do to help ensure that the ATS places your resume into the “yes” pile for the recruiter as they search for the right candidates to interview:

-Avoid abbreviations. Most ATSs aren’t programmed to recognize abbreviations like PhD or MDiv.  Instead, you will want to spell abbreviations and then use the common acronym in parentheses.  For example, (MDiv) Master of Divinity.

-Do not use lines, multiple columns, or tables in your resume. While some ATSs can read lines and tables, others can’t, so it is better to play it safe.

-Avoid stars, diamonds, and check-boxes; instead, use standard bullets. (In Microsoft Word, the bullet options are found in the “Paragraph” section of the ribbon.) Standard bullets can help the ATS read the information in your resume.

-Use standard fonts like Arial, Cambria, Calibri, Verdana, and Times New Roman. Your resume is not the place to use fancy fonts.

-Check your grammar and spelling. Of course, you want to do this regardless, but knowing that an ATS will recognize spelling and grammar mistakes is important.  Use Grammary.com or the Word document spell and grammar check, but also carefully read your resume at least twice for mistakes.

13. Choose the correct file format.

Unless the employer specifies what file format to use (PDF or Word doc), there are pros and cons related to which file format is best for resumes. Saving and sending a PDF version of your resume will keep the formatting intact. In other words, how you see your resume will also be how the employer views it. PDFs, however, may not be compatible with some applicant tracking software systems. On the other hand, while Word docs are typically more accurately analyzed by ATS software, there can be compatibility issues with different Microsoft software versions that may alter the format of your resume. So, in deciding what file format to use, you may want to send a PDF and a Word doc version if their application process allows you to do this. If it does not allow this, sending a Word doc version is best.

14. Get feedback from the right people.

It is tempting to ask several people you know to give you feedback on your resume. In reality, this can confuse you and lead to an ineffective resume.  There are only three people that you should ask to review your resume:  One, someone who knows how applicant tracking systems work.  Two, someone who is a grammar and spelling expert.  And three, a certified career counselor/resume expert who reviews and writes client resumes.

15. Custom tailor your resume in 5 minutes or less for the jobs you are applying for. 

A one-size-fits-all resume will not be successful in landing your interviews. So, how do you custom-tailor your resume?  The best place to start is by analyzing the job description.  Identify the transferable skills, content skills (knowledge), and personal skills (soft skills) the employer seeks. Next, in your Summary of Qualifications, make changes so that your resume reflects the skills and knowledge the employer seeks.

ChatGPT Tip:  Provide ChatGPT with the job description you want to apply to, and then ask it to identify the skills you need to emphasize on your resume.  Next, ask ChatGPT to write a new Summary of Qualifications using those skill names.  This will help you to quickly analyze and custom tailor your resume by making a few changes in the Summary of Qualifications.

Want more help writing your resume? 

For many people, hiring a professional career counselor to review and write their resume is worth it. We have some great career counselors who can assist you with your resume.

Summary

Using these 15 keys will maximize the effectiveness of your resume for your job targets.  By targeting each of your resumes for jobs of interest, you can stand out from other resumes.

The work that you have done on your resume will make it easier to write the other Big Six marketing tools.  You are now ready to develop your Strength Summary.