Great Ways to Improve Your Resume Today


Does your resume work? Are you communicating how your professional capabilities and past experiences are relevant to the needs of hiring managers? Make these quick changes to convey why you are valuable in ways that other people can understand. (See also: Stupid Things to Put in Your Cover Letter)

Focus on Targeted Industries, Companies, and Disciplines

Just as your job search should be targeted to specific industries, companies, and disciplines, the language in your resume should be geared to those who make hiring decisions in these fields. Very often, the culture of your current employer requires you to use certain terms, phrases, and acronyms that are unrecognizable outside of your workplace; as a result, reading your resume is like deciphering a foreign language.

Fix whatever is confusing or misleading:

  • Replace company lingo and buzzwords.
  • Update lists of customers, brands, vendors, etc. to include those relevant to your targeted industry. (This process may involve removing relatively unknown customers and inserting those that are widely recognized or giving broader descriptions such as “a leading company in the outdoor gear industry” or “Fortune 500 corporations.”)
  • Revise sentences that showcase accomplishments using industry-specific references. (For example, a manager of an industrial laundry could replace “doubled pounds washed weekly” with "increased facility output by 100%.”)
  • Reword job duties to resonate with hiring managers in your desired field. (For example, a salesperson who is trying to land a training position may “educate customers on product attributes through hands-on instruction and formal presentations.”)

Add the Obvious, Yet Essential

If you are rightly trying to be succinct and touting what makes you unique, you may leave out essential points. Certain tasks should be mentioned, even if they seem mundane. Reassure your readers that you can unhesitatingly handle duties such as:

  • Staff supervision
  • Budgeting
  • Presentations
  • Interdisciplinary collaborations
  • Global travel

For example, you can "direct employees and manage recruitment, hiring, performance reviews, coaching, and career development...develop and administer annual operating budgets...deliver presentations to customers, employee groups, and vendors...collaborate with design, merchandising, sourcing, and logistics throughout Europe and North America to visit customers, investigate new vendors, and research global trends."

Place Your Work Into Context by Quantifying Volumes and Dollar Values

The complexity of your accountabilities and the magnitude of your accomplishments can be revealed when you mention numbers. Quantify this type of information:

  • Sales, percentage of sales growth, and new accounts opened.
  • Presence worldwide (e.g., stores, distribution centers, visitor traffic, subscribers, countries with sales offices).
  • Purchases to support daily operations or expended for capital projects.
  • Employees supported or supervised directly.

Clarify the Confusing

Not every job or assignment fits neatly into a standard format. Quirky requests from your boss, unusual situations, and once-a-career opportunities boost your qualifications but are tricky to capture on a resume. Deviate from the established format to give clarification:

  • Add specifics that convey your duties explicitly if a position involved performing tasks not typically associated with your job title. Place a descriptive title in parentheses next to the official title.
  • Elaborate on unconventional arrangements, such as an intense project that consumed a couple of years of your career or a major assignment that you handled in addition to your regular duties. (For example, under a heading of “managed product launch concurrent with accounting duties,” describe your success in marketing a new product.)
  • Streamline your employer's names, especially if your employer has been through mergers, acquisitions, etc. List the most recent or most prominent name rather than every variation.

Polish and Showcase Accomplishments

If you have been engrossed in day-to-day challenges, worked for tyrannical bosses who didn't acknowledge employee wins, or stayed at a single job over an extended period of time, you may not easily recognize and record major problems solved, value added, or results delivered. Reflect on your past and pump up your accomplishments:

  • Send a visual signal that certain items are important. List accomplishments in bulleted form distinct from regular duties contained in a paragraph or add a heading for "accomplishments."
  • Rephrase content about assignments that seemed ordinary at the time but, in hindsight, led to significant accomplishments. (For example, sales calls required to keep your job yielded "7 new accounts and $2M in incremental sales.”)
  • List team achievements in addition to individual ones, as most are made possible in collaboration with other people. Introduce or conclude the accomplishment with "contributed to" or other appropriate wording to show your role.
  • Tout great things that happened during your tenure, even if everything did not go perfectly. (For example, showcase that you “developed and executed a logistics plan for the 2010 holiday season that supported a sales increase of 30%” even if you missed the company goal of reducing shipping costs.)

Move to the Next Level Professionally

If you are a recent grad, then you may struggle with getting rid of entries for jobs and activities that represented your identity just a few years ago and laid the foundation for your success. If you have been in the workforce for a while, you may have had compelling experiences that are no longer relevant to your career goals. Put your past into perspective by taking these actions:

  • Update your professional and community activities to reflect current involvement. 
  • Replace your objective with a professional profile indicating areas of expertise.
  • Streamline information on portfolio projects, interim jobs, part-time work, and internships to key points meaningful to your present career goals, rather than a full description of all activities. 
  • Boost the visual impact of your real-world jobs by elaborating on most recent positions and accomplishments, especially if you are now working in your desired field.
  • Move your education to the bottom of your resume so that your more current experience is highlighted.

Improve Readability

Great content on your resume is crucial but information should be easily and quickly gleaned. Make these changes to improve readability:

  • Adjust your font size to 11+ points and add white space by trimming words and widening margins. Expand content to two pages if necessary.
  • However, if your resume has a few lines on a second page, trim to a single page by:
    • Eliminating articles such as “a” or “the”
    • Placing titles, employer names, and dates on one line
    • Putting contact info on one line
    • Using actual numbers rather than spelling out details (5M, not “five million”)
  • Ditch the template, particularly the one that places your contact information in teeny-tiny font sizes.
  • Consolidate freelance positions rather than listing each assignment separately.
  • Eliminate repetitive information.
  • Reduce the number of fonts to one but use attributes (italics, bold, character spacing, all caps, etc.) to differentiate headings and sub-headings. 
  • Remove wording that reads like a job description.

How have you changed your resume to improve job-search results?

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Meg Favreau's picture

I definitely think that making a resume targeted to the specific job you're applying for is worth the effort, especially if you freelance and have several different gigs you can highlight.

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks Meg -- you can tweak the resume for each job as you go along or create distinct versions in sync with one or two desired fields before you start your search (and try to avoid tweaking for individual jobs). In some cases, after a six-month search, people find that an industry or field has few openings so it makes sense to re-do the resume (or certain portions) to fit a completely new field.

You make an excellent point in regard to freelance gigs, especially if you handle various types of positions -- you could definitely move things around, revise wording, etc. to showcase certain skills and experiences.