Tips for Building a Better Resume: Don’t Simply Post a List of Job Descriptions

Building a better resume is often an exercise in fundamental communication and common sense, with some of the most important features focusing basic concepts. But before we can construct a document that accomplishes our desired results, we must have a better grasp on just what we should be trying to communicate. Most of the answers are simple and easy to understand. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily translate into a quality outcome, or one that even meets our fundamental objectives.

In order to craft a better resume, we have to be willing to look at the document through the eyes of those we are trying to impress during the selection process. These individuals don’t typically know who we are or what we’ve done. They are depending on the document that we’ve presented to them to open a window and shed light on the professional that we are and how our particular talents, abilities, and experiences will successfully meet the needs of the position that they are trying to fill. This is where many opportunities are missed when putting together the resume. A fundamental objective is often overlooked by the candidate and missed in the resume.

When presenting the body of professional experience, many candidates with list their company, title, dates of employment, and a basic description of the positions that they’ve held. Often, such descriptions are similar to what one would see if they looked at a job description for the position on a company website. If this is where it’s left, how does that set you apart? How does it shed light on your talents, abilities, and experiences? How does it tell your story?

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A resume can’t simply be used to post job descriptions for the different positions that you’ve held. It’s not just the position that you’ve held that’s important, but what you’ve accomplished in that position that will set you apart. Represent your talents, skills and abilities! Did you make a difference? Did you build partnerships? Did you lead? Were you commended for your performance? Was there anything that showcased your abilities? Not if you don’t say so! Remember, if you don’t call it out—it didn’t happen as far as anyone else will ever know.

What’s most important about a particular role? What’s important to say about what you did in a particular role? We typically won’t have the space to say all that we want to say, so we want to use our available space to send the best possible message. Choose information that best represents the role that you filled, and what you were able to do with it.

Use descriptive words that show action, responsibility, accountability, leadership, cooperation and potential. Manage, develop, implement, supervise, lead, direct, train. Find power words that accurately describe your responsibilities.

Many will accurately proclaim that the job interview is the appropriate venue to expand upon these qualities. That would be accurate— the job interview is the appropriate venue to expand upon these qualities. That doesn’t imply that critically important information should be left off of a resume. This document represents a picture of who you are. While no document is capable of sharing all of the important qualities and characteristics that make up an individual, it is a critical first step. We can’t hope to perform well in an interview if our resume never presents us with an opportunity to get in the door.

There are many different factors that go into building a better resume. Some of those lessons might seem overly simplified or under-valued—but that’s exactly why some people miss them. Considering the time and effort that we put into our careers and the energy that goes into developing a professional development plan, we should be willing to take the small steps that put on a successful career path. Such details can make a big difference in the search process, and might guide others in their decisions as well.

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This article was originally published in 2016 and updated April 15, 2020.

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