20+ Tips for Writing A Remarkable Resume in Today’s Creative World
The title of this post suggests that today’s world is somewhat different from yesterday’s world, and that it is more creative. Before we explore this notion, lets look at the definition of the word creativity. Most dictionaries or academic researchers of creativity will agree creativity is the process of generating ideas, that are both (a) novel (new) and (b) useful for (c) solving problems.
To be remarkable (i.e. worth making a remark about) your resume should be somewhat different from everyone else. If you aspire to be remarkable, you have to be different (i.e. novel) and your resume must be useful (for the person reading it) and solve a problem (i.e. you getting that amazing job). While most people think about art when it comes to being creative, this post will follow the traditional definition of creativity (novel, useful, solving a problem) to make you shine brighter and your resume, a star.
If on the other hand, you don’t think today’s world is any different than yesterday’s world and that your resume should follow traditional (may I say old-school?) resume-writing-advices you once got from an HR director or a career counselor, watch the following video:
Daniel Pink, the author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future:
Before we start with actual tips, let me suggest a possibility, that every piece of advice you ever got about how to write a resume (or about anything else really) could be 100% true and 100% false at the same time. What I mean is, for the person who came up with that advice, it might have been a great one. For you, on the other hand, this advice might be a really bad one. Why you ask? (1) They may be different people than you are, (2) working in a different environment or industry, (3) they may be more concerned with practicality (like how your resume will be scanned) vs. likability or remarkability.
Watch Seth Goodin, the Author of Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable:
(this is a short excerpt from his 20 minutes TED presentation)
Tip #1 – Don’t Listen To Every Advice You Get (including this one):
As a rule of thumb, when someone gives me advice, I always ask – why? (as in, “why is that a good advice?”). If their explanation makes sense to me – sure, I’ll follow their advice. But many times, the original reasons for that advice may not apply to me or may be irrelevant, outdated or serve someone else’s benefit rather than mine.
Be a critical thinker. Always ask why. If the explanation doesn’t make sense to you, don’t follow that advice.
Tip #2 – Rethink The Purpose of a Resume:
Most people think the purpose of a resume is to get you a job. Wrong; the purpose of a resume is to get you an interview. Similarly, most people think the purpose of an interview is to get you the job. Wrong again.
The purpose of an interview is to connect with a human being (i.e. the interviewer) on a personal level and leave a remarkable impression on them.
Personal connection, remarkable impression and likability will get you a dream job, not the resume or the interview.
Tip #3 – Brand YOU:
Read Seth Godin’s little blurb about superpowers and tell me what’s your superpower? What’s yor USP (Unique Selling Proposition)?
Come up with that one amazing idea that will make you unforgettable. It’s hard not to hire someone you can’t get off your mind.
The first thing on your resume should be your name – (dash) your brand. BIG. BOLD. Job titles can be sort of a branding statement (e.g. John Doe – Copywriter) but a smarter branding statement would be to actually brand the essence of who you are (in regards to what they need from you, of course). Think values and skills rather than job titles.
Art Director is a title – Visual Thinker is a skill. Account Planner is a title – Cultural Curious or Cultural Maven is a value.
People are more likely to hire you for your skills and values, rather than for your title.
Plus, you’re communicating that you are creative, unique, and passionate about these values/skills.
Instead of trying to convey you’re good at everything, emphasize a few areas where you’ve accomplished the most
Tip #4 – Leave Something For The Second Date:
Most people believe they should write as much information about themselves as possible in a resume. They don’t want to omit anything, thinking ‘more is better’. If you agree with tip #2, that the purpose of a resume is to get you an interview rather than a job, then you might want to think of a resume as a first-date.
We’ve all been there – a horrifying first date, where the other side just won’t stop talking about themselves; and the more they talk, the more you don’t want to see them again. On the other hand, we’ve all experienced an amazing first date, which left us wanting to know more about the other person.
Similarly, if the purpose of a resume is to get you a second date (an interview) rather than marriage (long-term career), you want to leave the other side curious and wanting to know more about you.
In addition, the more information you have on your resume, the more likely you are to decrease the value of brand YOU (by saying something they don’t want to hear, something they don’t care about, in a way they don’t like, etc). If you include very little information about yourself, on the other hand, they might not get the essence of brand YOU, which isn’t a good thing either. The solution:
Your resume should have the least amount of information that will make you a star.
The same goes for a Portfolio, by the way (adverting, design, etc). If I see three amazing campaigns in your portfolio, I’ll think you’re a star. But if I see three amazing campaign, plus two just-ok ones and one bad one, I’d think you’re just ok.
Tip #5 – Dump The Objective:
Don’t tell me what your objectives or aspirations are, tell me who you are. I often see people (especially students) add an ‘objective’ paragraph to their resume (e.g. ‘OBJECTIVE: to find a job as a Jr. Art Director’). Some take it to the next level and use the word ‘aspiring’ (e.g. ‘John Doe – Aspiring Art Director’).
I don’t want to hire someone who’s objective or aspiration is to become something they are not yet.
I want to hire someone who has the confidence to see themselves as their brand, even if they don’t have 20 years of experience in that profession. When I’ll read your resume, I’m likely to see that you don’t have the 20 years experience, but I’ll also perceive you as a passionate person who knows where you’re going. I’ll know you are determined and focused and that’s the kind of person I want to hire.
The metaphor I like to use comes from the world of personal relationships. It’s Friday night, you go out and meet an interesting guy/gal. What would you think of them, if they came to you and said: ‘yeah, um, I think I’m ok in relationships’ or ‘well… I kinda’ wanna be great in relationships’… rather than them presenting themselves as someone who’s great in ‘relating’ to other people? You might not know them yet, you’re definitely not in a relationship with them yet, but you’re more likely to go out with them if you’d get the sense their most important value/skill is their ability to ‘relate’ to people.
Tip #6 – Aim To The Right Target:
HR people might tell you ‘objectives’ are important on a resume but that’s only because their job is to file your resume in the right box or put it on the right desk. What if you find a way for your resume to reach the right desk without HR?
HR is not your target audience; avoid them as much as possible. If you want to be an art director or a copywriter, the creative director or the creative recruiter are your target audience. If you want to be an account planner, the group account planner is your target audience.
Find out who’s making the final hiring decision, not who’s in charge of filtering, and target your resume to them.
With that said, the cover letter is a great place to clarify what position you’re applying for. If your resume starts with the headline “John Doe – Cultural Geek,” make sure your cover letter clearly states that you’re interested in that Jr. Account Planning position.
Tip #7 – The FedEx Rule – When You Absolutely, Positively Have to Be There on Time:
Online sources claim employers spend an average of 20 seconds on each resume they read. I don’t know if this is based on an actual study, but from my experience, if you get more than 30 seconds, consider yourself lucky. I’m pretty sure they spend more time reviewing your resume in details before you come to the interview, but during the filtering process, 10-30 seconds sounds about right to me.
I would go further and say most people don’t even ‘read’ your resume;. ‘skimming through’ would be more like it. Now, what do you do when you skim through a textbook? You read the headlines, the bullet points, right? Well, what if your resume had only headlines and bullet points? Boom boom boom, straight to the point, easy to read, creative, quick, etc.
If you make your resume skimmable, it doesn’t have to be readable.
Make it easy for them to get all the information by skimming through your resume. One-liners are best. Think twitter – every new bit of information is 140 character or less.
Tip #8 – Tell Me First or Last – I’ll Remember it Better:
Teachers, professional presenters or speech writers, will all tell you people remember best what you present to them first and then what you present to them last; They least remember everything in the middle. That’s why they call it ‘first impression’ or ‘last impression’ but not ‘middle impression’.
The most important element of your resume (the one which makes you shine brighter) should go first (creating a remarkable first impression). The second most important element should go last (leaving the reader impressed, curious and wanting to know more). Everything else should go anywhere in between.
People are more likely to remember the first thing and the last things they hear/read about you.
Tip #9 – Structure:
If you want to have the least amount of information that will make you shine brighter, the structure of your resume should be super simple and skimmable. I’d recommend having only four main categories: Education, Experience, Skills, and Life.
If your ‘education’ section is more impressive than your ‘experience’ section, put it first, and vice versa. In the creative sector (any job focused on generating new ideas), awards are sometimes more important than education. If you won impressive awards, honors or other forms of recognition, which are directly related to the position you’re applying for, I’d add an ‘Awards’ section before education or experience. If the awards are not directly related to the position, but are worth mentioning, I’d put them under the ‘Life’ section.
If you agree with the previous tip, that first and last impressions are more important than anything in the middle, a good structure to follow is:
What – What did you do? (job title, position, etc)
Where & When – Where & when did you do it? (name of the company or institution and time frame)
Why (in bullet points) – Why should I care? That is to say, what did you do for them, that you can do for me?
Tip #10 – Visualizing The Structure:
If you agree that a simple and quick structure will help your resume be more skimmable, there’s an easy way to do it visually.
English is read from top-left to bottom-right. Structuring your information in stairs-like shape will help the reader find the information they need, while still being able to skim through it.
A good visual structure for every section of your resume will look like this:
* Note: the actual lines on the left example are to show you the indentation; I wouldn’t actually have them in my resume.
Tip #11 – Education:
Following the previous tip, a good structure for your education section might look like this:
BA in Marketing
California State University, Fullerton, May 2014
- GPA 3.9
- President of the Marketing Association
- Captain of the football team
My assumption is that if you’re applying for a position in marketing, the fact that you have a BA in marketing is more important than where you got it from or when. The first line in the example above is the ‘what’, the second is the ‘where & when’ and the 3 bullet points are the ‘why’.
- GPA below 3.5 doesn’t make you a star; don’t put it on your resume. Instead, if your ‘GPA in Major’ is 3.5 or above, put that one.
- If you have (or getting) a BA/BS from a university, don’t list past associate degree or community college education (unless they make you shine brighter than your university education). Same goes for high school.
- Phrases like: “Expected Graduation Date” or “Graduated in” are redundant. If you write “May 2014” and we’re in 2011, I’ll know you’re still a student. Vice versa, if you write “May 2009”, I’ll know you already graduated.
- Similarly, spelling out “Bachelor of Arts” is a long way of saying BA.
- Instead of listing ‘relevant coursework’ under education, list the skills you gained from these courses under the ‘Skills’ sections.
I’m not interested in knowing you took a typography class; I want to know you master typography.
Tip #12 – Experience:
Don’t tell me only your previous job titles. I can’t learn much about you or your skills from your job titles. Identify and quantify your past accomplishments instead of listing a general job descriptions. In other words:
Tell me what you did for them, that you can do for me. Be specific and quantify as much as you can.
For example, instead of writing:
Cashier and Shift Manager
Starbucks, Los Angeles, 2001-2006
- Was in charge of the cash-register
- Opened and closed the store daily
- Served customers
Cashier and Shift Manager
Starbucks, Los Angeles, 2001-2006
- Managed a weekly budget of $25,000
- Opened the store on time and always stayed until the last happy customer left
- Served 0ver 50 happy customers daily without a single complaint for 5 years
See the difference? The second example communicates so much more about you than the first one. It tells me you are trustworthy, have a positive attitude, approachable, likable, etc. Most people will write attributes like these under their ‘Skills’ section without even giving examples. By writing them under the ‘Why’ section of each experience, instead of under the ‘Skills’ section, you are demonstrating your skills rather than just saying you have them.
Leave me curious and wanting to know more about those skills and how you achieved them.
- Life experiences are great, even if you didn’t get paid for them. That’s why I suggested the title ‘Experience’ for this category, and not ‘Work Experience’. If you volunteered for a summer camp, for example, you might be great at multi-tasking, solving problems, dealing with demanding customers (kids in this example, but still customers). All of these are great skills I would love to know about.
- For each experience listed, add one, two, or maximum three things you did for them, that you can do for me (the Why). Bullet point style, one line for each. If you list three, put the most impressive first, the second most impressive last, and the least impressive in the middle.
Tip #13 – Use Light Humor to Engage Your Reader:
There’s an old-school belief, that a resume must be serious at all times; I’d like to challenge that belief.
Have you seen Roberto Benigni’s movie Life Is Beautiful (La vita bella)?
If you haven’t – Netflix it today! It’s a masterpiece. In any case, the movie was the first ever to present the Holocaust and the Nazi regime in a light and funny way. It wasn’t trying to joke about the Holocaust or to diminish its serious and horrific results. It was attempting to portray the history of events in more humanistic eyes.
Not only was the movie not criticized for using humor, it won a gazillion awards and I personally haven’t met anyone who saw it and didn’t like it.
Here’s another example: Washington Mutual was among the first banks ever (if not the first) to use humor in their ads:
Before WaMu, advertisers thought banking is a serious business and no one would like a bank to joke around when it comes to financial services. Again, wrong assumption. After the success of WaMu’s campaign, many banks followed with their own humorous campaigns.
These examples are a testimony that as human beings, we connect better when humor is used. And if you subscribe to tip #2, that the purpose of a resume is not necessarily to present information, but rather to get people to like you enough to invite you for a second date, humor can definitely make you remarkable.
Back to the resume – instead of just having a ‘What’:
Server, Amy’s Ice Cream
Add a humorous ‘Why’:
- Made 50 people smile daily @ Amy’s Ice Cream
Instead of just having a ‘What’:
Sales Manager, McDonald’s
Add a humorous ‘Why’:
- Made the big bosses 20% richer @ McDonald’s
These can lead to great conversations during your interview and will present you in a positive way, while communicating the ‘what you did for them that you can do for me’.
IMPORTANT NOTE: You don’t want to come out as a joker, so keep the humor light and the language professional.
Tip #14 – Your Skills:
In general, skills can be divided into three groups:
- Skills related to knowledge or intellect, like knowledge of a language, computer software, etc.
- Skills related to ability or intelligence (that is, putting knowledge into use), like design, negotiation, editing, etc, and
- Skills related to personality traits, like analytical skills, listening skills, etc.
Whichever category it is, you want to make sure:
All skills listed on your resume should be useful and relevant to the position you’re applying for.
That means, if you’re applying for a number of positions, each version of your resume should only include the relevant skills. Why? Remember tip #4 – the least amount of information that makes you a star.
- Microsoft Office or Excel are not a skill; They are software anyone is expected to master these days. Personally, I’d be embarrassed to list them unless I’m applying for a secretarial position.
- More advanced software (if relevant to the position you’re applying for) should be listed, but again, they are not a skill. You mastering them is a skill.
- I only want to know about the skills that make you a star. If you feel you know Photoshop well enough to talk about it during an interview, tell me you master it. Telling me you’re a beginner doesn’t make you a star.
- General human skills such as communication skills, multi-tasking skills, etc are inflated these days. Too many people add these to their resume, making you just like everyone else if you do too.
Instead of just telling me you have a certain skill, give me an example of an achievement celebrating that skill.
For example: instead of writing:
- Great Communication Skills
- Communication – As the membership director of the students association, I’ve presented to 100+ participants weekly.
That tells me so much more about your capabilities, and more important, it tells me what you did for them that you can do for me.
Tip #15 – Life:
This is the one section of your resume where you don’t want to use bullet-pointed-one-liners. Located at the bottom of the page, this section is your opportunity to leave a remarkable last impression. Remember what we said at the beginning of this guide? Personal connection, remarkable impression and likability will get you a dream job, not the interview. This section should be one or two paragraphs, in the format of story-telling. People connect with good stories and this is your chance to show you’re a human being and not just another paper resume.
You can talk about your hobbies, countries you’ve visited, languages you speak (although if relevant to the position, these can also go under skills), anything really, but once again – be remarkable.
If you tell me you beat anyone you know in Guitar Hero, I might conclude from this you are passionate, goal oriented, enjoy challenges, etc. If you tell me you perform at poetry slam open mic gigs every third Tuesday of the month, I might conclude you are a great communicator, a story teller, can present in front of a large audience, risk taker, not afraid of failure, etc.
While this section ends your resume, it should provide a great conversation-starter for your interviewer. Remember: your goal is to make it easier for them to connect with you on a personal level.
Tip #16 – Dump The References:
Some people add a list of references at the end of their resume or write “References available upon request”. If you ask any HR director or a recruiting agent about the process of hiring they will tell you that only after a candidate is seriously being considered for a job, they call references. Calling references is the very last step in a long filtering process.
Adding references to you resume is like brining your mom on a first date. Let’s get to know each other first before we meet the parents.
It’s redundant to list references early in the process and it adds a bunch of information that does not make you a star. With that said, keep a list of references on a nicely printed sheet of paper and bring it with you to the interview in case they ask for it.
And a little secret – if you hear from your references (after the interview), that they called them to ask about you, there’s pretty good chance you got job. Most of the time HR will call references to cover their ass and make sure you’re not a criminal.
Tip #17 – Copywrite and Art Direct your resume:
You might want to say a lot of things about yourself on your resume (e.g. you’re creative, you’re trustworthy, you’re goal oriented, etc) and you should, but the most important aspect on your resume should be your brand.
Whether you’re a copywriter or not – copywrite every aspect of your resume. Choose every word carefully, edit, re-edit and re-edit again, and again, and then, again.
Ask a designer or an art director buddy to help you with the layout, visuals, typography, etc. Unless you’re a designer or an art director, no one is expecting you to master these, but in the business of communications, they do expect you to care for how your resume look.
Whether you’re an art director or not – art direct your resume. Art direction doesn’t mean adding art; it means designing a beautiful and attractive resume.
Much like any other brand, your resume can either increase or decrease the value of brand YOU with every word, comma, line or color you add. Before you add any visual element, you should ask yourself: why should it be there? Is there a reason? Does it make a remarkable point? Does it make me remarkable? Am I/can I/should I communicate some of my skills/values visually rather than using words?
- Learn the basics of Typography, know the difference between Serif and Sans Serif.
- Use Georgia instead of Times New Roman – it’s designed to look better on screen and it’s available on most computers.
- Join the ‘Ban Comic Sans Movement‘ – don’t use it!
- Don’t use font-size 12; most printed materials (books, newspapers) use font-size 9-11 (depending on the font).
- Instead, adjust the leading (line spacing) to 120% if the font size.
- Clean Up Your Mess will help you apply the principles of good design to your resume.
Tip #18 – Inspire Action by Telling me your ‘Why’:
Watch Simon Sinek’s TED on How Great Leaders Inspire Action and tell me what’s your personal ‘WHY?’
Tell me something about how you see the world, about who you are as a human being, not just as an employee. 99% of resumes don’t tell much about the person’s attitude, quickness, humor, curiosity, personal manner, what makes them tick, and a few dozen other really important traits. Most people assume these will be revealed at the interview but the truth is I am more likely to call you for an interview if I perceive you as the human being I’d like to connect with.
In advertising, we call this ‘Why’ – Unique Selling Proposition (USP). What’s your USP?
It’s always better to demonstrate/show your USP rather than telling/writing about it. If you think you’re a great writer, for example, your resume should be a written testimony (instead of writing: “Great writing skills” under the “Skills” section). Similarly, if your USP is a personality trait – show it to me using examples rather than telling me about it.
Tip #19 – Redundancy:
So often I see redundancy in resumes, and it’s usually in the small details. We talked earlier about making you resume skimmable and a big part of that is getting rid of any word that’s really not needed. Some examples:
- Writing “Address:” just before your mailing address (as if I don’t know it’s an address), or ‘Email:’, or ”Phone:’, or ‘Degree:’ or, ok, you got the point.
- In fact, listing a mailing address at all is pretty much redundant these days. All I get in the mail in the last 5 years are bills and I doubt you’ll get any letter of acceptance (maybe a rejection letter, but hey, you probably don’t want to get these any ways 🙂 If you got the job, you’ll get a phone call usually and if you were rejected, they can email you.
- Listing more than one phone number (like home, cell, work). Why would they need anything other than your cell phone? If they can’t reach you, they’ll leave you a voice mail, not turn you down.
- Writing ‘Objective’ – well, we talked about that in Tip #5. Instead, write your name, dash (-) your title at the very top of your resume. Bold.
- Having a title like ‘Relevant Work Experience’ – if it’s not relevant, why would it even be on your resume? And why would you want to limit your experiences to only work related ones? Any experience that makes you shine brighter should be on your resume, even if it’s a volunteer experience. The title should just be ‘Experience’.
- When the name of an institution you work for (or study at) includes the city it is in, you don’t really need to add the city, do you? For example, I teach at California State University, Fullerton (that’s the actual name of the university, CSU have other campuses as well) and it’s located in… You guessed it: Fullerton. No need to write: California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, CA.
- Why write Bachelor of Arts, when you can write B.A.? Remember – less is GOOD.
- Under education, I often see students write: “Expected Graduation Date: May, 2015”. If we’re now in 2014, and you simply write “May, 2015” believe me, I’ll understand you’re still a student.
- “References Available Upon Request” – If they need them, they’ll ask for them (usually when you come for an interview).
- Links to your LinkedIn, Facebook, or even MySpace (I swear I’ve seen that one once 🙂 profiles. Why? So I can get more information I don’t have time to read? Remember, your goal is NOT to provide MORE information but be likable and leave me wanting to know more about you (in an interview, not via social media sites).
- Words like: “Major in:” / “Minor in:”. Instead, write: “California State University, Fullerton – Communications/Advertising”
- Listing months under the dates of your experiences (June 2011 – Sept 2014, for example). Dates are on your resume to provide a general time-line and it’s really not important what month you started or finished that job; 2011-2014 is good enough. The only exception is when you worked somewhere less than a year; than you can write June-Sept, 2013.
There are probably many more examples you can think of but the rule of thumb should always be: If I take this word out – will they still get what I mean? If the answer is yes, you probably don’t need it.
Tip #20 – Get Your Own professionally-looking Email Address:
Listing a Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail address on your resume doesn’t make you shine brighter. Get your own domain name with a professional email address. 1and1 always have great deals for $1-$5 per domain name. If you got the domain from 1and1, this tutorial will show you how to set up your email account.
Tip #21 – Don’t believe everything I just told you without asking why and agreeing with it:
Learn from others. Shop around for options. If three people tell you it’s a horse, try to ride it, but if you get contradicting advise, own your opinion. Read and Use:
Really Ugly Resumes:
The Seven Deadly Sins of Resume Design:
Top 10 Ways to Rock Your Resume
The Periodic Table of Typefaces
Give Your Resume a Face-Lift
If your resume goes online, read – Ten Principles for Readable Web Typography:
Ten Things that Define a Killer Resume:
Six Words That Make Your Resume Suck:
Six Word That Make Your Resume Rock:
How To Create A Great Web Design CV and Resume
10 Ways Your Resume Irks Hiring Managers
Top 5 mistakes on executive resumes
The 12 Most Relevant Online Resources for Job Seekers
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