Straight to the Point: 7 Steps to A Stellar Resume

Nearly 10 years of reading, writing and reviewing resumes has made me somewhat of a guru on the subject, I like to think.  And while some of the old standards of resume writing are no longer valid, a few key components remain the same when it comes to creating a truly stellar resume that effectively brands and markets you well enough to get you in the door for the interview.

And writing a resume can be extremely difficult for the untrained eye, and I certainly sympathize. But with a decent eye for good formatting, readability, and a little “how-to” from someone who knows the game, it’s not that difficult.  Allow me to simply and concisely walk you through the steps in answering the question I get asked more than anything else: “How do I write an effective resume [without crying or punching things]?”

So let’s get started. Keep in mind that what’s appropriate for your individual resume will vary slightly depending upon the professional culture of your industry. Your typical, well-constructed resume should include these sections:

Summary or Objective Statement: Who are you, what do you do well, and what kinds of great skills and experience are you bringing to the table that will leave me dying to have you as part of my team?  “Innovative multimedia designer with 5+ years experience creating compelling interfaces for web and mobile applications, with keen attention to usability and architecture…”

Skills & Core Competencies: You mentioned what you do well in your summary, now tell me everything else you do that’s related to the job. Your strengths might be designing stellar apps with keen attention to usability, but you also know a little bit of PHP. That goes here. Creative Suite whiz? Check. Inside sales? check. Final Cut Pro? Check, and check.

Professional Experience: What have you done, where and for whom, and what specific examples of projects can you give me that clearly illustrate where you’ve used the skills and strengths you listed above? Bullet points or paragraph format are both fine, but keep it consistent so that each of the positions listed follows the same format.

Key Accomplishments: This is a sub-section within your Professional Experience section that you may want to utilize to highlight any particular examples of accomplishments, key projects, or situations where you made a contribution or received recognition that was outside of your day to day tasks. You can have Key Accomplishments for your most recent role and not the others, and even then keep the list to no more than 2 or 3.

Additional Experience: You’ve done some other relevant work in addition to your primary occupation or job, and you want to highlight why and how it was relevant. There is usually a connection here between the work you were doing, and the skills you listed above. Perfect examples are volunteer work, internships, freelance or consulting gigs, or anything else that wasn’t your primary occupation, but was relevant. Not relevant to what you’re targeting? Leave it out, otherwise you risk confusing your reader.

Education: So you went to Boston University too for art school? Great! I don’t care what your GPA was, or that you graduated Suma Cum Laude. I might like to hear about any awards you received. But really, education does not belong at the top of your resume UNLESS your degree is a direct pre-requisite for the job you’re targeting. And in the creative world, that’s almost never the case. So leave it down here under “Additional Experience”.

Memberships & Affiliations: This is more of a nice to have, than a need to have, as far as the hiring manager’s list of priorities go. Relevance, again, is key – while I will always appreciate any philanthropic work you’re involved in, I’m not necessarily interested in the fact that you’re part of a community softball team. Unless you’re Derek Jeter. Just sayin’.

There is a reason I prefer to keep the sections in that order, and that is because they flow well into one another as you tell your “story” about your personal brand. You start strong by introducing who you are and what you kick butt at in 4-6 lines (Summary). Then you tell them what else you can do in addition to your core strengths, i.e. an other skills you bring to the table that might be useful (Skills). Then you give examples of work you’ve done that exemplifies those skills (Professional Experience). Once you’ve highlighted your core professional experience, you tell them about additional relevant work you’ve done that paints you in a good light (Additional Experience). Then you tell them about your training that lead you to this career path (Education), and about your extracurricular involvement in outside trade or networking organizations (Memberships & Affiliations). Voila – the story of your brand in once concise piece.

So now that I’ve give my two cents, let me tell you what advice out there you can ignore, because there’s plenty of it.

  • Your resume has to be one page. Not true, as long as all the information is relevant. Try to keep it to no more than two pages.
  • Your education should be at the top.  Not unless your degree is required for the role you’re going after. You want the info with the highest value at the top, and that’s your skills and experience.
  • Listing freelance or contract jobs makes you look like a job hopper. Not in this economy, and certainly not in the creative industry- it’s very common to do so, and it’s no longer a red flag. There are ways around this. Ask me about it.
  • “References Available Upon Request.” Don’t waste precious real estate by writing this. It’s a given.
  • Include your website or blog on your resume. Only if it’s relevant to your industry or target role. And even then, only if it’s written in a professional voice.

If you’re scratching your head on where to get started, utilize this hybrid-style resume template as an outline, and my Resume Summary Worksheet to help you craft a great opening branding statement that will get you noticed.  Good luck!

Build Your Best Resume – Resume Writing & Personal Branding for the Modern Job Seeker
Branding Summary Statement Worksheet – Create a Killer Brand for Your Resume or Business
Get Found on LinkedIn – Create a professional profile that best markets your personal brand


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5 Comments on "Straight to the Point: 7 Steps to A Stellar Resume"

Sibylle Preuschat
9 years 11 months ago

Dana, Thanks for this article and the other information you generously share at your site. Over the last day, I’ve reorganized my resume based on your advice in this article and the improvement is absolutely palpable. I feel much more confident of my resume now, much more ready to approach people. I’m glad to have discovered your work and wish you and your business all the best.

Tamara Ferranti
12 years 7 months ago

It was brought to my attention that In retail, customer service, clerical, food service and even warehouse work to name a few, there seems to be a bias towards hiring those with degrees. Because of this belief, people are compelled to put their education near the top of their résumé. On the other hand, job seekers with degrees applying for these same kind of jobs are being told that they are over qualified. (I think that an employer can tell that experienced, mature job seekers are looking to get hired anywhere because they are desperate for work.) Students out of college are finding that they can’t find an entry level job or they lack work experience. Those over 50 with degrees tell me that they are overqualified. Any insight?

12 years 7 months ago

My approach to this has always been to put the most relevant, most marketable information that your reader absolutely wants to see closest to the top. So right away, you want any information that is clearly going to brand and qualify you for the role – maybe that includes your summary, your core skill sets, your most recent related position. It can also include your degree is a certain degree or licensure is specifically required for the role, because yes – that will be one of the first things they look for to qualify you. If it’s required, that’s not to say it’s not important, but that some of the other information may be MORE important in selling yourself effectively. In most cases, relevant hands-on industry experience or even transferrable skills will trump having a degree in the case where the degree is not one of the top pre-requisites for the role.

Even for roles wherein the job descriptions calls for “BS in Communications or related field”, try to gauge how much of a priority it is. Just because they simply ask for a “Bachelors degree” doesn’t mean it has to go at hte top – they’ll scan down the page and see you have a bachelors degree. But they won’t necessary scan down the page to read your skills sections, which might have some really impactful information. In short: Prioritize the information based on what you think they want to see most in your resume, and then form your “story” around that.

12 years 8 months ago

Its important to keep tell in mind: create a WOW resume! To keep in mind why the employer would want to buy you: listing your accomplishments is key.

12 years 8 months ago

Absolutely – having the right content is great, but part of telling your story is giving context to where you’ve used those skills and experiences to really contribute to the goals and success of the organizations you’ve worked for. That’s what’s going to set you apart from the next guy/gal with a similar background & skill sets! Thx!