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Finding a job, whether it’s your first or your 10th, can be a daunting process.

No matter how much experience you have, how great your credentials are or how many glowing references you have amassed, you are just one of many in the eyes of a future employer. The key to being the chosen one is to stand out from the crowd, and one of the best ways to do that is with a great résumé.

Research: Find the Right Words

Knowing what skills and capabilities are in demand in your field is critical to constructing a compelling résumé. You may think you know what employers are looking for, but a reality check is always in order. Spend some time reviewing job listings for positions that you are interested in and take note of the words and phrases that are regularly used.

You will be surprised to see how much common language there is for specific positions. For example, job postings for Administrative Assistants are likely to specify key requirements such as “effective verbal and written skills,” “knowledge of MS office,” “exceptional time management” and “problem-solving skills.” If that’s the type of job you are looking for, you will need to put those phrases front and center to attract the attention of recruiters.

Introduction: Highlight Your Skills

The first thing a prospective employer will see is the short section at the top of your résumé that describes your key strengths and core capabilities. This is your chance to differentiate yourself from other applicants and make the case for why you should be chosen above the rest. Here is where those key words and phrases you have so diligently researched will come into play as you highlight your ability to deliver the specific skills that employers are looking for. This section needs to be succinct and focused, outlining just your relevant capabilities, with the more detailed information to follow in the body of the résumé.

Work History: Accomplishments, Not Tasks

For most job-seekers, the biggest part of their résumé is a description of their work history. A common mistake many résumé writers make is in describing their experience in terms of tasks, e.g., “answered phones,” “filed documents,” “prepared reports.” A more effective approach is to describe how those tasks contributed to the former employer’s success.

By replacing “set up new filing system” with “reduced costs and improved efficiency by modernizing corporate filing system,” you will come across as a much more valuable asset to a future employer.

Rather than saying that you “managed accounts worth $2 million,” talk about what your management of those accounts meant for the company in terms of increased revenue, improved customer loyalty or anything that contributed to the bottom line.

Résumé Types: Chronological vs. Functional

There are two primary types of résumés: chronological and functional. In a chronological résumé, the focus is on the applicant’s work history. Jobs are listed in chronological order, starting with the current or most recent job and working backward. This format works well for anyone who has at least a moderate work history, because a candidate’s relevant experience and career progression are obviously important to an employer.

For a new graduate or for someone changing careers, a functional résumé is often a better choice. In this type of résumé, the focus is on personal skills and capabilities, rather than on employment history. For example, you may not have paid work experience, but in your capacity as president of your sorority or as a volunteer for a local charity you have likely developed skills such as leadership, organizing and management that are valuable to employers.

Focusing on what you can bring to the company and using your unpaid work experience to substantiate that is another way to communicate your potential value to an organization.

Want a quick video review of what to include in a résumé? Watch this humorous (sometimes) and entertaining piece on how to write a resume with video blogger, Rachel Ballinger.


Hiring managers usually have more applicants than they need and are looking for ways to eliminate as many as possible. Being a contender is a matter of showing a prospective employer that you know what they are looking for and have the skills to help them succeed.

Taking the time to do the research and crafting a professional-looking résumé to communicate those messages is well worth the effort. 

A fulfilling job is one of the major ingredients for boosting your self-image and happiness. Make sure your résumé portrays your career and accomplishments in the best light.

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