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10 Résumé Repairs to Make It Stand Out

10 Résumé Repairs to Make It Stand Out

Bad ResumeYou might be making an old-school résumé as if you’re applying to IBM of 1950, as too many people do. Here’s a résumé writing checklist to make your résumé stand out in a more modern world.

My career coaching clients have sometimes asked me to review their résumés. As a former hiring manager, I know what helps a resume stand out (and what gets tossed out) especially when the employer is inundated with résumés as I was.

Here’s what I find myself saying all the time about the résumés I see. You can use the following as a checklist.

In reality, I recommend having a résumé specialist (not me) have a look, even if you think yours is pretty good. Someone familiar with the latest job search and hiring trends can really pay off in more ease and more results.

First, the 6 Easier Repairs

  1. Add a quote from a former boss or client.
    People doing the hiring don’t actually care that you “want to grow in your career,” but they do care what a former employer would say about you. So put that positive quote right up front. Don’t have quotes? Go ask for some. Really. Make it a priority.
  2. Tell your accomplishments, not just responsibilities.
    It doesn’t say much if you list what you were supposed to do in a job. They want to know what you actually accomplished. The more concrete the better. You need to show that you bring something unique to solving real problems. If you want to attract the right employer for you, be sure to highlight the accomplishments that you enjoyed. (See accomplishment stories.)
  3. Make it easy to scan or they won’t read it.
    Employers may get 100+ résumés for every job so they’re moving fast. You’ll get their reading attention if you give them lots of white space, consistent formatting, obvious section headings, and a decent-sized font. Seek feedback from a friend over 40. (At least give a double space between every job.)
  4. Forget that “one-page” rule in your head.
    If you make it worth the reader’s time, and you make it easy to read, they’ll keep reading.
  5. Get a proofreader!
    When I was a hiring manager, I received thousands of résumés. At least 90% had a mistake! Because I was swamped, almost anything was enough reason to toss ’em out. Be sure to check the “little things” like the spelling of the employer’s name!
  6. Email documents as PDF.
    Don’t attach a Word document because it may not look the same on the other end. All that formatting and font selection you did is out the window.

4 More Steps If You’re Serious About Standing Out

  1. Your résumé should clearly express what you want.
    If you don’t know what you’re looking for, or you can’t express it, you won’t find it. Your lack of clarity could be exactly why your search is stuck. You’re not alone. Our education has taught us to fit in, so we neglect to find out what we actually want! The reality is that you’ll find the job search MUCH easier if you figure out and express what you want.
    Hint: career coach or a budget-friendly Career Clarity Course.
  2. You need to get their attention.
    Sending that 1950s “classic” résumé won’t cut it anymore, even at IBM. Insert your photo, add some color, show samples, … and that’s just scratching the surface of possibilities. This is NOT a time to blend in. You can even make a slideshow, a video résumé, and/or an online VisualCV. For creative fields, show your stuff. For fields like law, stay within the lines. Adjust accordingly.
  3. Don’t expect résumés to be the answer to a job search.
    It’s just a back-up credential when necessary. A successful job search is more about knowing what you want and being visible in the right places. Sending your “perfect” résumé to a thousand people is not the answer.
    If you’re getting stuck, check out: Job Market Dead-end: 7 Ways to Get Around It.
  4. Customize the résumé to the job.
    I’m absolutely NOT suggesting you turn yourself into someone that isn’t you. But when you do hear of a great job that’s right for you, you’ll get their attention if you describe yourself in a way that speaks directly to their needs. No need to list all the stuff you can do but don’t want to do again. Thoroughness is not needed. Specificity and relevance is.


After a long list like that, a little inspiration is called for:

The power that gives you your gifts is also going to give you the power to share your gifts with the world.”
~Tama Kieves, author of This Time I Dance

In this context, that means you can promote yourself and get results… when you tap into your passions.

Join the conversation below. What stories, questions, or inspiration do you have to share?


Tips for Introverts in Career Transition

My specialty is helping introverts and highly sensitive people (HSPs) in career transition, especially those considering self-employment or a hybrid of employment and self-employment. They tend to undersell themselves, so you might need an introvert specialist to help you see and express your gifts.

These might help:

Picture of Val Nelson

Val Nelson

I’ve been a self-employed career/business/purpose coach since 2009. I help introverts and HSPs (like me) who want to make a difference — in a way that fits our practical needs too.
Val Nelson | Coaching | Groups | Courses | Newsletter | LinkedIn

I appreciate feedback, good and bad. You can comment below or email.

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10 thoughts on “10 Résumé Repairs to Make It Stand Out”

  1. Hello Val, what if someone tries to add a quote of a famous person in history right at the top after writing his name? May be a silly question but I want to ask this.

    1.  That’s a good question.

      The most important thing you need to do at the top of the resume is to strike their interest immediately so that they’ll keep reading. These days there are too many applicants for each position so they are not very likely to read past the opening few lines unless you wow them. They have to be struck with the feeling of “I must get to know this person.”

      In light of that, I think a testimonial about *your* work is a far better use of that prime space.

      Or perhaps you have a reason the famous quote will do the job. What do you think?

      1. Infact when I tried searching about writing a quote in CV and what I got to know is a whole new idea for me, like you and others have said to write the exact words of your supervisor when they appreciated you, but writing a quote after your name at the top, this thing I first saw on my friend’s CV who had written “What scares me is what dares me” it was really interesting for me as well, but I will take note of including supervisor’s comments on accomplishing some task. 

  2. Hello.This post was extremely fascinating, especially since I was browsing for thoughts on this matter last couple of days.

  3. Val, I heartily agree with all your tips, and learned most of them the hard way through reviewing thousands of resumes in my HR career. I work with many resume clients now in my own business, and will share your article with them. Thanks!

  4. Great post Val. I have actually taken some resume writing workshops/classes and still some of these ideas I have never heard. Finding a quote is SO original, I can see how effective this can be. In all the advice I have been given on resumes, no one has ever mentioned the idea of making a PDF. I love it! Next time I submit a resume I will absolutely do this.

    Customization often happens in the cover letter, but I like your idea of using this tactic in the resume as well. There are certain jobs/responsibilities that just aren’t applicable in some cases, that can land you a job in other cases.

    Thanks for the advice!

    1. So glad you found this helpful Jonathon. Thanks for commenting.

      So much of the resume advice out there is outdated and they aren’t even up to speed on the fact that resumes are emailed now, so technical issues need to be addressed.

  5. Excellent tips Val! I have never seen a resume with quotes in it (not that i have seen many resumes). But where you would one add the quote – do you have a resume you can share with a quote in it?

    I do like the idea of visualcv and have been encouraging people to use that. I think it is really important for the CV to include the social networks one is on like LinkedIn etc and use social networks to make connections and network for jobs.

    1. Thanks Shalini. There’s no right or wrong with resumes. People could put the quote where they think it will make sense and where it will stand out. It might go at the top or within a job description, or maybe it goes in a cartoon-like bubble! Depends on your style and what’s important.

      Good point about including social networks. It’s nice how VisualCV makes all that very easy, especially the embedded video and slideshow option.

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