How to Build a Winning Resume   

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Job openings easily draw hundreds of resumes and yours could just as easily drown in the white noise. How to make your resume stand out and get you the phone calls from recruiters?  What to include and what to leave out? Today, we have a special guest, Mary Springer, CPHR, Principal Consultant in a recruiting firm who shares her best advice and tells it all as it is.  

  • What are recruiters looking for when it comes to a resume?
  • As a recruiter, I am grateful when I get a resume that in the first 10 seconds tells me why a candidate is applying for this particular job. Don’t send the same generic resume to all companies you are interested in. When you find a posting you like, tailor your resume to highlight the relevance of your skills to the requirements of this particular job. Tailoring is as easy as bringing to the front page 3-4 lines that summarize when you have done those tasks, for how long and to what extent. It could be a simple statement such as “I worked for a Sewing Machine company for 2 years, I met and exceeded my sales targets by selling XX sewing machines.” If I see you are qualified for the job – I will call you right away! At the same time, I don’t care of you are a Shakespeare – if I don’t need a playwright, I am not calling you.


  • Is there such a thing as an optimal length of a resume?
  • The optimal length is about 2 pages. The reason people end up with an excessively long resume is that they list everything they had done in their entire career, spell out entire job descriptions hoping that all 10 pages will be read. List only the most recent 3 jobs, for everything else just give a company name, the title you had and the timeframe of your employment there.


  • Often, resumes start with an objective. What are your thoughts on that?
  • We already know you are looking for a job, so no reason to tell that in your objective. The objective is usually a meaningless, often poetic line that doesn’t add value. Sometimes a candidate falls in love with their line and keeps it for applying for all jobs that come their way. No wonder why the recruiter doesn’t call you. The brief summary of your most relevant skills on the front page is much more effective.


  • How do you recommend to deal with employment gaps?
  • Answer for all the gaps – simply explain what you were doing during those times. Otherwise, the recruiter may assume you were in jail or were living in your mom’s basement. Some people end up with gaps on their resume because they believe it’s best to omit the “irrelevant” experiences. It’s often the case with new immigrants – they are advised to exclude their taxi driving experience when looking for a more highly qualified position. But I am not going to blame them for having filled the gap in their employment history with an unrelated job. You have to pay the bills and we fully understand that. I would rather see that on your resume than think that you were collecting welfare. Same is true if you spent the time away from work traveling the world or working for a temp agency – honesty is the best policy.


  • Do you recommend writing your own resume or hiring a professional service?
  • It depends. If you are unsure of your resume writing skills, hire a professional to lay it out for you, but you still need to tailor it to specific jobs.


  • What do you think about sending a cover letter with every resume?
  • I see cover letters as a waste of time. A recruiter has to look at 100 resumes to save only the most relevant ones. They quickly scan through the document and if there is nothing on it clearly showing that the candidate can do the job, they go to the next one. Cover letters are usually generic and recruiters don’t give much value to them.


  • Are there any other tips on how to make a winning resume?
  • There are many details that people don’t always pay attention to. For example, how they save the file name of their electronic resume – keep it short, to the point, and no one needs to know that it’s the “final version”. Provide your full name and the city you are located in. When listing your previous jobs, specify the months of your employment too, not only the year.  Otherwise, the recruiter will assume that you only worked for the company for 2-3 months. Avoid cute sayings, smiley faces and other ways of showing too much personality on your resume – all that makes you stand out but not in a good way. To respect everyone’s time, keep it short and professional, provide facts, not opinions. Lastly, pay attention to spelling and grammar, especially if you are applying for higher level positions.

And to leave you on the most positive note – it’s easier than you think to get to the top 10% of candidates even at the times of high unemployment! On an average job posting, a typical recruiter goes through 100 resumes and selects 20 candidates for the initial phone interview. Out of those 20, about 5 cannot be reached by email or phone. Out of the 15 who do answer their phone, there are always those who have no idea who is calling, do not sound interested enough or are flat out alarming to talk to. After sorting them out, there is only a handful of candidates left who she feels comfortable to introduce to the hiring manager. So you always have a chance for a successful interview leading to your dream job if you have done your research about the opportunity at hand and have created a succinct and clean resume to represent you.

 Share in the comments your concerns, your questions or your success stories in regards to the resume writing or a job search.

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  1. What a great article Natella. Mary Springer has provided some excellent feedback for anyone looking for a new career opportunity. From the perspective of a manager involved in the hiring process I could not agree more with her answers. It’s amazing how quickly a high quality resume can grab your attention and how quickly a poor quality resume gets tossed into the recycle bin. If a candidate can’t get a simple resume right how am I supposed to have any confidence in their ability to excel in a position within my company?

    1. Hi Jason thank you very much. Mary indeed is an excellent resource when it comes to anything to do with HR and I’m grateful for her time sharing with us her very useful tips. I believe when people get their resume done right that’s the best start they can give their job search and it makes life easier for everyone else including recruiters and the hiring managers like yourself. Aside from saving trees, given how quickly weak resumes end up tossed out. 🙂

  2. Thank you for the interesting post, Natella! Very helpful for anyone who is looking for a job and is going to write a resume. A succesful resume increases our chances to get a desired job. I agree with Mary, the hiring expert, that a resume should be short and to the point. Though some people still mistakenly believe the longer their CVs the bigger their chances to get a job! It reminded me the times when I was writing my resume and all the useful tips I got from a very experienced and a good person who helped me in building my winning resume.

    1. You are most welcome Melissa. And it’s true, there are many misconceptions about what a resume should look like. One of the commons: including too much detail on the resume which makes it unreadably long. I’m glad to hear your got the help you needed with building your winning resume.

  3. Great post, Natella! Thank you very much! And very special thanks to Mary Springer for such a helpful tips!