Tips for crafting winning résumés


When you apply for jobs, remember that hiring managers won’t leisurely savor every word of your résumé while relaxing beside a cozy fire, as if they were reading a suspense novel. Instead, they will probably race through your resume, ruthlessly searching for any remotely acceptable reason to reject it in order to quickly whittle down the application pile, narrow down their hiring options, and wrap up the selection process.

So to make the cut, craft your résumé to instantly win over hiring managers. Some ways to do so:

Upload to your application a well-formatted, fast-read PDF version of a Microsoft Word résumé, if possible—rather than submitting a USAJOBS résumé. This is important because USAJOBS résumés don’t feature bolded text or varied fonts and provide no flexibility in sequencing information to emphasize important information. Therefore, they are slower and harder to read than well-formatted Word resumes.

Format your résumé to emphasize job titles, employers and academic degrees.

Include in your résumé your credentials and soft skills that parallel those described in the job description and evaluation factors of the vacancy announcement for your target job—and omit those that don’t.

Print your name at the top of your résumé in a large, bolded font, followed by the abbreviations for any graduate degrees and certifications you have.

Immediately below your name, identify in large, bolded font your profession/specialty such as “Expert in X” or “An “X with Advanced Expertise in Y.”

Consider opening your résumé with a “Career Highlights” section comprised of several bullets that quickly summarize your credentials that are most relevant to your target job—such as “10 years of supervisory experience.”…”Top Secret security clearance.”… ”Respected Communicator: published five articles on XXX in top publications such as X, Y and Z and delivered presentations at five national conferences.”…“Excellent Reputation: consistently receive outstanding annual evaluations.”…“M.A. in Public Administration from X University.”

Devote the most space in your résumé to your most recent job(s), unless an earlier job is more relevant to your target job. If necessary, emphasize an earlier, more relevant job in your cover letter and “Career Highlights” and expand its summary.

Structure each job summary as a set of snappy achievement-oriented bullets. Each bullet should begin with an action verb, such as “led,” “developed,” “initiated,” “created” or “streamlined.” (Find lists of action verbs by Googling for them.)

Eliminate vague verbs and phrases, such as “helped,” “participated in” and “contributed to.” Instead, explicitly state what you actually did to help, participate or contribute. For example, rather than stating that you helped organize a conference, describe the agenda that you set for the conference and evidence of the agenda’s popularity.

In the job summary of your most recent/current job, group your achievement-oriented bullets under bolded headings that match the requirements of your target job—such as “Communication Skills”, “Strategic Planning” and “Leadership Skills.”

Accompany descriptions of your achievements with objective validation of your success. For example, did you produce documents that were distributed to an important audience, such as Congress? Did your work draw verbal or written praise or awards from senior manager? Did your ideas yield cost or time savings?

Generate additional sources of objective validation of your success by asking yourself these questions: How do I know I have been doing a good job? How do I do my job differently or better than my peers? What positive feedback have I received? Why do I deserve a promotion? How have I improved this organization? What would this organization have missed if I had never worked here? How have I gone the extra mile?

Recent grads: Include your GPA or the GPA in your major if it is impressive, and list relevant courses and academic papers/projects.

Give your résumé to a trusted advisor to review for 20 seconds, and then ask him to explain why you are a unique and desirable applicant. If he can’t do so within that time limit, edit your résumé to sing out your credentials louder and faster.


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