How Not to Write Your Resume
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Your resume is your key into a company.  But, how do you stand out using just a piece of paper?

This is a question that many of my clients ask me, and the answer isn’t actually that complicated. It isn’t even really that much work.

As a Recruiter, I’ve screened thousands of resumes. Despite how simple it is to craft a compelling story, I can tell you one fact: less than 1% of resumes stand out.

That means that in a pile of 100 candidates applying for a job, only 1 will catch my eye. If you follow my top tips for what to avoid while resume writing, you could be that 1 person!

Here’s what you need to know: don’t be passive. 

It’s as simple as that.

Being passive means getting lost in the crowd. It means appearing like a follower when you can shine as a leader. Worst of all: it can cost you a great opportunity simply because you didn’t represent yourself in a way that highlights just how awesome you are.

How do you do this? It’s easy!

1. Avoid using words that are vague or ambiguous

You can say that you’re a strong team player, or an effective communicator, or a good listener. So can the 99 other candidates applying for the same position. That’s because these phrases are vague. They don’t prove anything about you. What makes you an effective communicator? Where is the evidence that you are a strong team player? How can you quantify being a good listener? Ask yourself the “So what” question to help you be more specific.

Here’s an example for you:

Passive: Acted as regular facility supervisor during employment.

The challenge with this isn’t just that it lists a responsibility instead of an achievement, it’s also very vague. What does it mean to act as a regular facility supervisor? A bit of reworking can lead to this:

Proactive: Efficiently scheduled and mentored 30+ instructional staff members on a weekly basis. 

This version lets the Hiring Manager or Recruiter know that the candidate has experience managing large groups and can act as a mentor when placed in a leadership position.

2. Avoid weak buzzwords (action verbs).

When you’re listing your experience, you’re going to want to make sure that your buzzwords are strong. You need to be able to convey that you have made an impact in your career and are passionate about achieving excellence. Open up your resume right now and remove words like ‘assisted’, ‘supported’, or ‘worked’. These are passive words that don’t spark the curiosity a Hiring Manager or Recruiter will need to justify calling you in for an interview.

Here’s an example of two different descriptions of what a candidate did for a political campaign:

Passive: Worked on the branding of the campaign at the leadership convention by helping to create a politically unique visual presence and high-tech blueprint.

Proactive: Created an impactful and original set of brand elements and guidelines for the Campaign at the 2013 Leadership Convention by using a politically unique visual presence and high-tech blueprint; this bold and cutting edge campaign increased conversion rates and grew market share at the convention.  

3. Don’t forget a catchy brand statement.

We all know the typical resume format: name in large font, address, phone number, etc. But what some people don’t have underneath all of that is a compelling brand statement. This is a short (maximum 100 word) sentence that sums you up. Three things you should include: the impact you want to make, your industry and experience, and what you’re passionate about.

4. Don’t simply list your responsibilities.

Check out your descriptions of your past experiences on your resume and delete the phrase ‘responsible for’. The Recruiter or Hiring Manager scanning your resume doesn’t care so much for what you were responsible for, but what impact you made or the results delivered.

This is the top mistake that I see in resumes even though it’s so easily corrected. Did you create a new initiative that led to cost savings? Did you increase traffic to a social media channel by a certain percentage? Remember: numbers, numbers, numbers. Include them wherever possible because they will definitively prove that you deserve an interview.

For example:

Passive: Exceptional service provider with an NPS Score of 98.

What’s wrong with it? It’s vague, and it doesn’t give any quantifiable numbers that prove how exceptional the candidate was.

Proactive: Exceptional service provider with the highest consumer credit score in division (Net Promotor Score: 98/100); closed over $1 million of sales in 12 months

5. Don’t undervalue yourself. 

The easiest way to avoid doing this is to shift your perspective. As a society, we value being humble and modest about our achievements, but your resume is just not the place for this. Own your greatness! When you’re reworking a sentence to make it more proactive, ask yourself how you can word your achievements more compellingly. Did you create something? Did you develop, spearhead, audit, lead, or implement a project?

Notice how powerful these words sound. They convey that you are a leader and that you may be the top talent that a company is looking for. Believe that you are exceptional, and use proactive words to convey that in your resume!

Final Tip: You should always write your bullet point statements in past tense unless you are still working on that initiative. The most common typo I come across is the word ‘Lead’ where people forget that the past tense is ‘Led’.

What are your thoughts on how to stand out using your resume? Do you have any tips for those in the job search right now?





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Diana YK Chan

Diana YK Chan

Diana is a former Recruiter turned Career Coach, Speaker and Trainer at My Marketability. She helps ambitious professionals and executives design the next chapter of their life, navigate transformational changes, and land incredible opportunities with a higher income. She’s an expert at distinguishing people’s unique brand value, mastering their messages and networking with confidence to gain a competitive edge. She’s recognized by JobScan as one of the Top 10 Job Search Experts to follow on LinkedIn.