How to make your résumé shine


I am frequently asked, “What is the most common mistake that job-seekers make on their résumés and application essays?”

My answer: Virtually all of the thousands of job applications that I have reviewed — no matter how much expertise is offered by the job-seekers they represent — are dominated by unimpressive statements from job descriptions instead of specific, achievement-oriented descriptions of successes. They fail to convey the importance of the job-seeker’s accomplishments. Therefore, they fail to show how the job seeker could improve his target employer’s operations.

I was recently consulted by the communications director of one of the most powerful members of the Senate because his job search wasn’t producing pay dirt. A quick scan of his résumé identified the likely cause: Reading it was about as impressive as reading a stranger’s ho-hum “to do” list. If I hadn’t already known what a skilled, productive and creative power-broker he is, I never would have known it from his résumé.

Here are questions to ask yourself, to help you define your achievements in compelling terms:

*Why is my work important?

*How have I improved my organization’s reputation to internal and external stakeholders?

*How have I saved time or money, or streamlined processes?

*Which of my achievements am I most proud of, worked mightily to accomplish or earned recognition for, such as awards to me or my organization, promotions, bonuses or praise?

*How do I do my work better or differently from peers or more junior professionals? What do I offer that no one else does?

*How would my organization’s services, resources or morale suffer if I had never worked there?

*How have I shown initiative and gone the extra mile?

*How have I wisely used my judgment, discretion or creativity?

*What am I an expert in?

*When have I contributed to high-pressure, high-profile, high-dollar or high-priority projects?

*Which of my accomplishments warrant superlatives like the first, the only, the best, the fastest, the highest rated, the most or the strongest?

You don’t have to be the first climber up Mount Everest to have an important superlative under your belt. Automating a process, creating a new Web site, developing new training, creating a document or completing a project in record time warrant superlatives.

More tips on how to describe your achievements are featured in my book, “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.”

Lily Whiteman is a public affairs officer at the National Science Foundation and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.’’ Her Web site is The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of the National Science Foundation.


About Author

Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is Ask your career questions by email to or by Twitter to @Lilymwhiteman.

Leave A Reply