7 Secrets to a Great Resume

Is your resume working for you? Are you having trouble getting interviews? If not, I bet I know why. If you’re currently looking for a job, planning a job search anytime soon, or just want to update your resume, this information is for you. In my position I get to see a lot of resumes – dozens and dozens of them every year. I’m certain I missed hiring some very good people because their resumes simply did not represent them well at all. It troubles me because good people are hard to find, and so are good employers. When resumes fall short, both sides miss out.


I don’t want you to miss a chance at a great job, so I’ve written this two-part article to share with you the secrets of not just creating a great resume, but using it to get a job that you really want.  There are many reasons your resume may not be working for you, and these 7 secrets will get you headed in the right direction. Grab your favorite beverage; I have a lot to tell you.

Secret 1 – It’s All About Value

The number one problem with the resumes I see is that they don’t tell me the one key thing I need to know. It’s almost as if the the people who wrote them weren’t quite sure what they were supposed to say. So before you’re able to create a great resume, it’s very important to be clear on exactly what a resume1 is supposed to accomplish.

The Purpose of Your Resume

Simply put:

Or more to the point, the value that you bring. For many people, the notion of “selling” anything, especially themselves, is a giant turn-off. As an introvert myself, I totally understand that. So think of it this way: selling is nothing more than sharing enthusiasm. In the case of your resume, you’re simply sharing enthusiasm about you and the value you can deliver.

Now being enthusiastic does not mean putting on a cheerleader’s outfit and waving pom-poms, or being braggadocios, or anything of the sort. It just means being positive about yourself, what you can do, and the value that you can bring. While this comes through much more openly during an interview, it also comes through indirectly from your resume. Your resume begins the process of getting an employer’s interest in you, so you want to enthusiastically share the good you can deliver before you ever meet in person. If you can’t be enthusiastic about yourself on paper, a great resume probably won’t really matter. Why? Because that same lack of enthusiasm will usually be very visible and work against you during an interview.

If you take away nothing more than this next point, you will be well on your way to creating a better resume, and a much better future for yourself. Here it is:

We don’t get paid for our time, we get paid for value. Does that strike you as odd? You might think, wait, I’m getting paid $20 per hour for my time right now. But that’s not true. If you were getting paid $20 for every hour of your time, you could just stay home and have your boss mail you a check. It may seem like your employer is paying for your time, but in reality you’re getting paid $20 for the value, i.e. the results, that you bring during that hour. Grasping this truth is key to putting together a great resume and negotiating a good salary.

So where does this mistaken idea of getting paid for time come from? The notion of getting paid for value was nothing new in the early days of America. People farmed, created products, or performed services that were valuable to others, and were paid an agreed-to price when they delivered. There was no idea of time involved, just results. People were paid after they actually delivered. The idea of being paid for “putting in 8 hours a day” came along with Henry Ford and the assembly line in the early 1900’s. By replacing highly-skilled craftsman with machines, Ford could employ low-skilled laborers to do the dull, repetitive tasks on the line. He originated the concept of having his men working shifts of 48 hours/week, and then later cut it back to 40.2 And so the false notion of paying for time rather than results was born. Despite the assembly line requiring less skill, the operations still needed to be done correctly, which effectively was the value being paid for, even though it wasn’t thought of in that way at the time. That is not the trend in today’s work world. We are trending back toward a results-based economy. Certainly, the dull, mundane jobs are still out there and always will be, but they don’t require a good resume, just a completed job application.

So how valuable are you to the market place?

In America, you can think of value as a ladder that you can climb as high as you want. It started at the bottom rung at about $7/hour and last year went up to $156 million dollars/year (David Zaslav of Discovery Communications). Why would the marketplace only pay someone $7/hour? Because they’re not very valuable to the marketplace. To be clear, I’m not talking about someone’s worth as a person, but strictly their value to the marketplace. It may not seem fair, but that’s the way our system works. The important thing to realize is that you don’t need to stay at the bottom of the ladder. Your resume can help you move up as far as you want to go.

So why would the market pay someone $70/hour? Evidently, they must be more valuable to the marketplace – ten times more valuable to be exact. What about someone being paid $700/hour? Evidently, that person must be bringing much, much more value to the marketplace. What about the person at the top of the ladder getting paid $156 million; why would anyone pay someone that much money? Suppose that person was the CEO and led the company to earn 1.14 billion dollars per year (as did Zaslav)? The company will gladly pay it.3

This brings us to the first, and most important secret about creating a great resume:

And it must do so clearly, completely, and quickly. If your resume effectively shows your value to a potential employer, and that value matches their needs, you absolutely will get an interview.

If your resume does not effectively show your value, it will be either filed or discarded, and it’s unlikely you’ll ever hear from them. It doesn’t matter how talented you are, what school you went to, how hard you work, or what you’ve done. If you can’t communicate your value well, you will not get noticed.

Secret 2 – Say it Quickly

Most resumes get less than a minute of attention. I’ve seen statistics claiming 30–45 seconds on average, with professional recruiters spending a mere 6 seconds. Personally I would agree, as I find myself going through them in much less than a minute unless something catches my eye. So you must say the right things to get noticed, and you have to say them quickly. You want to get right to the point in describing what you can do and clearly state why you are a good candidate. A 1–2 page resume is perfect. More than that is usually not going to get read.

Get five FREE samples resumes that really work!

Secret 3 – Pick the Right Format

Since we know that prospective employers won’t spend much time reading a resume, you don’t want to make them work hard to see why they should be interested in you. If your resume has no logical organization to it or is in any way hard to read, it will be cast aside. While there is no single magical formula for creating the ideal resume, there are basically two effective formats, and you will want to select the one that’s appropriate to your particular job search. You may even do a combination of both. The formats are:

Chronological – This is the most common type and is probably the one you were taught by your high school or college career counselor. Often these begin with a “Career Objective” statement at the beginning (which, by the way, is a total waste of time), and then starting at the present, goes back through time listing everywhere you’ve worked, with a few bullet points describing the kind of work you did at each job. At the end there is typically a description of one’s level of education, and personal information such as hobbies or community service involvement.

Functional – A functional resume gets straight to the point and can position you as good candidate immediately. You start a functional resume with a narrative-style profile about yourself that describes what you can do, a brief summary of your skills, or a concise description of your expertise. You might even title it “About”. It is also good to list some work history. No more than 10 years is really necessary. If you’re a college student, you probably don’t have much, if any full-time experience to list, but you can describe the skills you’ve used in co-op programs, community service, your school, or even your church.

If you want to stay in the same line of work and want to show you have a track record of success, a chronological resume is an excellent choice. Otherwise, I would suggest you go with the functional format. As someone who reads an awful lot of resumes, I can tell you that chronological resumes all tend to all look alike, are tedious to read, and often don’t describe a person’s real talent and value. They simply don’t stand out.

If you’re changing careers or just out of school, a functional resume will be your best bet. You want to emphasize your skills that fit the job you’re trying to get, not the ones you’ve had in the past (don’t even mention those if they’re not relevant). The functional formats also best for college graduates, because you don’t have a lot of history to share; you just want to describe what you can do and what makes you a stand-out pick.

Secret 4 – Degrees Don’t Matter (Much)

You can list degrees on your resume, and you probably should, but don’t count on them alone to get you an interview. Why? Because earning a college degree says you’re a good student, but it says nothing about the actual value you can deliver in the workplace. I have known employees with high GPAs from good schools who couldn’t do the work and had to be let go. However, listing an educational degree does indicate two positive things to an employer: 1) You are likely to show up for work every day, and you’ll probably be on time. You probably couldn’t have graduated otherwise. 2) You are trainable, which is important, because most good-paying jobs require ongoing training.

If you hold an MBA, you will of course want to list that on your resume. But know that employers are keenly aware that the MBA sadly has become the most frequently faked degree. It’s not fair to those who truly earned them and are talented, but the MBA simply doesn’t carry the weight it once did in making a candidate stand out on paper.

Misleading or exaggerated information should also be avoided. I once saw a resume that said “Attended West Point”. Later I learned that the person had merely attended a 2-day seminar held there. These little beauties tend to come out into the light eventually. It’s not worth the risk.

Secret 5 – Proofread

Spelling or grammar errors will get your resume tossed into the trash can almost instantly. With today’s word processors and access to online grammar resources, there is really no good excuse for spelling and grammar errors. To an employer, it can say anything from you’re lazy to that you won’t care about your work if hired.

So use spelling and grammar checkers and get a proof reader if you don’t trust yourself. Then let it sit overnight – literally. Print your resume and lay it on your desk. Come back in the morning with a fresh set of eyes and read over it with a pencil in hand. You will probably find more than a few things you need to change. Then, let someone else read over it to double-check everything. If it doesn’t read well to them, it won’t to your prospective employers either. Revise as necessary. Don’t skip this step!

Secret 6 – Looks Matter

If your resume has all sorts of strange fonts and colors and looks like a ransom note, it will get tossed. If it looks like an article from a scientific journal, it will probably also get tossed, unless you actually are looking for a job as a scientist. Also, don’t include a picture of yourself.4

You want to spend time getting your text nicely formatted. Use one or two easy-to-read, professional-looking fonts in sizes that aren’t too small. It’s OK to mix fonts if they complement each other, but if you’re not sure, stick with just one. Simple bullet styles are best. Right-justifying the text can be a nice touch – it gives a more polished look. I would also suggest not hyphenating for the sake of easier reading. Good styling can be a difficult thing to get right, so if need be, pay someone to help you with all of this, but don’t go overboard. Looks are important, but spending a lot of money on expensive, professionally designed templates won’t by itself result in an interview. What you are striving for is a balance that is “good enough”, and you will find a link to five proven resume templates below that can get you there.

And finally, do spend a few dollars on some nice paper and envelopes. Wait…what? Are you saying I shouldn’t email my resume?

Secret 7 – Mail It To The Right Person

Another key to getting an interview is to get your resume in the hands of the right person. If you simply email your resume to a company’s recruiter or personnel department, your odds of success drop signficantly. If you’re responding to an online job posting, you may have no other choice than email, but that’s not really the kind of job search I’d suggest you do. A really effective job search, which I’ll cover in the second part of this article, will most times have you stuffing envelopes.

So you want your resume delivered to the right person, and you want it to stand out in the pile on their desk. If you email it and let the employer print it out on plain paper, it’s going to look like all the rest, and that’s not what you want. You want to have yours on nice stationery grade paper, and probably not pure white. Something other than white is going to stand out noticeably in the pile, and good stationery just feels more professional in the hand. It’s all about getting you top-of-mind positioning, which is another topic for part 2.

Next Steps

After you’ve put together a good resume, the next task is to do a good job search. See you in part 2! Also, if you’re interested in five proven resume templates that work, just click the link below.

What struggles have you faced in creating a good resume?

  1. (or curriculum vitae)

  2. For those of you with a Christian worldview, now you know what happened to the 6th day of work mentioned in Exodus 20:9…

  3. My updated paraphrase of Jim Rohn’s excellent description about value from Three Keys to Greatness.

  4. Trust me on this…it’s unwise. It gains nothing unless you’re interviewing to be a fashion model.