Step-by-step Guide to Perfecting Your Resume
You know that you should edit your resume before you send it off in the world, making sure it’s error-free.
But to make sure that resume is in the best possible shape? You should really take the editing process a few steps further.
Here’s the thing: Editing is more than just giving something a once-over to eliminate egregious typos and grammar mistakes. It’s really about looking at something with a critical eye, then making changes to ensure it’s the best it can possibly be.
And that’s what you want for your resume, right? From someone who edits all day, every day for a living, here’s a five-step editing plan that will take your resume from good to full-blown awesome (and—of course—eliminate the typos, too).
Step 1: Consider the Big Picture
When I look at an article for the first time, I have to resist the urge to fix typos or make style changes (and believe me, as an editor, it’s hard). But it’s important—the first thing I need to determine is whether the piece is working as a whole. Is this right for our publication? Is the message of the article the one we want to send? Are there any major gaps or sections that are superfluous?
On that first read of your resume, try to do the same thing. Ignore typos or formatting issues, and think about the overall message your resume is sending:
- Does this sell you as the perfect candidate for the types of roles you’re seeking?
- Are there any gaps between the experience on the page and the experience required for the job?
- If so, are there ways in which you could bridge those gaps?
- What makes your experience stand out among other, similar candidates?
- Does the top third of your resume serve as a hook to get the hiring manager to read more?
- Is there anything on your resume that doesn’t need to be there?
Pro Tip: Look at the LinkedIn profiles of people at your level in your field, and see how they tell their stories. Which ones are most compelling or stand out the most? See what you can learn from them and how you can apply those lessons to your own resume.
Step 2: Scrutinize the Bullets and Details
As editors, we ask constantly ask ourselves if each word is the best one, if a sentence structure is right, if there’s anything that could be said more clearly, effectively, or quickly. And oh, do we add examples! Why say something if you can show it? It makes for better writing and a more interesting read.
Walk through your resume again. Your job at this point is to look at every section, every sentence, and every word, and determine if there’s a better way to get your point across. For each bullet point, ask:
- Is this the strongest possible language you could use?
- Can anything be said more clearly? Or in fewer words?
- Is there any language that someone outside of your company or industry wouldn’t understand?
- Could anything benefit from examples?
- Can anything be quantified? Can you show a benefit?
- Are any words used over and over? Can they be replaced with more creative language?
Pro Tip: Have a friend who’s not in your field read your bullet points, and ask what he or she thinks your strongest achievements are. Do you agree? If not, adjust so the most important ones really stand out.
Step 3: Fact Check
Every so often, I’ll edit what I think is a great, well-written article—and realize suddenly that one of the source’s names is spelled wrong. I’ll take a closer look and see that—wait—a book title is incorrect, research numbers are not quite right, and that other “facts” in the article need a second look.
It’s a good idea to do this for your resume, too. It can happen even with the right intentions—I, for example, recently realized that my resume said “3 million” on a figure that most certainly should have been 1 million. Whoops.
Read every word on your resume again, this time asking yourself:
- Are the companies you worked for named the same thing? Still located in the same city?
- Are your position titles accurate?
- Are your employment dates correct?
- Are all of the numbers and percentages you use to describe increases, quotas, budgets, savings, and achievements (reasonably) accurate?
Pro Tip: In the editorial world, we have to make sure every number we print is 100% accurate, but you have a bit more leeway with your resume. As long as you’re reasonably sure that you increased customer satisfaction, fundraising numbers, or sales 25%, don’t worry about having the “official” numbers to prove it.
Step 4: Proofread
As I well know, you can work intently on a document for three hours and somehow not notice that you’ve used “their” instead of “there” or mistaken “bran” for “brand.” So, proofreading one last time is a step you can’t skip.
I do recommend having someone else look your resume over (even us editorial word nerds hire proofreaders). But before you do, proof word by word, asking yourself:
- Are there any typos? Wrong word usage?
- Does each bullet point end with a period (or not)? Either is fine, just be consistent.
- Are you using the serial comma (or not) throughout?
Pro Tip: When proofreading, it’s helpful to temporarily change the font, or to read your resume from the bottom up—your eyes get used to reading a page one way, and can often catch new errors when you mix the format up.
Step 5: Make Sure it Looks Nice
When I worked for a print magazine, I’d often submit what I thought was a perfect final draft of an article—until I’d get a proof from our designer. More often than not, my masterpiece would need some adjustments to look right on the page: shortening the copy so that it didn’t require a miniature-sized font, or lengthening a paragraph so that one word didn’t hang over on a line by itself, for example. Because part of great writing is making it look great, too.
While you don’t have to send your resume off to a graphic designer, do keep in mind that presentation is important, and that a few adjustments to your text can make a big difference in how it looks. Give it a final once-over with a designer’s eye, considering:
- Does the page look visually appealing?
- Is the page overly cluttered?
- Is the font size too small? Is it difficult to read?
- Is the font size and format for each section consistent?
- Does the layout make sense?
- Is your contact information easily findable?
Pro Tip: Make your document easier to skim by adding divider lines between sections. Check out section three of this great guide to resume formatting from LifeClever for instructions.
As a final note, I recommend editing your resume again and again—adding in your new accomplishments, shifting the way you talk about an experience based on something you’ve seen someone else do, and making sure there’s nothing you’ve missed. After all, as any writer or editor will tell you: The best masterpieces are never done.