Resume Preparation: 9 Professional Resume Writing Tips

Writing a resume isn’t easy. But by learning from others peoples’ mistakes, you can make it easier on yourself.

I’ve reviewed over 1,000 resumes over the last decade. I know what works and what doesn’t. So I’d like to share some professional resume tips to help you avoid common pitfalls.

I hope you enjoy the professional resume tips below.

1. Include concrete, quantifiable results. Being vague is a deal-breaker.

Let’s start with one of the most common mistakes people make – and one of your best opportunities to stand out.

The vast majority of job seekers fail to include concrete success metrics on their resume. They don’t clearly define the actual impact they made in their past positions.

They think that using power verbs like “managed” are enough to sound impressive. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

This is weak: “Responsible for new client acquisition.”

“Responsible for” is too vague. So is “oversaw”.

You were responsible for new client acquisition, but were you actually successful or not? That doesn’t tell me what you actually accomplished. It doesn’t quantify the concrete results you achieved.

This is strong: “Cold-called 50 potential clients a week, converting 10% into paying customers and leading to $20,000 in sales in first 6 months”

That’s much better. It tells me exactly what you did. I can picture you on the phone, converting prospective customers, winning over new clients and increasing my company’s bottom line.

This is weak: “Worked on Project X,” or “Led Project Y.”

How do I know what you did on Project X? Or what results you achieved? What does it mean to lead Project Y? What did you actually do?

No matter what your responsibilities were, identify some metric of success.

This is strong: “Identified and reported 27 bugs per day testing Software X, decreasing developer QA time by 10% and increasing bug-free releases by 5%” or “Developed complete end-user requirements for Project Y based on 15 customer interviews, decreasing developer questions by 2 hours/week.”

This tells me you actually did something that impacted the business.

How will you impact my business? Concreteness is your best friend. If your bullet points help me clearly imagine reaping the benefits of your great work, then I can picture you being successful at my company.

2. Treat your application email like a mini cover letter.

Actual Example: Someone emailed me their resume saying: “I’m a current graduate student at [school]. I would like to apply for the [open position]. The attachment is my one-page resume. I hope to have further contact with you in the future. Thanks.”

I can’t tell if this is a human or a robot, and I don’t care enough to find out. It looks and smells like a template. That’s an instant turn-off.

For all I know, they used that same email to apply for a job at McDonald’s.

So ask yourself: what will make me want to open your resume if I have dozens of others to go through?

The Fix: Treat your email body like a cover letter.

In the body of your email, pique my interest. Give me something that makes me want to learn more about you.

Treat your email like a cover letter by introducing yourself in a moving way. Make me think: ah… this is a real, likable person who has a specific interest in my company. I want to learn more about what they can do for me.

Be concise and make sure you:

  1. Demonstrate why you’re a great fit for this specific position over the next guy. Show that you care, researched the role, and can communicate why your unique talent and passion are right for this specific job.
  2. Demonstrate that you get things done by identifying a concrete result you brought to a related project. Don’t paste your entire resume in the email. Just choose the one thing that best highlights your success in a similar realm. Pique my interest enough to set up an interview.

3. Include a punchy testimonial that makes you stand out.

Everybody says “references available upon request.”

To stand out from the pack, actively insert a testimonial from someone you’ve worked with. It can be a past boss, co-worker, partner, teammate or even professor. Keep it under four sentences. And make sure they concretely showcase a specific strength.

This is weak: “John was a great teammate to work with on Project X. I highly recommend him.”

This says nothing about what John is good at. Vague verbs like “great” or “excellent” don’t tell me anything about John. What is John specifically great at? Sometimes a brief story is the most effective way to illustrate your strengths.

This is strong: “We hired John after our last programmer left us four weeks behind schedule. John’s ability to hit the ground running and consistently meet coding deadlines under pressure got us back on schedule. I’d trust John to help turn around your next project.”

See the difference? The first example is pure fluff. The second example helps me imagine exactly how John could kick ass at my company.

The great thing about a punchy testimonial is that it lets you highlight a specific strength without being self promotional. It provides social proof that you get things done.

If possible, try to let someone else to do the talking about what makes you special.

4. Be a human that cares, not a robot.

I want to know what specifically excites you about working for me.

Something like this is great: “I just read your blog post ‘8 tips to design better software’ and loved #3. Simplicity is key, something I learned building software at Acme, Inc. I’m really interested in working with you because we share a love of elegant design.”

Great – you are in fact human, and acknowledge that I am a person with similar interests. Maybe we would even get along.

Your intro email should be personal enough to show that you’ve done your research. That’s impressive. Most people don’t do it.

5. Use bold text to emphasize your most important points.

Hiring managers don’t have much time to make decisions. That’s why in your email body, you should put your most important points in bold. The items that will win you the job should jump off the screen.

One applicant today took the time to bold each company name and position he held in the body of his email. This made it easier for me to scan his text, filter out the noise and hone in on his credentials. Before I began reading through his email, I could already see where he’d worked. And after I finished, the bold text still stood out, reminding me again of his credentials. He successfully emphasized his most important points to me.

How can you use formatting to strengthen the text of your email?

6. Give your resume to two other people to proofread.

You are going to miss a typo. It doesn’t matter if you have super-human editing skills.

Do yourself a favor: have two other people read over your resume and cover letter before you send them in.

Inevitably, those people WILL find a typo that you missed. I guarantee it. A fresh pair of eyes can only end up helping, not hurting you.

7. Always provide your phone number.

If you actually care about getting the position you’re applying for, you’ll make it as easy as possible for me to contact you. If all you give is your email address, it appears that you don’t care enough about the position to be contacted in person.

Always, always provide your phone number. I’m always shocked when people don’t.

8. Send your resume as a PDF.

PDF files can be viewed on all computers, regardless of operating system or software version. So send your resume as a PDF.

Never send your resume as a .docx file. Depending on their setup, hiring managers may not take the time to convert your resume to a .doc so they can read it. (Many don’t even know how).

When you have lots of applicants, it just doesn’t make sense to waste time converting dozens of resumes.

Alway send a PDF. Otherwise it may never get opened.

9. Name your resume like this:  “[First] [Last] Resume.pdf”

Imagine you’re a hiring manager. You have a folder full of resumes on your hard drive. You have too many applicants to remember their names. Wouldn’t you want your resumes to have consistent file names – one single naming system so you can quickly see exactly whose resume is whose, alphabetically?

It’s always a breath of fresh air when I don’t have to manually change the filename of your resume. And every breath of fresh air I get when dealing with your resume, the more I like you. It’s probably unfair, but when dealing with dozens of applicants, that’s just not something I want to have to deal with.

The bottom line is that every time you make my life easier, you score points in my book. So name your resume: First Last Resume.pdf.

This tip goes beyond naming conventions. The real lesson is to put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager. How can you do everything possible to make their life easier? The more you do this, the more likely you are to leave a good impression.

Good luck with your resume. If you need more help, just browse other articles we’ve written on the topic here at BrandYourself.


Add yours
  1. 1
    Kim Avery, Certified Career Coach

    Thanks Pete.

    I especially agree with your suggestion that the resume writer be specific. Anyone can say that they are a good salesman, customer service rep., etc.

    Measurable, observable specifics help your quality speak for itself.

  2. 2
    JP Seabury

    Great post! I was all smug, thinking I was going to ace this “quiz” on all 9 points … but I stumbled right at #2.

    I’ve always sent my resume as a Word .doc file; it never occured to me to do anything else!

    It’s been 5 years since I was last in the job hunting market. Perhaps this need only came with the advance (?) of Office 2007 and the .docx format?

    Still, it’s great advice, and if I were searching for a new employment (I’m not, boss, honest — I love my job!), it’s something I would have overlooked.

    Great tips, all the way through.

  3. 4
    Mike McDowell

    Good post. I’ve seen a ton of resumes over the years and I will tell your readers that, WITHOUT A DOUBT, your tip #5 is the major difference. If you can remember nothing more from this list, remember tip #5. That’s PURE GOLD. Get in the habit of writing that way and differentiating yourself in that way. Being vague in a resume is poison. Be specific and stand out.

  4. 5
    yinka olalito

    Thanks for this great post. this is the first time I am reading a piece that advices that resume should be in pdf and I actually agreed with your point as it makes sense.I will advice clients on this new piece

  5. 7
    Make Money Online

    Very good tips its little details like this that have a large impact on if you get hired. Many human resource departments are very busy and little errors can get your resume tossed fast!

  6. 8
    Shereen Khan

    Really well thought out tips. I never thought to send resumes as a pdf file. I am currently in the job hunting process and found these tips very useful. The tricky part is making your resume stand out among many others. These simple tips can help do that.

  7. 9
    Richard Townsend

    Great article, I particularly like points 1 and 5. I receive five to ten resumes (for backup storage) a day and I am amazed at the difficulty many ‘experienced’ employees have at selling their qualities let alone backing them up with concrete statements or statistics.

    Perhaps you could add a vital eighth point: ‘Use the appropriate words and statements that will get the attention of your reader. This can be done by including words and statements in your resume that match/mirror those that appear in their ad.

    Ric – orglearn

  8. 11
    Examples of Resumes

    Yes you are absolutely right that send your resume as PDF because in pdf all your formatting,fonts and page breaks will remain exactly the same-so for this reason I also recommend sending your resume as PDF.

  9. 13
    Resume Builder | Blogger

    “5. Include concrete actions and quantifiable results.”

    I couldn’t agree more with you on this Pete. Goals achieved are like gold pieces in your resume. The employer loves them. It would also be better to include the methods and ways by which you have achieved your goals. This will give the employer an idea of your mindset and planning in work.

  10. 14
    Pete Kistler

    @Kim: Vagueness is definitely a dealbreaker. How can a hiring manager trust you if you don’t tell them exactly what you’ve achieved? They don’t have time for generalizations.

    @JP: Thanks for the kind words. Sending your resume as a PDF is often overlooked! It preserves your formatting, no matter where it is opened. It’s easy to forget this after you’ve slaved away getting your word .doc looking just right.

    @Rachel: I totally agree. One thing that helps is to constantly ask (at your current position): what quantifiable results can I bring this week? How can I measure my impact here, so I can talk about it to others later?

    @Mike: “Being vague in a resume is poison” – Definitely!

    @Yinka: I’m glad the PDF point made sense to you. I once had a candidate send me his resume as a word .doc, with “Track Changes” still turned on!! All I could see was red lines and edits. Needless to say, I didn’t even read his resume.

    @Shereen: I’m glad these tips were useful.

    @Richard: GREAT POINT! “Include words and statements in your resume that match those appearing in the ad for the position.” This is SO IMPORTANT. For example, don’t say “I’m interested in your internship position” when you could say “I’m interested in your Graphic Design internship position.” Not only does this show you took the time to make your resume specific to this position (demonstrating your desire for this specific opening when your competition might be sending cookie-cutter applications), but the company is probably filling more than just that position, so you better make crystal clear which one you’re applying for. If I see a vague “hire me” cover letter without the exact position you’re applying for, I don’t have time to contact you to clarify what you’re interested in. Thus, you’ve already killed your chances. Awesome point, Richard.

    – Pete Kistler
    @pete_kistler and @brandyourself

  11. 15
    John of Online Resume

    “9. Always provide your phone number.”

    This has got to be the best tip among the list for me. I’ve worked in a recruitment company before and I have to say this has got to be the most annoying blunder when a job seeker misses out on including his contact details in a resume.

    To top it all, it happens when you have found your most qualified candidate only to find out that his mobile is an old number and his email is on “mailer-daemon”.

  12. 19
    Trace Cohen

    While we can't tell you who actually said that I'm glad that you enjoyed the tips, they for sure go way beyond just the resume.

  13. 21
    Meg Guiseppi

    Hi Pete,

    A lively discussion has been going on about your post among my colleagues on the e-list of Career Directors International, a professional association of resume writers and other career professionals.

    The consensus about what format to email one's resume is to attach both a Word .doc (never .docx!) and PDF. The receiver can open whichever they choose. PDF can be a problem for recruiters who may want to tweak your resume before sending it off to hiring managers. They can't edit a PDF.

    I counsel my executive clients to send both PDF and .doc versions.

    Some participating in the discussion suggest also pasting a text version of your resume within the email message, for a triple whammy. If the receiver doesn't want to mess with attachments, the document is right there for them.

    Thought you and your readers would like to know.


  14. 22
    Marian Schembari

    Good tips that don't scream “typical, generic career advice!” I ESPECIALLY including testimonials and sounding like a human rather than a robot. We so often try hard to sound smart professional that we end up sounding like everyone else, forgetting that people hire people, not resumes.

    As for the testimonials, I think they really make a resume stand out and give another layer of “humanity” that most generic resumes just don't have 🙂

  15. 23
    Marian Schembari

    Good tips that don't scream “typical, generic career advice!” I ESPECIALLY including testimonials and sounding like a human rather than a robot. We so often try hard to sound smart professional that we end up sounding like everyone else, forgetting that people hire people, not resumes.

    As for the testimonials, I think they really make a resume stand out and give another layer of “humanity” that most generic resumes just don't have 🙂

  16. 26
    Drew Roark, CPRW

    Pete, great informative post. Even though your post is three years old, your advice still rings true in today’s job market. I agree with all your points, but I’d like to expand a bit on #4. I agree that using the bold feature can be advantageous, but make sure not to go overboard. I’ve seen resumes with nearly every other word bolded – that is not good!

  17. 27

    I have been searching for articles about creating a resume, some with specific industry, some that focuses on the template… yours is for professional resume which i think applicable to all… well explain and you point out the important part of a resume.. thanks for sharing.. 🙂

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