How to build a great resume and win a new job

Before You Create a Resume….

It’s no longer just who you know. Now, you must focus deliberately on who knows you. That means aggressively marketing yourself to hiring managers and the people who influence them. Start by doing an honest assessment of your efforts to determine if you’re doing everything you possibly can to secure an offer.

Ask yourself these seven questions:

1) Am I looking in the right places? If your industry is in trouble now, don’t sit around waiting for things to improve. Transfer your skills to another industry. If you performed marketing duties in the hard-hit construction industry, try seeking a marketing-related position in health care administration, which has added jobs. If your small employer is cutting the hours of its sales staff, look at competitors that could benefit from your expertise. If your airline is pink-slipping flight attendants, shift your focus to an opportunity in public relations or concierge services. The idea is to think of at least three to five ways to apply what you know to a totally new line of work and then go after it.

2) Am I top of mind?  Make a list of at least 50 people who know that you’re looking for work. Then, make a list of the people who should know that you’re looking. This second list should be your primary focus because it hopefully includes decision-makers at the employers you’re targeting. Take the necessary steps to make your name and interest known to them. You can accomplish this through internal referrals, alumni contacts, professional associations, industry blogs, online social networks, local career fairs and open houses, peers within the same field, and even old-fashioned cold calling. Map a strategy that includes three different ways of connecting to each person on that list.

3) Am I memorable? Standing out from the pack in a positive (not hokey) way will improve your chances for being considered. Showing up dressed like a clown or mailing inappropriate gimmicks to catch the attention of an employer will likely backfire. One college student created a magazine about herself that caught the attention of a recruiter who hired her. That tactic would work for a professional at any age – creativity shouldn’t be limited or defined by age. A seasoned event planner could put together a packet with photographs of her best functions. A sales professional can bind copies of reference letters from impressive clients who can vouch for his or her expertise and service. Don’t wait to be asked for such collateral – be proactive about producing something that’s neat and brings your passion, your personality and your professional skills to life.

4) Am I casting a wide net? Even though one or two job postings might scream your name, do not rely on too few positions. You need many, many sticks in the fire because you have no way of knowing which will catch. Even if one opportunity looks promising, don’t slow down the search until you receive a firm offer. Apply to positions on your own, submit resumes through multiple job boards, and register with placement agencies in your area (big and small). Remember, these agencies don’t work for you; they work for the company that’s paying them for the best hire. This means you must treat agencies with the same professionalism and respect as you would an employer.

5) Am I interview-ready? In the past, you might have gotten away with interviewing with one or two people and shaking hands on an immediate offer. Today, you should expect to go through more interviews with more people than ever before. Treat each one as if it’s the most important because even one person in the process can nix your chances by raising doubts about your candidacy. Research the employer and its competition thoroughly and practice every possible question you think you might be asked. While you might not be grilled on the company, your knowledge demonstrates an interest in this particular job and field.

6) Am I being flexible? Offer to freelance or accept contract work if that’s what it takes to get your foot in the door. Don’t hold out for the most perfect opportunity if it means passing up one that could work well for you right now. Generating an income and closing a gap in your work history can be beneficial on their own. Be selective about the kind of work you want, but not unrealistic.

7) Am I actively following up? You may find yourself frustrated from submitting dozens of resumes online – and getting no response. Don’t rely on applying online and waiting for the phone to ring. It won’t ring. It’s up to you to follow up once you’ve applied. Cold call to find out who the decision-maker is and then use all of your connections – or make new ones – to figure out how to get your name in front of that person. Be ready to make a smart, strong, succinct case for why you deserve to be considered for the job you’re after. When you interview, don’t leave without asking about the next steps: when they expect to make a decision, and when you should hear from someone.

Brag a Little

All of us have career highlights that deserve to be recognized but so rarely are. That’s why you should set aside time to assemble a list of your own achievements. These are your personal greatest hits at work.

Many of us are uncomfortable with self-promotion, especially in the workplace. We’re great at talking up our kids and our best friends, but the idea of tooting our own horn or claiming credit for our accomplishments makes plenty of people uneasy. We don’t want to come across as conceited, showoffs or braggarts.

If this sounds like you, remember that when it comes to your career, an unwillingness to share your accomplishments may cost you the position, pay and promotion you deserve.

Employers don’t have a crystal ball. They can’t look into some magical orb to determine what kind of employee you might be. They must use your past performance as the best possible indicator of your potential for future success. And unless you point out your own achievements, they may never notice.

Make Lists of Your Skills and Accomplishments

Ask yourself the following:

What have I done exceptionally well on the job in the last three years?

Force yourself to pinpoint at least five areas where you know you’re really great. Focus on your core capabilities. Is providing top-notch customer service your forte? Were you the best negotiator in your department? Do you ace the essentials of event planning? Are you a meticulous organizer? Are you a strong manager and mentor who brings out the best in others?

Which three career accomplishments am I most proud of?

While the first question focuses on capabilities, this one is about how well you performed in those areas. Did you apply those sales and customer service skills to generate business? Did your management skills improve morale? Did your ability to organize lead to the creation of new systems and implementation of great programs?

Do I have a “me” file?

If you don’t already, start one today. This is the place to store hard copies of e-mails from colleagues or clients thanking you for a job well done. It doesn’t have to be a formal note; even a quick e-mail saying you saved the day deserves to be printed and stashed in this file. You’ll refer back to all of this when you’re preparing an interview or negotiating an offer.

So What Are Your Options

Sometimes it’s easier to figure out what you want by seeing what other people have. There are a few easy ways to do that:
•    Talk to other people about what they do, which can open your eyes to a range of possibilities. Ask for an informational interview – even by email or phone if it’s not possible to meet in person. Pose a few key questions about their career and the skills required to be successful in a particular line of work.
•    Window shop at career fairs. Many attendees to my Women For Hire career expos are very focused on what they’re looking for. Other people, however, attend to get a basic sense of who is hiring and what’s out there.
•    Scan the Sunday “Help Wanted” section of your local newspaper. Use this section to identify keywords that grab your attention on a first impression. This helps identify potential areas of interest that you might not have thought about. For example, maybe you’re a poetry writer who can’t find work – and you’re drawn to positions that reference writing skills: public relations, copywriting, editing, fact-checking.  That may be a line of work to pursue.

Make Your Dreams Real

Think of people or positions that cause you to say, “Wow! I’d love to do that!” – and then scale it back to something obtainable. Maybe you dream about being the next Olympic Gold Medalist in swimming just like Janet Evans or Michael Phelps, but you’re a terrible swimmer. How about working in sports marketing or for a major league team or stadium instead? Your dream job could be found in working as a sports agent or event organizer.

Maybe you can’t be a ballerina, but that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing a career in the arts. With a passion for ballet, perhaps you’re well-suited for a position in administration at a performing arts center or within a company that manufactures or sells dance gear or memorabilia.

Passion for a particular industry counts for a lot. Don’t settle for any old job; be sure you’re seeking a position with the potential for forging a lasting and fulfilling career.

Narrow it Down

I can almost guarantee that finding a job will take longer than you think or you would like. Knowing that you’re not alone often helps make the process a little more tolerable. If times are tough, expect a long, arduous job search effort to carry on for six months, sometimes longer. It’s best to set goals and deadlines for yourself – you know your budget, your career goals, and your tolerance for uncertainty better than anyone else. Hiring managers do not work according to your schedule. You may send in a résumé that no one views for weeks, not because you aren’t the most fabulous candidate, but because something else is more important to them at the moment.

Tory Johnson runs Women For Hire ( for jobseekers and Spark & Hustle ( for small business owners. Connect with her at or Twittercom/ToryJohnson with your career questions and comments.

Job Seeker’s First and Last Name

Street Address – City, State ZIP – Telephone Number – Email Address


This is a persuasive pitch that introduces you to employers and allows them to quickly understand who you are and what you seek. Compose two to four sentences touting your key capabilities and unique experience, with an emphasis on results. Tie your qualifications to the position you’re seeking, which is especially relevant for career changers.


Most Recent Job Title, Employer
City, State                                                                             (Month/Year to Month/Year)

•Provide a brief overview of your successes relating to the position’s main responsibilities, including an explanation of the organization if it’s not well known.

•Outline your most impressive accomplishments using bullet points. Focus on the results of your actions, not just your responsibilities. Showcase not only what you did, but how well you did it. Quantify or qualify claims.

•Demonstrate how you’ve identified and executed solutions to challenges.

•Start every bullet with a relevant action word, and vary the language throughout your resume. Avoid fancy fonts, clumsy layouts and useless jargon.

Previous Job Title, Employer
City, State                                                                              (Month/Year to Month/Year)

•Keep position summaries short and relevant. A potential employer is scanning your resume to see if you merit an interview—clear and concise is ideal.

•Don’t try to include your whole life story. Outline your most important and impressive accomplishments, not a complete menu of every task you’ve ever performed.

•As a general rule, the amount of information—both summaries and bullets—beneath each position should decrease as you move toward older assignments.

Earlier Job Title, Employer
City, State                                                                             (Month/Year to Month/Year)

•Earlier positions require less detail.; Use them to demonstrate career advancement. For most opportunities, you’ll be judged on the last 10 to 15 years, so there’s no need to outline 30+ years of experience.


MBA, University (Most recent degree goes on top)
BA, College (Date is optional, but often omitted if it’s not within the last five years)

•Include GPA only if it is above 3.5 or Honors Received within last five years

•List relevant leadership roles and any impressive recognition received


•Enhance your summary and experience while highlighting specific qualifications that are either required for a particular job or are unique about you. Expand this section when posting your resume online to increase the keywords related to your field.


•Memberships and volunteer work show a commitment to your industry and community, especially if relevant and sustained.  Nobody cares if you did a day at a recycling center, but an ongoing commitment to the environment will stand out.  Mention leadership roles and relevant achievements, even if you weren’t paid.