Seven Tips, Tools & Secrets for Writing a Powerful Resume

Published by JaZzyMaE Media on

by Laurie Lamson

A resume can be one of the toughest documents to write.

Creating or updating a resume is bound to push buttons, such as:
  • feelings of insecurity and inadequacy
  • confusion about what you want to do and what your time is worth
  • the pain of not yet being where you want to be financially or career-wise
  • the temptation to exaggerate to make yourself seem more suitable
Summing up your work history in one or two or three pages, giving yourself credit for accomplishments, figuring out what to keep, what to highlight, and what to leave off, phrasing everything so it’s clear, concise, and impressive – not a simple matter.

Your Personal Brand = Your Unique Combination of Skills, Work Ethic, Experience, and Desired Career Path

Companies often struggle with the same challenges in presenting themselves as individuals do in writing a resume.
With clarity and decisiveness about what they stand for (values,) what they provide (product and/or service,) how it serves, and whom it serves, a company can develop a brand identity. This enables them to communicate effectively with potential customers and clients.
In the same way, it’s well worth a deep dive into your work history for more clarity about your own value.
A lot of this advice applies to almost any kind of writing, but today I’m focusing on Writing a Powerful Resume.


1. Start with a Brain Dump

In your own words without worrying how it looks or reads:
Make a list of every job you ever had, the title or titles, the employer, the time frame.
If there were completed projects involved, list out each project and what your role was, what you contributed, even if it seems small, any specific or concrete result.  A new customer list, client contract or website design, an updated plant database or employee training procedure, a better organized file system or end-of-year balance sheet.
List out any concrete specifics from your overall time in the position and/or projects, such as names of clients acquired or served, contracts secured, money generated for the employer. If you worked in fast food, estimate how many customers you served per day. As a fast food manager or any kind of manager, how many employees did you supervise, on average?
List what you liked most about the job. What was satisfying about it?  What skills did you use, hone or acquire? Were there any personal or professional wins you can briefly recount?
You probably will not include all of this in the resume, but it’s good to capture and make a record of everything.  You never know how it might help – some of it might go in a cover letter.  Some might become more relevant three years from now.
Also, list education, awards or other personal and professional accomplishments, teaching and community service, membership organizations, active hobbies.


2. Toot Your Own Horn

Many find it difficult to speak positively about themselves and their accomplishments. If you can’t or won’t toot your own horn, it will undermine the impact of your resume.
There’s a concern about coming across as arrogant. Too many of us have a tendency toward “imposter syndrome,” especially with positions of authority or responsibility, and/or use of creative skills. 
I believe there are deep-rooted social reasons for this, such as excess focus on competition, unfairly comparing ourselves to others, and a fear of being shamed. For insight, watch Brené Brown’s TED talk: Listening to Shame.
To counteract these self-defeating tendencies, I strongly urge you to make a private list of all minor and major accomplishments, regardless of whether they all end up in your resume.
Personal side note: When I listed out all the projects I’d worked on, I was interested to learn that, in addition to all the personal creative writing and screenwriting, client copywriting, book editing and screenplay consulting, I’ve written 100 produced film, video, and audio scripts.  
Listing out all of the projects and the clients served helped me to own that, indeed, I am a professional writer. Not to compare myself with anyone else. It just helped me acknowledge myself and my own unique mix of experience.
This resume work can get pretty deep! ; )


3. Dive Into Your Resume

The definition of resume:
– a summing up; summary.
– a brief written account of personal, educational, and professional qualifications and experience, as that prepared by an applicant for a job.
Think of your “brain dump” as a first draft.
It helps you recall details, own your accomplishments, and gather all your information in one place. It will also make you better equipped to talk about your work history with confidence, both verbally and in writing.
Working from the raw material of your brain dump, summarize the information, with a reader in mind – you want to be considerate and make it easy for them to read and understand your resume.
Convey the basic facts of job title, employer, location, time frame, plus what is most relevant and impressive in your work history.
Write a big-picture overview of each position in one to three sentences. If there were specific responsibilities unique to the position and/or special accomplishments, choose the best of the best and present them in a bullet list.
The longer ago you held the position, the more big-picture and briefer the description.
You might want to include a dash or more of community involvement – it helps convey your personality and team spirit. Generally speaking, leave off political or religious activities, unless they have direct bearing on your career.

4. It Does NOT Have to Be Chronological

If you worked in more than one field or type of position, it might make sense to group them together, regardless of chronology.
The most recent job may not be as relevant as the one before it for your career goals.
(When you do an online application, it may rearrange back to chrono order, but you can still present the most logical order in your PDF written resume.)

5. Less Is More

Wait a day, then come back and tighten up long-winded, run-on sentences.  
If there are more than two “ands” in a sentence, or you run out of breath reading a sentence out loud, try breaking up the ideas into more sentences.
Watch out for lots of multi-syllable words, especially in a single sentence. They may look impressive, but they’re hard to read and absorb.
Spell out and simplify anything unique to your industry. Don’t assume the reader understands your industry’s jargon or acronyms.


6. Editing and Polishing: Even Less is Even More

Do not, I repeat, do not leave in too many words and details!
Weed out whatever is vague, or emphasizes minutiae, or the contributions of others. This is YOUR resume, not theirs. Boil down to the most straightforward explanation of the most impressive facts.
Your job may well have included a variety activities. Your ability to rise to the occasion makes you feel justifiable proud. That doesn’t mean listing every single thing you did is beneficial for your resume.

You do not have to be as thorough as you think; you do need to be as clear as possible. 

Remember, it’s a summary, not the whole story. You can elaborate a little further in a cover letter, and hopefully, during an interview.
 In addition to giving the reader too much to read, spelling out everything has the effect of diminishing, rather than highlighting your accomplishments.
Excess detail can also come across as over-explaining. Over-explaining comes across as a lack of confidence, in both yourself and your reader.
If you had a job in fast food, we are smart enough to assume you know how to package the correct order, include condiments, use a register, make change. So you might mention only the most significant thing you did, that an employer would care most about: “Went above and beyond to provide excellent customer service,” “Generated repeat customers,” or “Served an average 100 customers per day.”
As another example, assistants often perform a mind-boggling array of tasks. You might list the usual skills and highlight anything out of the ordinary, such as special projects completed. Avoid listing every little thing. Especially leave off tasks you don’t want to do anymore.

7. Words to the Wise

Managers, directors and executives sometimes explain everything they did, which at that level, is often quite a lot.
Ironically, it comes across as more confident and executive-level to summarize the big picture and only detail what is most unique and impressive among all your accomplishments – the top highlights version of your time with a particular employer.
For high-level positions, those in the work force a long time, or looking to move up a notch, you may need to “kill your darlings,” as we say in screenwriting. At first it can seem impossible, but if you pare down, the overall effect will be less tiring to read and make a more impressive impact. You may even leave off some of your earlier jobs.
Emphasize specifics with bold, italic or underline: revenue earned, number of markets covered, contracts secured, number of products sold, number of individuals supervised.
If it’s 2 or 3 pages, challenge yourself to make it a page shorter, without compressing the spacing. The eye needs some breathing room on the page.
Do this as an exercise, you can always go back to a longer format. By cutting the fat, you will probably realize that all those extra words were unnecessary, it’s an easier, quicker read, and your accomplishments are now more apparent.
This being the age of the short-attention span, the more clear and concise, the better.
So, toot your horn with “less is more” as your guide and you will have a powerful resume!