The Job-Seeker’s Guide to Making Your Resume Stand Out From the Crowd

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You’ve spent hours writing and rewriting your resume. You diligently update it. Maybe you even have a few different versions depending on the types of jobs you’re going after. But with the average job listing attracting 250 applications, how do you make sure your resume stands out from the competition and catches the eye of a recruiter or hiring manager?

That’s assuming that it makes it that far. Today, many companies use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to organize all of their job applications. This software can be used to scan resumes for keywords and phrases, sending only the most qualified ones through for human review—which means you have to optimize your resume for an ATS as well as for the hiring manager.

The good news is that you don’t need a fancy design to make your resume stand out. Try these nine strategies to ensure that your resume puts you in the best light—and lands you the job.

1. Keep It Short

Unless you’re vying for an executive role, one page is usually enough to show that you have the background, skills, and experience for the job. If you’re having trouble streamlining your resume, try trimming bullets and combining sections, and delete any jobs more than 10 years in the past.

2. Tailor It to the Role

Your resume should demonstrate that you have the specific skills, experience, and accomplishments that this company is looking for. Don’t try to detail every career accomplishment—use your resume to demonstrate why you’re the best candidate for this particular position.

3. Design With Readability in Mind

Avoid using graphics, tables, pie charts, and illustrations, which resume-scanning software can’t read. Make sure you use a simple font like Helvetica, Arial, or Times New Roman—less common fonts may be rejected by an ATS, and are harder to read for humans, too. Then, use clear section headings and make them stand out with bold type, capital letters, or a different color.

4. Include the Magic Words

Make sure to incorporate keywords from the job description into your bullet points. It’ll be easier for recruiters and hiring managers to see that you’re a good fit—and if a company uses resume-scanning software, this will help you get through the filters, too.

To figure out what those keywords might be, scan the job description for specific skills that come up more than once and are mentioned near the top of the requirements and job duties. Online tools like Jobscan, Resume Worded’s Targeted Resume, or SkillSyncer can also pinpoint some crucial keywords to include.

5. Use a Summary Statement Instead of an Objective

A old-school resume objective (“Seeking a senior software engineer role in the fintech space”) tells the recruiter what you’re looking for, but a summary statement explains what value the company will get if you join the team.

6. Punch Up Your Text

Most resume bullet points use the same words, over and over again. Instead of listing things you were “responsible for,” swap in action verbs that convey what you achieved:

  • Executed
  • Planned
  • Built
  • Increased
  • Delivered
  • Redesigned
  • Directed
  • Coached
  • Forecasted
  • Completed

7. Quantify Everything

Go through your bullet points and add as many numbers and percentages as you can to illustrate your impact. This helps recruiters really picture what you’ve done in your position. Bonus: Include what the benefit was to your boss or your company.

Before: Created monthly status reports for clients.
After: Created monthly status reports for 25-30 different clients to ensure timely and complete communication about key initiatives.

8. Avoid Clichés or Jargon

Put everything in terms a layperson can understand. And reconsider stock phrases like “big picture thinker,” “out-of-the-box,” “thought leader,” or “innovative,” which are so overused that they don’t mean anything anymore. Just like in the rest of your resume, you’re better off quantifying your results and backing up your skills with numbers.

9. Consider Mentioning Non-Traditional Work

If they’re relevant to the job you’re applying for, include any volunteer, part-time, or freelance experience. Then make sure to pair it with a strong cover letter telling the narrative of why you’re ideal for the job.

infographic explaining how to make your resume stand out, full text above
Infographic design by Logan Waters