Tips for making your resume better

Jun 4, 2012 by

A couple of years ago, I started a side hustle focused on career coaching – resumes, cover letters, and guidance for young professionals seeking to move up in their careers. It’s been a great experience as I’ve gotten to meet new people, learn about fields I knew nothing about and do what I love most, which is helping people. 

In that time, I’ve seen a number of resumes come across my desk, many with the same types of problems. Here are a few tips to help you avoid those problems (and if you want a personalized resume and/or cover letter review, contact me):

  • Make your resume as specific as possible – Include quantitative measures of your work if possible (i.e., amount of money raised, number of partners worked with, etc.). If you can’t get quantitative, at least get precise. I’ve read too many resumes where I’ve come away with no real idea of what the person actually DOES. Do you write grant reports? Do you make phone calls? Do you attend meetings? This may seem mundane, but employers want to know that you can actually do basic job-related tasks.
  • Create a long form resume that you use as a template – Unless you have 20+ years of directly relevant experience, your resume should NEVER go over one page. Period, end of story. The resume you submit to employers is not meant to encapsulate your entire career – just those parts most relevant to the job you’re applying for. So, keep a long form resume where you have everything from every job you’ve ever had and then drag and drop as needed based on the job description.
  • Use key words – Every job description has certain key words that appear over and over again. If you’re having trouble finding those key words, paste the text into Wordle and it will identify the words that show up the most. Then, use those words. Everywhere. Replace words you use with the words the description uses (assuming they mean almost the same thing); this provides a helpful visual cue to the person reviewing your resume and may propel you further along the path to getting that job.

Any other resume tips that have worked for you? Share them in the comments!

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  • Charles

    Hey Elisa,

    I’m in the job hunt for an entry-level development job in the arts.  I follow all of the tips you’ve posted.  How do suggest I customize each cover letter?  How much customization is really necessary if the positions I’m applying to are similar?  


    • Charles,

      Thanks for your comment!

      Even if the positions are similar, each cover letter needs to be different. The opening paragraph, where you describe your passion and interest in the organization and position should definitely be customized to that particular organization’s mission (and the position you’re applying for).
      As for the skills/examples section: customize it based on the skills/tasks they mention the most in the job description. If you’re not sure which those are, just plug the text of the description into, which will provide you with a visual representation of which words are repeated most. Once you know, make sure you describe all of your experiences in terms of those particular words.

      Good luck and contact me if you want more personal support: