An Expert’s Guide to Resumes: Five Tips to Make You Stand Out

One of our couches reveals his best advice on improving your resume, cultivated by years of experience running a resume review organization.

By Drake Pooley

August 19, 2022

Hi, I’m Drake P., an MBA, Undergrad, and Management Consulting coach on Leland. Back in college I worked at my university’s career center and ended up working at a top management consulting firm where I also managed recruiting for six schools and our office’s internship program. I also ran a free resume reviewer platform for which I read thousands of resumes for students and low-income professionals. I then worked at an HR Tech company where we thought about the future of people management, and what skill and profile evaluation actually mean. And, as the Student Body Co-President of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, I have tailored my own resume for new opportunities and worked to manage my own brand as I work to build my career. Here are my top tips for making your resume stand out.

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The resume is one of the most important parts of any application. It tells the recruiter who you are, what you have accomplished, and why they should hire you. However, most recruiters will not spend more than a few seconds glancing at each resume they get, so it is imperative that your resume follows the correct formatting guidelines, contains only relevant information, and makes your profile stand out.

Interested in working with me on resumes, MBA applications, or anything else? See my profile here. With that, let’s move on to how you can improve your own resume and make your profile stand out.

1. Use A Standard Format/Template

Unless you are applying for a creative role, a standard resume format is highly recommended. Recruiters and hiring managers will not spend very long looking at a resume. The more clearly it is understood in a brief amount of time, the better your chances are of making it to the next round. The objective of a resume is to present your entire professional history in a succinct manner, and atypical resumes can be a distraction from that goal.

2. Show Impact

Failing to show the recruiter how you personally made the company better is one of the most common resume mistakes. The goal of the resume is to get hired; yet, so many fail to give concrete reasoning of why they should be hired. With percentages, dollar amounts, or any other KPIs, show that you made a difference in each role. Just because you did something, doesn’t mean that you did it well. If you did do it well, show how.

With that being said, if you were in an internship where you don’t really know how you made an impact or you weren’t in the role for very long, then focus on the scale and size of projects that you were working on. This shows trust and competency. For example, imagine two interns who both worked at Procter & Gamble have these descriptions of their roles on their resumes:

Intern A: “Worked on a marketing campaign for dish soap that reached 10,000 views across 3 platforms, ran grassroots outreach, and grew brand awareness by increasing impressions and clicks 87%.”

Intern B: “Worked on a marketing campaign for dish soap, ran grassroots outreach, and grew brand awareness.”

Intern A has a stronger description of their work, clearly demonstrates the impact they made, and gives a more convincing argument that they should be hired. Remain impact-oriented throughout the entire resume.

3. Have the Right Bullet Points

Ninety percent of resumes all have the same problem: they don’t have the right bullet points. When describing your roles, follow this format:

a. Proof of Impact

Use numbers ($, %, or #) and show how you positively impacted the company in your role.

b. What did you impact?

Mention the specific projects that you worked on and the responsibilities you held.

c. How did you do it? What enablers did you use?

Did you use a specific programming language or computer software? Were you a part of a team?

Bullet points should generally never be more than two lines long or it gets confusing to read.

Every employee’s actions make an impact on KPIs and growth, and recruiters want to know that you’re cognizant of that.

4. Properly Allocate Information

Before you start the application process, research the role and company to find out what kind of candidate they’re looking for and what they value. What are the specific skill requirements and how do they talk about the role? Then, when putting together your resume, highlight the information that is most relevant to the recruiter.

The more recent experiences should take up more space, but within that, there is some room for flexibility. After you’ve written the first draft, reread it through the eyes of a skeptical recruiter and see whether you can quickly understand the impact you made and how your experience and skills fit the role/company. It can be difficult to take things off a resume, especially personal accomplishments; however, it’s important to recognize when it’s best to leave something behind because it is not relevant to the current role.

Something I personally do is have a much longer resume on my computer with pages of my experience, and then selectively delete items to tailor my resume down for the specific role.

5. Never Let the Reader Guess

Nothing on your resume should be up for interpretation. If you leave something unexplained or vague, you don’t have control and the picture that the recruiter imagines will likely not match up to reality. Be clear, direct, and concise when writing your bullet points. If it’s impact-driven and highly digestible, you won’t leave too much up to interpretation. Be skeptical of the person who will be reading your resume and write it in such a way that it would be impossible to misconstrue any part of it.

Bonus: Next Steps

After you’ve spent hours writing and polishing your resume, it can be difficult to know what the next step is. How do you get it into the right hands at a company? How do you ensure that it won’t get buried under a thick stack of long-forgotten resumes from applicants' past?

Well, first and foremost, you should research those with hiring power in your desired company. Find the most important people in the organization and in your department, including any hiring and recruiting managers. Reach out organically and be persistent with follow-ups. If their email is not publicly available online, try RocketReach for the company’s standard email structure.

Before sending an email, it can also be helpful to research specific information about the recruiter. In doing so, you may find similarities or network connections that you can use to tailor the email. After you’ve sent the email, you can follow up in a considerate and timely manner.

Final Note

I hope you found this guide helpful. Small adjustments in the short term can make a big impact in the long term, so it’s important to control what you are able to. If you’re interested in working one-on-one with me, you can view my profile here. I have a long history of public education and working with non-traditional candidates, and I give straightforward advice on both career moves and the MBA application process, the same advice that got me into Stanford, Wharton, Booth, and Dartmouth, with over $200k in scholarships. I look forward to working with you!

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