The Second-Best Resume Tip I Know and Why It Will Make Yours Stand Out
Did that title lift an eyebrow? Did you ask yourself, "Why would this guy write about the second-best resume tip? I want to know the best one."
Fair enough. Here's the best resume tip I know:
Create a career and life for yourself that doesn't require a resume.
Strive to build a career and life where you or what you create or make is in demand. Do it in an area or industry that excites you. If you do it well, compensation for it will find you.
But if a resume is a must-have now for landing your next position, that tip doesn't help. I'll write about the no-resume concept at some point, but many in the workforce need a resume to get noticed and hired by organizations. If you're one of them, you want yours to stand out.
I've helped numerous people with their resumes. Friends. Acquaintances. Friends of friends. Clients looking for new challenges in different organizations. Those who knew me well often assumed I'd dip into my writing skills to elevate their resumes. While my writing experience serves well with resume improvement, something else helps more: my experience as a hiring manager.
Resumes are one of the first things hiring personnel see from individuals, so most job candidates know to make them professional, well-written, and error-free. But what beyond those three things can also help? What if you can save hiring managers time by making their jobs easier? What if that extra effort also benefits you? Does that count for something?
You bet it does.
Before I share how to do this, know that what comprises a great resume is subjective and industry-specific. What may be a suitable format and acceptable length for the information technology industry (mine) may differ for the graphic design profession. Run whatever concepts I share through your personal litmus test and industry-specific experience.
Prime Real Estate
Most resumes follow a standard order. Name at the top. Contact info nearby. A professional summary next. Then most jump into the professional experience by listing career positions in reverse chronological order, with the latest one at the top. Occasionally I'll see a list of primary skills and knowledge wedged between the summary and professional experience. These resume formats suit most situations, but there is a more effective way to start them.
The first half page of your resume is prime real estate, especially if you have many years of experience that spans several pages. (Let's defer the debate on how long a resume should be because, as mentioned above, it's subjective and industry-specific.)
An Unfortunate Truth
I doubt this shocks most readers, but many hiring managers are extremely busy with numerous priorities. Most juggle multiple job duties once spread over many individuals years ago. So what do we hiring managers do with resumes when we're short on time?
We skim those suckers.
Some hiring managers have a ridiculous volume of resumes flooding their inboxes even after recruiting or HR has culled the field through scanning software and preliminary screeners. There's no way most busy managers read every word when going through those many resumes.
If you believe me when I tell you we skim them, how much detail do you think we may miss, especially if some key elements are on page two or three?
So what can help offset potential skimming? I'll tell you.
Take control of what the hiring manager sees by inserting a Significant Accomplishments section between the summary and professional experience. Here, you list the best things you've done on any job. Depending on how much experience you have in your profession, I'd stay between a minimum of three bullets and a maximum of seven.
Copy them from the experience section versus removing them. If these accomplishments interest the hiring manager, that person may want to drill down to see them within the context of the job and company they occurred.
These significant accomplishments are even better when they're quantifiable. A bullet that reads, "Automated a manual process at ABC corporation that reduced total staff hours from 20,000 to 500 per year with an annual savings of $750,000," goes further than, "Automated a manual process that saved time for front-line workers."
I've seen this technique take multiple individuals from getting little to no attention from companies to immediately landing several job interviews and ultimately being hired for desirable positions.
Most people I've shared this technique with immediately get the common-sense value of it and want to add it. But some have reservations. I'll address the ones I hear the most.
But Chris, I've worked hard to get my resume to (x) pages. Adding this section will make it run over.
Ideal resume length stresses out some people. If individuals are relatively early in their careers, say five-to-seven years or so, some cringe at the thought of their resume spilling beyond a page. When I ask why they want to keep it to one page, most answers sound like this:
"A college professor told me to."
That is perfect advice for most college students on the cusp of graduation. It's ideal because most college graduates barely have enough working experience to fill a page unless they add fluff and filler.
But when you've worked for several years and gained much valuable experience, don't be afraid to let the resume spill over to two pages as long as there's no fluff or filler. An exception is if page two only has a sentence or two or even a paragraph. Try to tighten it to one in that case.
But what surprises me is when people with ten to fifteen years in the workplace and lots of great experience try to keep it to one page by omitting valuable information. Again, this is usually because a college professor recommended it over a decade ago.
If someone with ten to fifteen years in my industry has a one-page resume, I secretly wonder if that person has enough experience for the job. Unless they're omitting valuable details, they've probably been in the same role year after year and have yet to grow beyond it.
For clarity, there's a difference between a resume and a bio or profile. The world has many in-demand experts, creators, and consultants with one-page bios or profiles. But if a resume is a must-have and you have lots of valuable and varied experience in numerous roles over ten to twenty-five years or more, feel confident to send a multi-page resume. Just keep it within reason. If you need help determining what's within reason, ask advice from hiring personnel in your industry to learn how many pages are too many.
But Chris, I know my efforts saved money for companies, but I don't know how much.
I get it. Things move extremely fast in most companies, and it has been accelerating for years. You may implement a kick-butt improvement process that saves significant time and is highly praised. But no one had time to determine the dollar savings. Or someone higher up did, but no one shared it with you. If this is the case, ask for help.
If it's the company you work in now, ask someone who knows the personnel cost to help you calculate it. If it's a past company and you are on good terms with people there (you always leave a company on good terms, right?), contact someone you know well at that previous company and ask for help determining the savings.
If those aren't options, but you know the approximate amount of time you saved, calculate it yourself using reasonable numbers in good faith. You may not know the average hourly costs of the personnel whose time you saved, but you probably know someone who does. Contact an ally in your industry who can give you an average hourly rate.
For my profession in IT, when looking at average hourly costs for mid-level people blended across multiple roles, $50 an hour is a reasonable assumption when adding loaded costs on top of salary and wages. If I know a process saved the IT staff 1000 hours a year, I can calculate a $50,000 annual savings. If the process is still in use after five years, then a $250,000 assumption in savings is reasonable.
It's important to note that I'm focusing on reduction-in-time savings here versus revenue generation because the people involved in revenue generation often know the numbers. Salespeople typically see the numbers around the revenue generated and how much was above quota. It's generally easier for those roles to show quantifiable achievements.
The bottom line is: make a good-faith effort to quantify those significant achievements. If you need help, find an in-the-know contact to assist. As an added benefit, that contact could know open positions that fit your skillset and steer you toward them.
But Chris, I don't have any significant accomplishments.
If that's true, I'd do some self-reflection and ask what value you're bringing the companies that pay you. If you're coasting, collecting a paycheck by doing as little as possible, you may be in the wrong profession. Perhaps the job doesn't excite you, and it may signal there's something better waiting for you. Seek it out.
However, I've helped people who didn't think they had significant accomplishments, but after a brainstorming session, they discovered they did. Once we uncovered those gems, the individuals added them to their resumes.
When someone has years of experience, but doesn't have significant accomplishment-type bullets on their resumes, sometimes it's because they view resumes more as a job description document than an account of the value they offer. Value to clients, value to teams and co-workers, value to the organization.
Such a resume is usually just checking the boxes and has bullets that start like this:
- Responsible for...
- Tasked with...
- Managed a team of...
When a resume reads this way, I usually help the owner workshop it by starting with this premise:
If we exclude positions that follow rote processes with little variation, most managers seek solid, stable professionals who can do as much of the following:
- Generate revenue
- Create intellectual property
- Solve problems
- Improve processes
- Reduce cost
- Conduct research and development
I could add more bullets, but many would be a variation of the above. After conveying this concept, I ask the resume owners to walk through their current and past roles and describe when they've done these things, even if it wasn't technically part of their job descriptions. I also ask them to relay any instance in any position when someone singled them out for outstanding work or rewarded them for a job well done.
Most of the time, the person will recall valuable items that never made it to their resume. Resumes like this often occur because some have been told not to brag. But if there's one place you want to brag, it's your resume. Just make sure it's true. And if your resume needs better bullets for a Significant Accomplishments section, mine for hidden gems using the above exercise.
One Last Tip - Education Placement
I'm adding this last tip because it's relevant to the prime real estate concept mentioned earlier. Some resume owners lead off with education credentials if they're college graduates. Most of them are early in their careers, but I still see it with some people who have a decade or two of experience. This education placement is often a holdover from the first resume created when graduating college. For many who may not have worked significant jobs before or during college, that degree is their highest accomplishment, so placing it at the top makes sense.
But some don't think to move it down as they gain other significant experience. Again, this is subjective and industry-specific, but I recommend education be at or near the end of the resume for those fields and positions where specific degrees and certifications are not showstoppers. Here's why:
Degrees for some positions are sometimes a check-off box in hiring managers' minds versus the primary thing they seek. What if a particular degree is preferred (not required), but you have a different one? Suppose a manager must sift through fifty resumes. Might yours get placed aside if she immediately sees the non-preferred degree in hopes there are others with the desired degree?
The chance is strong.
However, suppose the hiring manager sees your significant accomplishments first and likes them because they align well with the potential role. In that case, the manager may view the lack of a preferred degree with little downside. My main point is, why risk it by having your education first?
Then there's the college sports rivalry factor. I grew up ten minutes from Duke and fifteen minutes from UNC at Chapel Hill (Carolina). I still live close by. If you follow college basketball, you know that rivalry is fierce. For half a century, I've listened to Duke fans bash faceless Carolina fans and Carolina fans bash faceless Duke fans. But I also know people who are great friends despite each going to those opposing schools.
Yes, this should never be a factor in hiring. Most of the time, it's not. But why make that the first thing the manager sees on the resume? Again, why risk it?
Both of the above points on education placement are primarily about first impressions. Let your significant accomplishments do the heavy lifting to make that first impression.
More Resume Tips?
I've mentioned how subjective resumes can be, so I don't have all the answers. If any reader has additional resume tips that would be valuable to others, please share them in the comments so we can help those job hunting. If I've written anything you disagree with, feel free to comment below and tell us what you'd recommend instead, especially if you have insight into what makes an ideal resume within your industry where you may have much more expertise.
Good luck out there!
(Written by a caring human. No AI was used—or harmed—to generate content for this article.)