Writing a Powerful Resume

It is important to note that resume writing is an art, not a science.  Therefore, there is no singular method to be prescribed for all resumes.  Our advice is to aim high.  Be bold and creative.  Build a powerful and visually appealing document.   Challenge conventional resume logic. Challenge even the recommendations contained in this article.  After all, a resume style or approach is not one size fits all. This will only lead you to a better product, a better impression, and a higher probability of landing your next position.

We hope you find this resume guide useful.

If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Step 1: Determine Your Target Job, Type of Job, or Sector

The first step in writing an effective resume is determining the position or type of position you intend to pursue.  You’ll need a target to build your resume around.

Many people would suggest finding a specific position to target, and revise your resume for each position applied.  If ample time and consideration is not given to this effort, the contents typically wind up jammed together, fragmented, choppy, lacking flow and transparency, giving the impression the candidate is trying to hide a lack of genuine capability, or simply does not understand what he/she has to offer.

In order to effectively edit a resume specific to each position, significant time is required. In today’s competitive market where job many vacancies receive hundreds of applicants per position, this may not be an effective use of your time.

Instead, determine positions with a common scope; a type of position that you are targeting, and build your document to a common set of characteristics and requirements.  In this way, you will be able to effectively use your resume to apply to several positions, and your resume will be well suited to all of them.

Step 2: Understand Skills, Attributes, Characteristics Associated with The Position & Industry

Looking at a job posting will give you information, however you can’t build an effective resume with only the information contained in the announcement.  Your resume is your personal proposal, and similar to a business to business approach, if you want to succeed or obtain new work, you need to differentiate yourself from your competitors.  And if you don’t have a thorough understanding of your target environment, your resume will be more cosmetic in nature.

Truly understanding key attributes that position individuals for success in an industry or sector will prepare you to write a solid resume.  Looking beyond what is written on in the job posting and understanding industry concerns, revenue drivers, competencies required for various levels of involvement within the specific industry will allow you to truly demonstrate value and present yourself in a differentiative manner.  This gets past the “fill my resume with keywords” concept and into the strategically oriented concept; and in this manner, the keywords, power, and value will present themselves.

The beauty of this approach is that there is plenty of information available in most industries.  From a federal perspective, research the OPM series and core competencies associated with each grade/level of performance.  From a private sector perspective, there are organizations who define specific disciplines and employee core functions.

For example, an individual pursuing an executive leadership position may want to use the following resources:

Perhaps an individual pursuing a Chief Information Officer job may reference the following:

While this link has slightly less information, we can very easily see what activities are associated with the advanced level of each competency.  These are just a few resources; there are several available.  Use them!

**Note: Job boards, recruiters, companies, etc. use search capabilities to query the candidates within their databases to identify several pieces of information for multiple purposes.  These queries return results associated with a search criteria (keywords or key phrases).  These will give the searching entity information on such characteristics as:

  • Management skills
  • Technical expertise
  • Industry experience and knowledge
  • Education level
  • Experience and Work History

Based on these characteristics, resumes may also be ranked based on a number of different factors.

As such, it is not our intent to say that keywords are not important; rather to say that the appropriate use of keywords strategically placed within a resume add value, and this can be achieved by the above methods much better than by simply loading a document with “speculative buzzwords.”

Step 3: Choose a Resume Format and Build your Document Accordingly

The Chronological Resume Format:

This is the most common format.  It highlights work chronology; headings include dates, employers, job titles

In the following situations, this format may be effective:

  • You want to stay in the same career field
  • Your employment shows career progression and you are applying for the next sequential position
  • Your most recent position is high-powered and will generate interest
  • Employment gaps are non-existent or very limited

The Functional Resume Format

In this format, achievements and capabilities are listed as headings, rather than positions.  This gives the writer the ability to present information in a more advantageous/beneficial format.  Typically, employers, dates, and other such information is listed in a brief table within the resume.

Because the timeline and history are not as transparent as in the chronological format, recipients may be cautious of the writer’s intent for selecting this style.  As such, we typically do not recommend this format.

In the following situations, this format may be optimal:

  • You are applying for a career in an unrelated industry
  • You are re-entering the job market after a lengthy period of unemployment
  • Your prior experiences/involvements/accomplishments are significantly more substantive than recent ones
  • You have employment gaps that may be difficult to explain

The Combination Resume Format

The combination resume offers the advantages of both the chronological and functional resume format.  It highlights work history sequentially and relevant skills.  The chronological format is used, with skills being broken out in the content of each position.

For experienced professionals, this may be the most powerful and persuasive format.

In the following situations, this format may be effective:

  • Highlighting transferrable skills for career or industry-change
  • Seeking career advancement within current field

Step 4: Work Experience & Content

In this step, you will list your positions beginning with the most recent.

Use years when possible when presenting dates; it keeps the resume cleaner and makes it easier for an individual to understand at a glance.

There are a few things to consider when writing a resume.  First, writing a resume is more of an art than a science.  Challenge everything you’ve been told.  Example:  You needn’t put an exact or official title on your resume.  If your title is “Program Analyst,” but your role within a project was “Lead Analyst for Information Technology,” you would be well within your right to list the title of Lead Analyst.  It’s much more powerful, and demonstrates a higher level of responsibility.  Functional / descriptive titles are just fine, and they needn’t be official. You could even combine official with functional, i.e. Lead Program Analyst for Information Technology.  This is accurate, and represents your role very well.

The bottom line you need to understand from this idea is that you can put into your resume whatever you are able to validate and/or defend.  If you would be unable to adequately defend statements when questioned, don’t make them.  If you can easily explain or defend, feel free!

Present your qualifications in a manner that best presents you.  Take liberties, be creative, think outside the box, and do yourself justice!

We would suggest high level bulleted accomplishments, categorized if necessary; all below a position summary.

For example:

Served as chief executive of the national association of discipline 1, a 501 (c)(3) firm, charged with maintaining and advancing the discipline through management of standards; oversight of curriculum, education, and certification programs; and requirements, and management/maintenance of testing systems and methods. Total control of budget process, funding programs, and expense control, resulting in an approximate 1,000% increase in operating income and significant operating surpluses. Specific management involvements and accomplishments include:

Fundraising, Financial Management, and Coalition Building

  • Directed fundraising strategy and efforts; realizing more than a ten-fold top-line revenue increase during tenure.
  • Brokered key relationships with sponsors and increased collaborative relations with stakeholders, facilitating an approximate 2,000% increase in sponsorship revenues.
  • Developed, introduced, and led new certifications and credentialing programs, resulting in an approximate 500 % increase in testing revenue.
  • Led efforts to acquire association facility and other capital assets; equity appreciation alone has provided highest level of net assets in association history.
  • Established capital reserve accounts and managed investment strategies for association.

Organizational Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Stewarding Growth

  • Led multi-year membership campaigns, public affairs efforts, and multiple programs that facilitated a 10% compound annual growth rate in association membership over an 18 year period.
  • Sub-bullet
  • Sub-bullet

This method is scalable to allow transparent presentation and organization of multiple capabilities/sub-capabilities.

Step 5: Education

Depending on your experience and the type of job for which you intend to apply, education may play a key role in your application.  It is important that your education credentials are easily recognizable during a brief scan of your qualifications.

On most resumes, Education section is usually placed at or near the end of the resume, however at times it may be beneficial to place it closer to the top.  These situations may include:

  • If your education is highly relevant to your job objective.
  • If you’re a new graduate.
  • If you have no employment experience in the field you are going into, but have a degree or training in that field.

It is important to note that we advocate a “first page dashboard” type of approach for seasoned individuals, and accordingly, education is typically found on the first page of our hybrid approach resumes.

Here is guidance on how to list your education, whether you choose to include it at the top or bottom.

If you have a degree (or multiple degrees):

  • List the institution for each degree awarded.
  • List only the institution that awarded the degree, even if you attended multiple.
  • There may be times when it is beneficial to bend this rule. Consider value lost if you went to an Ivy League institution that specializes in field x; yet graduated from a lower visibility institution.  In this circumstance, it may be beneficial to annotate x number of semester hours of y discipline attended at University ABC.  This represents a singular and simple example.  There are several more, many with more convincing arguments made for naming multiple institutions.

Dates of attendance & graduation are optional. They can give the reader an idea of age, relevance of education to current professional environment (think technological change), etc.  In most situations, our advice is that placing education dates is more risky than helpful.

Majors, minors, internships, and other coursework should be listed only if there is relevance to the target job. The degree title may be spelled out or abbreviated, however we prefer to spell it out.

Some College, but no degree anticipated in the near-term:
Include institution name and scope of study.

Some College and anticipate completing in the near-term:
Follow the same advice already mentioned in the Education section of this article, and include a date at which you intend to graduate by using a phrase such as “anticipated graduation xyz” or offer a date asterisk “pending Thesis review,” etc.

There are times when a professional certificate may be required, or may be as valuable as a degree.
Make sure you include them!
We won’t go into details, but list them in order of relevance or value.

Step 6: Demonstration of Achievement / Differentiation

This section addresses your performance, achievement, and what makes you the right candidate.

We prefer a section toward the top of the resume (first page) indicating notable accomplishments or skills with an advanced proficiency.  Putting solid accomplishments and abilities up front gives you the ability to grab the reviewer’s attention early.  If you construct a resume powerfully enough, you may be able to convince the reader to interview you or extend an offer of employment simply based on your ‘dashboard’ on the initial page.

Being able to effectively demonstrate your value will make your resume significantly more competitive.

  • Stop using your job description as your resume text.
  • Stop writing your job duties.
  • Stop writing excessive content.
  • Start including the actions that delivered results.
  • Start writing your accomplishments and benefit to the organization.
  • Start writing strategic and concise content.

Simply regurgitating job responsibilities does nothing to differentiate you from the competition.  We’ve all worked side by side with a coworker who had the same job responsibilities and didn’t deliver.  If you only list the job description and put both resumes in front of an employer, you look the same.  This really does a disservice to the individual who achieved while in that role.

In outlining your accomplishments, you demonstrate that:

  • You have the experience and skills to succeed in such positions
  • You take pride in your work; your efforts represent more than simply ‘earning a paycheck’
  • You understand how your efforts/role fit in the larger organizational structure; your value; and what it takes to succeed, both from an individual and organizational standpoint.  This translates into vertical mobility.

In writing your resume content, think about your job duties.  Consider what you do regularly, and how you’ve done it differently.  What benefit did it deliver to the organization? What would be the impact if you were not working in this role?  These questions will help you get at the value of what your position.

Once you have a solid understanding of the value you’ve delivered, think about how to quantify your achievements.

For instance, you may aggregate data from multiple databases and deliver reports to management.

Option 1:  Query data to deliver weekly reports to leadership and senior managers.

Now take a moment to stop and think:  What did you do?  For whom?  How did you complete it? What was its organizational function or value? How can you quantify it to make the scale or scope more transparent?

Option 2:  Delivering financial analyses and recommendations to senior management:  Leveraging ETL capabilities to aggregate and analyze financial data from multiple disparate sources; delivering financial reports and recommendations to the Chief Operating Officer regarding program and operational effectiveness for a portfolio valued at $120M.

Other examples include:

Increased sponsorship revenues twenty-fold

Brokered key relationships with sponsors and increased collaborative relations with stakeholders, facilitating an approximate 2,000% increase in sponsorship revenues.

Established government affairs program

Led multi-year membership campaigns, public affairs efforts, and multiple programs that facilitated a 10% compound annual growth rate in association membership over an 18 year period.

Data Collection, Analysis & Reporting: In an effort to streamline departmental deficiencies or short-comings, actively evaluate Program’s level of efficiency in an effort to constantly raise the bar on the “quality of service” dispensed under Program. To improve upon the success rate and quicken the recovery time of record requests, routinely employ effective communication and problem-solving skills through collaborative efforts with HQ Offices, Field Offices, Record Centers, to conduct extensive data-gathering, data-comparisons, and analytical research to report findings and suggestions in oral/ written formats to mid and senior-level management. Conducted studies, established a hypothesis and proposed recommendations to mid-level management when spearheading the task involving the reconciliation of…….


Leading multiple efforts to streamline and automate agency-wide accessibility to immigration & naturalization records and retrieval tools. Conducting independent research, reporting quantitative and qualitative data in an array of formats (i.e. PivotTables, Access Databases and Charts/ Graphs), conducting cost-benefit analyses, reporting recommendations, & briefing leadership. Efforts are projected to save organizational resources (i.e. money, labor and supplies) at no less than 25% and increase annual fee revenue by approximately 52%.

Step 7: Career Summary

Many of us have seen resumes with an Objective presented at the very beginning of the resume. Consider this: People are inherently selfish, and the job market is increasingly competitive. Will you make more progress by telling people what you want, or by telling them what you can do for them?

The Objective statement is outdated.  Do not use it.  Instead, replace with a career summary.  Include a very concise paragraph that gets to the heart of who you are, your top professional capabilities, the value you deliver, and the environments you’ve operated in.  This is your first chance to really sell yourself.

Example 1

Seasoned executive director with over twenty-five years of rich strategic and operations management experience within and across dynamic political and advocacy environments. Creative, forward-thinking, analytical leader with demonstrated pattern of challenging existing boundaries and constraints to incite organizational performance, generate growth, and deliver results. Proven ability to build coalitions, improve performance, take entrepreneurial action to achieve large-scale long-term gains, develop human capital and empower workforce, and align strategies to effectively position organizations to respond to external stimuli. Proficiency in building rapport and communicating strategies and results with key stakeholders and many levels of organizational leadership. Hands-on manager with ability to mold office culture to fit board-desired approach.

Example 2

Results driven Project Management professional with 10 years of experience supporting and improving Federal operations, analyzing and enhancing complex processes, managing technology, conducting oversight of staff and teams, and analyzing/reporting.  Adept at managing visible projects in fast passed environments.  Recognized successes in reconciliations, organizing people & resources for efficiency & success, anticipating customer needs, and developing solutions.  Proven developer of creative and innovative solutions to solve complex business problems.  Effective in building rapport and communicating across organizations and multiple levels of leadership.

Step 8: Format, Headline, Proofread

This is another situation where we would advise you to toss out conventional resume logic.  Take risks (calculated risks).  Be creative.

Format:  Stop going for the typical “black & white with bullets” as the only format.

This is another way to differentiate yourself.  Add a splash of color, maybe a simple design.  Be creative, yet conservative.

If a hiring manager has 10 resumes to choose from and 9 look like black & white newspapers, and one is very nicely designed, organized well, uses color minimally and optimally, who do you think gets the first look/consideration?

Feel free to use lines to help break up sections, divide content, or control where the eye is drawn.

Experiment using different text sizes, different text shades, underlines, etc., to make some points more visible.  Obviously there are some areas that are more important in a resume, and it is important that the reader receive all of these points.

A resume is your value proposal.  Formatting is another way to control the reader and to draw them in by presenting the information in a manner that prompts the user to receive it in the most beneficial sequence.

Email address:  Please make sure your email address is representative of the image you would like to portray.  For example, if you own a party planning business, PartyGirl1980@Yahoo.com may be appropriate to put on correspondence.   However, if applying for a professional occupation, perhaps something such as AmberSasser2@Yahoo.com would be much better.

Consider even the impact of the date in the email address.  Frequently this indicates a birth year, and allows a reader to assume an applicant’s age.  Keep these references at a minimum to reduce the opportunity for age related bias.

Name:  Additionally, names come into play as well.

If my name were Nikolaj Akinnagbe, I would consider using “Nick” on my resume.  A middle name or nickname may be appropriate to use.

Use your judgment in this situation.  Consider a hiring manager who has 2 resumes to choose from and both candidates have equivalent skills and experience.  There is the potential for “Joe” to receive a call first, before “Nikolaj” simply because the name is easier.  Additionally, names can indicate culture, etc. and may skew a reviewer to go a direction based on some level of personal preference or bias.