So you want to know how to make your resume stand out?
A few years back me and my team asked ourselves the same question.
We set out to create a resume layout that will help our customers consistently get jobs that they want, not some jobs that were left.
But the generic “best practices from recruiters” advice was not very helpful.
List achievements over responsibilities, provide measurable results, add personality… Let’s be fair, everyone is already doing that, hence why sending resumes often feels like a lottery.
We needed something more practical and effective.
So we went ahead and analyzed our clients’ resumes that helped them secure jobs at the likes of Amazon, Spotify, PwC, Verizon, and other top companies.
Bit by bit we identified all the things that “clicked” with employers and recruiters, then performed solid A/B testing, and finally put together all our findings into one test resume.
When our “test” resume gathered over 1 million views, got covered by CNBC and Business Insider, and was praised by Mark Cuban, we knew we hit home — that resume did stand out.
You can find tons of celebrity resumes online. Not many of them get attention from Business Insider and CNBC though.
But after that we understood something else: small things matter. Every section of your resume needs to be carefully planned out for the major win to happen.
The advice you’ll learn from this article helped thousands of candidates to get interviews and jobs at the leading companies. We’ll be sharing their resumes as case studies.
Here’s what you’ll learn from this standout resume guide:
- How to make a resume that both stands out and get you interviews in 2020
- Case studies, tips, and examples from candidates that successfully landed jobs at top companies
- What resume layouts are getting more interviews and what less
- How to pass automatic HR filters when creating a stand out resume
What Makes a Resume Stand Out in 2020
At the end of the day, you want your resume to stand out and land you a job, not raise HR’s eyebrows or get shared on reddit for the sake of it.
So we won’t be using fancy fonts, or inserting funny pictures. Every example we provide and templates we use have been thoroughly tested with HR systems to pass automatic filters.
This guide will take your resume from good to great, and here’s how.
First, for every section we’ll cover a baseline, a bare minimum you need to do in order to have a competitive resume. Unfortunately, the majority of career guides stop at that.
From there we take it one step further with specific advice on how to make every section of your resume even more engaging and remarkable with out-of-box techniques.
Finally, we’ll talk about the power of formatting and layout in creating an outstanding resume.
Along the way, we’ll provide case studies and real-life examples that helped candidates land real jobs at the companies they wanted.
All tips applied will have a compound effect, giving you a substantial advantage over your competition.
Let’s dive in.
Create Attention-Grabbing Header Section
The Header is the top section of your resume. It includes your name, location, job title, and contact details.
Baseline: provide clear, typo-free contact and location details so that recruiters could contact you with zero effort.
Stand out: include a link to your developed LinkedIn profile, add a custom headline, consider adding a photo.
- Link to LinkedIn and/or personal portfolio website
Here’s a thing: 70% of recruiters will be checking your social media profiles. But the real bummer is that 79% of employers can reject candidates based on their social media.
Let’s turn this into our advantage and put a link to your LinkedIn profile in your Header section.
This will earn you extra points with recruiters and guide their attention to where you want them to be.
If you have a personal portfolio website that you want recruiters to see, link to it as well.
Gal included a link to his personal website to guide the recruiter’s attention, but also to keep his resume one-page without having to describe all the projects he’s worked on over the decade.
Pro tip: when applying for code-heavy jobs, consider linking to your Github.
b) Custom Headline
Recruiters will spend most of their time analyzing the top third of your resume, and a custom headline is one of the most powerful and often overlooked ways to grab their attention.
Headline goes immediately after your name on the resume and can include anything from your job title to a personal slogan.
However, you can do much better than simply putting your job title there., e.g. “System Administrator”.
Below are two amazing examples of a customized headline in action:
In the past, Daniel had two different jobs: Customer Support Engineer and Systems Administrator.
So he combined both qualifications in his headline, emphasizing experience with both people and systems.
This way he framed his diverse experience as an advantage before the recruiter even got to see the rest of the resume.
Result? Daniel was hired by Intercom. Check out the resume template that got Daniel the job.
For other jobs, you might want to get even more creative with your headline. For example, how are you going to stand out from hundreds of other marketers?
Wrong example: PPC specialist with 5 years of experience.
Right example: Fighting shady, aggressive marketing.
In his headline, Louis took a strong stance against something that was at the time a huge problem for established brands: shady viral marketing tactics of competition. Later he was hired by Hotjar. Check out the template that Louis used to get his dream job.
Custom headline allows you to frame the rest of your resume however you need, providing a halo effect. Daniel framed his work experience as an advantage for his next job, while Louis stood out from hundreds of marketers with the same skillset.
And the best part? Headlines can be easily tailored to every job you’re applying for, so you can easily switch between experience-based headlines, slogans, or anything related to your next job.
c) Should you include a photo in your resume or not?
Short answer: it depends. The best practice is to check company and government policy (including photos is illegal in some countries).
Sam wanted to switch careers, but her extensive investment banking background made her resume look a bit boring for a startup-tech world.
So she used one of our resume templates, including her photo and adding some personality to her resume, to successfully score a job at Spotify.
Use Summary That Captivates Recruiters
The summary section is a short paragraph or bulleted list that briefly describes your professional experience before the rest of your resume.
Sometimes Summary is called an “Objective”, especially if you are using it to explain why you’re applying for the job.
Baseline: short, easy-to-read, and impactful description of your professional experience
Stand out: make your Summary memorable, use a proper layout.
Think of your Summary section as a cold email you’re sending someone you don’t know. If it’s a long, boring, and self-centered cold email, no one wants to read that.
But if you research your recipient, create an engaging and short cold email, you have a much higher chance of someone responding to it.
The Summary section, when done right, is one of the most powerful ways of “aligning” you to the position.
Sometimes you’ll hear the opinion that the Summary section takes too much space on your resume.
First, there’s an easy fix to it.
Let’s look at Daniel’s resume once again.
He puts the Summary section to the right to his Experience section. Why?
When recruiters scan your resume, they are checking your experience section first, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn more about you after.
With his Summary, Daniel once again frames the recruiter’s perception, highlighting that the majority of his work experience was done remotely. It helps a lot given that the company he applied for, Intercom, is a fully remote company.
At the same time, he also provides some insight into his personality, as he knows how important culture fit is in remote companies.
Learn as much as you can about the company you’re applying for to know what’s important to them, and use this information to make your Summary more memorable.
Another great way to use the Summary section is when you’re switching careers, have no work experience, or have gaps in your work history.
Seeing your experience section, recruiters will immediately ask themselves questions: why are they making the career switch? Do they have enough experience?
Be proactive and address the elephant in the room yourself.
Akshay S. Rao put a brief summary section before his experience section to explain why he wants the internship with Tesla in the first place.
Check out the job-winning resume layout that Akshay used to land a promising internship.
Provide Quantifiable Achievements
One of the most common pieces of advice we hear from recruiters is “provide results, not responsibilities”.
Well, yeah, it’s great advice. But we can do even better than that.
Baseline: when describing your experience, demonstrate the impact of your work and contribution to the bottom-line of a company
Stand out: Add quantifiable achievements to other sections of your resume, creating a cohesive “rainmaker” narrative.
Compare these two Experience sections from our job-winning Tech resume guide.
The first example may seem clean and concise, but in reality, it’s generic and doesn’t bring impact.
When you provide quantifiable achievements in your resume, it’s not about bragging with numbers.
It gives recruiters the impression that the person knows the impact of their work and their value to the company. And knowing your impact makes you more effective and loyal, a recruiter’s dream.
Here’s a formula we are using to describe our experience in an engaging and impactful manner:
Accomplished [A] as measured in [B] by doing [C]
Just remember that quantifiable achievements don’t necessarily mean “numeric achievements”. Simply adding numbers to something doesn’t make it impactful.
As long as what you did makes an impact and benefits company, it will resonate with recruiters.
The best part is that you can demonstrate impact throughout other sections of your resume, instantly making them more engaging and effective: Summary, Projects, even your headline.
Maximilian Malterer, who now works at Amazon, used our “Most Proud of” section and moved it right next to his experience section.
No matter how recruiters will be scanning this resume, they will be seeing an impact.
Access the job-winning resume of Maximilian layout at our library of top-performing templates.
Highlight Awards And Recognitions
Baseline: candidates rarely have this section in their resumes
Stand out: adding an Achievements section to your resume sets you apart from the majority of candidates in the hiring pool.
If we were to summarize what sets apart the majority of our customers whose successful resumes we’ve used throughout this guide, we’d say custom sections.
“Achievements”, “Awards”, and “Most Proud” sections are all great examples.
Adding them within our resume builder is a one-step drag-and-drop process, but the most important part is that you can quickly change the whole layout based on your particular needs.
As mentioned before, Maximimilian put his most impactful Achievements right next to his Experience section, amplifying the overall impact, which is critical when you work with Amazon partners.
But Julian Prim, who now works with PwC, took a different approach. His high-stakes analyst job required extra attention to detail and next to perfect time-management skills.
After all, that’s what PwC had in mind for their operations specialist.
So Julian put his skills first to let recruiters know he checks all these boxes and added his “Most Proud” section below.
While Maximillians’s resume narrative is an ambitious and impactful account manager, Julian Prim is an efficient and timid analyst. The layouts of their resumes work great for both of them.
Pro tip: with simple drag and drop you can quickly change layouts and thus how your resume narrative.
Julian can easily become an ambitious superstar data wizard and apply for some hot BigData startup by simply dragging his “Most Proud” section to the top. Experiment with resume layouts by using the top-performing templates directly in our resume builder.
Tailor Your Resume
Tailoring your resume to the job description is an extremely effective strategy for landing more job interviews.
Just don’t overdo it, otherwise, your efforts might seem too obvious.
Baseline: include in your resume skills and keywords from your target job description
Stand out: group skills and provide context for your core skills to maximize the impact and prove that you actually have these skills.
There are several ways to feature both technical and soft skills on your resume.
The majority of candidates will simply list them, but for recruiters, it’s as engaging as reading someone’s shopping list.
Instead, we have a few more easy-to-read and effective options you can use.
Daniel is a technical person. It was important for him to showcase his technical skills when applying for a job at Intercom, but he didn’t want to scare off recruiters with a poorly formatted list of 100+ technologies he learned during his career in IT.
He mentioned many skills and technologies he worked with when describing his Experience section, but for the skills section he followed the old wisdom of “less is more”.
So he identified four of the most important groups of skills he has and presented them as engaging infographics.
Adapt this layout and try out various visual styles using our freely accessible resume templates.
Julian went for the jugular with his PwC analyst resume. He was perfectly aware that the majority of analysts lack soft skills, and that was a great opportunity to stand out from his competition.
But instead of simply listing soft skills he presented them in a real-world context. Finally, he renamed the whole section as “Strengths” to grab the recruiter’s attention.
Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to experiment with the names for your custom resume sections.
Recruiters are tired of seeing thousands of “My skills” sections to the point they automatically skim them.
But try naming them “Core strengths” or “Tech achievements” and you’ll hold their attention.
Show Your Career and Personal Story
So far we’ve managed to make every section of your resume stand out and engage recruiters, showcasing your experience and achievement in the most convincing way.
Let’s apply some final effort with custom sections that will push your resume into a league of its own.
Here are the four custom sections our customers most often add to their job-winning resumes:
- My time
- Life philosophy
Marcellus Nixon, now Senior Director of Network Operations, had an excellent work history in the network communications sector.
You can access Marcellus’s full resume template here.
But so did every candidate who was aiming for an executive role at Verizon.
At this level candidates rarely can outperform each other on a skill basis.
At the end of the day, organizations hire humans, and if recruiters feel that there’s a person behind all the achievements on your paper, they will remember you.
That’s why Marcellus decided to add “A Day In My Life” and “Life Philosophy” sections.
With these two custom sections, his resume narrative switched from “experienced network executive” to “experienced network executive with a strong work-ethic and a solid plan.”
Exactly what Verizon, a global network mogul, needs.
Apply Formatting Tricks To Create Stand Out Resume
Watch Out For White Space
According to an eye-tracking study from Ladders Inc, resumes that lack white space turn recruiters off.
The easier your resume reads, the more chances there will be that the recruiter reads every section of it.
If you have a lot to put on your resume, use smart layout and custom sections.
The two resume examples feature the same amount of information, yet the second one is much more engaging and easier to digest.
Pro tip: after you filled all the sections of your resume, look at it with your eyes squinted. If your resume feels like a big cluttered black spot, start decluttering it.
Declutter Your Resume With Minimalism Approach
Make a point of using as few words to describe your experience as possible. The worst thing you can do is trying to sound smart.
Bad example: developed an elaborate testing environment throughout a wide array of 22 company and partner software assets
Good example: Launched a test-to-production environment for 22 software products
Use Well-Tested Fonts And Combinations
Don’t be afraid to use several fonts on your resume, especially if you want to bold certain parts of your resume like headers or titles.
Just remember to limit yourself to only 3 fonts per resume, and try using font pairs that were already tested together by designers and user experience experts.
Make Colors Work For You
Here’s a really elaborate, but effective trick you can use to earn some extra points: try using the company’s brand colors on your resume.
Surely don’t put a company logo or use the exact color palette, go for a subtle effect.
It’s a bit of reverse psychology: in-house recruiters that know brand colors too well may subconsciously gravitate towards resumes with familiar colors.
Proofread Your Resume At Least 3 Times
Even the most elaborate and engaging resume can quickly become a recruiter’s kryptonite when a single typo creeps into your sentences.
Make sure to proofread your resumes at least three times before you send them out. If you’re using our resume builder, it will automatically check every resume you create or upload for typos.
Study Specific Cases Of Resumes That Stood Out From Competition
Stand out a resume with no work experience
- Put Education and Projects section on the top left and top right
- Hide GPA if it’s below 3
- Add a link to personal industry-related projects or Github if you’re in development
- Include a short objective to frame recruiter’s expectations
- Use custom sections (e.g. Projects and Certification) to stand out from hundreds of applicants
- DON’T mention passion in your objective.
Successful example: [internship at Tesla]
Stand out resume for a senior employee tips
- Use custom section to stand out from your competition and add personality to your top-management experience (e.g. “A Day In My Life” and “Life Philosophy” sections)
- Frame your experience with a well-researched custom headline on top
- Add links to a business-related profile (LinkedIn)
- Frame Skills sections in a unique way (e.g. name them “Workflows”, “Strengths”)
Successful example: senior manager resume at Verizon
Stand out resume for a person with bad work history
- Go for functional layout resume where skills and workflows are prioritized over experience section
- Create a proxy item in your experience section, e.g. “Freelancer”, or “Agency” and list your temporary experiences within it
- Write an engaging Summary section to address recruiter’s questions about your inconsistent work history and turn it into your advantage (e.g. several areas of competence)
- DON’T mention passion in your objective. Just don’t.
Stand out resume for different positions
Over years we’ve shared and updated a library of 530+ professional resume example guides with best practices and tips for specific job titles.
Simply type in the job title you’re applying for, and you’ll get a resume guide similar to this one with actionable tips specific to your dream job.
- Small details matter: make every section stand out for the compound effect
- Extensively research the company you’re applying for and use your findings in different sections
- Add custom sections to stand out and boost engagement with recruiters
- Visuals and readability matter more than you think. Watch your white space, fonts, and formatting.
Did you like the guide? Anything else that we’re forgetting and you might want to add? What are your tips for creating a stand-out resume? Jump in the discussion below.