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By Michele Rapp
Associate Director of Alumni Career Strategy, Northeastern University

Recruiters spend less than a minute looking at resumes, so you don’t have long to catch their attention. Think of your resume as a written elevator pitch – you have 30 seconds to get on top of the pile. High pressure? Focus on these tips for polishing your resume to increase your likelihood of being noticed.

  1. Summaries:

If you have five or more years of experience or a diverse work history, a summary section at the top of your resume is a great way to market yourself to the recruiter. This section is a branding opportunity that can be customized for each job, and should reflect your unique strengths and value to the employer.

  1. Accomplishments:

One of the best things you can do for your resume is to focus on accomplishments instead of tasks. What did you initiate, fix, or improve? What significant projects did you work on? Can you use numbers to impress the reader with the scope of your work, such as dollars saved or the management of a large budget or account? Include these details to showcase your unique strengths.

  1. Keywords:

Because most employers use applicant tracking systems, include keywords for your field, industry buzzwords and important software. Use the language of the job description for ideas of which keywords to use and include a moderate number of these throughout your resume.

  1. Transferrable Skills:

If you’re making a career change into a new field or industry, emphasizing transferrable skills relevant to your new direction is critical. It’s often advisable to have a few different versions of your resume, especially if you are considering several types of roles. Make sure to stay organized, so that you know which version the employer is viewing when they call you for an interview.

  1. Format:

Make sure your resume look easy to read, with margins of at least 0.5 or greater, font sizes of 10 or 11 point. Avoid blocks of dense text, and use bullets to describe each position and accomplishments to make it easy to read.
Remote work offers more flexibility, and opportunity to organize your work around your life. Making it fit your style, and the needs of your employer, is key to achieving personal and professional success.

Consider the pros and cons of resume templates. Some are good for giving a fresh look by their layouts and fonts. Avoid ones that look busy, make it hard to find important information, or that leave too much unused space or take up lots of space with less important information, such as your name and contact information.

  1. Length:

One page or two? If you’re early in your career, one page is best. As you get into your 30s, a second page is often necessary. Scan your resume for jobs and information that are no longer relevant to your next position. The good news is that you don’t need to list all your jobs; 12-15 years is enough unless you have a reason to include a certain experience. Those concerned about age discrimination can leave off their graduation dates, unless you are drawing attention to a recent degree.

  1. Volunteer and leadership experience:

Add flavor to your resume by including information about professional associations, leadership activities and volunteer work. In some cases, accomplishments in sports, travel, music, or writing can also add color to your resume, especially if it shows qualities that relate to your field.

  1. Feedback:

Get feedback from multiple people and ensure that it’s typo and error-free. Many organizations reject qualified candidates simply due to a minor error in the resume. Continue to tweak your resume based on suggestions or reactions from recruiters and interviewers. Also, keep your LinkedIn profile updated as you make changes to your resume. (check out our LinkedIn for Networking, Career Building and Job Search webinar)

Take some time to implement these best practices and increase your odds of standing out from the crowd.


Michele Rapp is Associate Director of Alumni Career Strategy in the Office of Alumni Relations at Northeastern University.