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6 Strategies to Help You Craft a Compelling Resume

Land your dream job by standing out from the crowd.

Today's millennials often move from job to job, making a straightforward career path less likely than in the past. You might see yourself in a marketing role but are currently working in an administrative position. Can you convince a potential employer that you'd be a great fit even if you don't have formal marketing training? Or what if you're just looking to make a move to the next role in your career—how do you stand out in the crowd?

To land that dream job, one of the first things you'll have to perfect is your resume. You may have heard the advice, "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have." But have you considered applying this wisdom to your image on paper? Think of your resume as a way to advocate for yourself and get you in the door to an interview. With just a few strategies, you can refine your resume and land that dream job.

01. Identify your goals.

Before revising your resume and beginning the job search, identify your goals. What kind of roles are you looking for? What are the key skills for that job that you want to highlight? If you're applying to both PR and marketing jobs, you should have a resume tailored to each.

02. Emphasize your “identity capital.”

Your goal in crafting a resume is to make yourself the obvious choice for the interview. The needs of the hiring manager should be at the forefront of your mind as you consider presenting your experience. If you aren't quite sure, reach out to someone who works in the industry, or even better, has the job you want. Ask about the key skills they use to be successful day-in and day-out, and be sure to emphasize them on your resume. It's your way of telling your future employer that you have what it takes to succeed in that role.

Sociologists identify these skills as identity capital—the tools and strategies that we use to live and work to the best of our abilities. We gather these pieces of identity capital from a variety of sources, including unexpected ones. Did you work as an RA in college? Think about what you learned in that role—like management, leadership, communication, or empathy—and how it translates to the job you now want. Even if you have a hodgepodge of experiences on your resume, you can make them work to your advantage (more on that below).

03. Craft your narrative.

How should you present your skills, or identity capital, to potential employers? Nancy Schreiber, Ph.D., Dean of the business school at St. Edward's University, advises, "It is all about transferable skills."

A candidate needs to show how a past job led to the skills that a new job requires by "connecting the dots." Describe in real terms the transferable skills you bring to the new role through clear examples. Before the interview, "the candidate needs to develop narratives that show this connection.The more disparate the past job and desired job appear to be, the more tangible the examples need to be,” she continues.

In describing those examples, take a cue from Google's HR chief. In an interview with The New York Times, he recommended you frame your strengths as:

"'I accomplished X, relative to Y, by doing Z.' Most people would write a resume like this: 'Wrote editorials for The New York Times. Better would be to say: 'Had 50 op-eds published compared to average of 6 by most op-ed [writers] as a result of providing deep insight into the following area for three years.'"

The more specific and tangible you can make your outcomes, the better. And whenever possible, quantify your achievements.

04. List your experience first.

Sure, getting a degree from a top university is something to be proud of. But unless you're still an undergrad going through campus recruiting, move your education to the bottom. Instead, list your most recent work experience first.

And don't feel compelled to list every work experience you've ever had. Your resume is about marketing yourself and telling a cohesive story of why you're right for the job, not an exhaustive list of every odd job you've held. 

05. Use creative power words.

Responsible, motivated, effective. These are three of the most overused resume adjectives, according to a recent LinkedIn survey. Use other words when possible: persistent, energetic, reliable. Regardless of the words you use, it's crucial to provide context. What makes you reliable? What results have you achieved due to your persistence? Give specific details to really make your resume stand out. And if you provide recommendations, they should be able to vouch for you on each of these qualities as well.

06. Keep formatting consistent.

Align to the left. Use a standard, easy-to-read font. Stick to simple bullets or hyphens if you use them. When listing experience, start with your employer's name, then your title, and finally the timeline you held the position. The job description should follow below.

Microsoft Word actually offers a variety of free resume templates to help get you started. Consider your industry when selecting the design. If you work in a more creative field, you probably have more leeway with colors and graphics. But if you're applying for a job at a bank, stick to a basic, clean design.

By transforming your resume from a boring list into a compelling showcase of your strengths and abilities, you'll gain greater clarity on your next career move and be well on your way to a fulfilling career path.