To Write a Great Resume: Ask Yourself These 5 Questions

QuestionI have worked with professionals from just about every industry and level, which has given me interesting insights into how people from vastly different backgrounds define career fulfillment, value, and growth.

And here’s what I’ve learned: Almost anyone can explain the day–to–day, nitty gritty details of their job description.

But many struggle when it comes to communicating the end result of their work, and how those spreadsheets, reports, conference calls, campaign concepts, and big ideas create serious value for an organization.

They just don’t understand the impact of their work. And they don’t know how to articulate the difference they’ve made in their career.

Of course, each person’s backstory and future focus is unique. But it’s my job to help them discover what makes them employable… and how to make the next version of their resume really stand out against the competition.

So today, I’m going to share some of the key questions I ask my clients and colleagues to help them formulate a strong resume that will grab a hiring manager’s attention:

1) What Challenges Are You Having with the Current Resume?

This one might seem obvious, but when was the last time you really critiqued your own resume from a high level to understand where it’s not working for you? Maybe you haven’t had to use one formally, or it’s simply “always worked fine”. Here’s what I hear most often:

  • “It doesn’t present me at the level that I’m truly qualified for.”
  • “It’s too focused on everyday tasks, and doesn’t convey my accomplishments and value.”
  • “I have tried updating it so many times that I’m not sure whether I’ve cut out too much, or not enough.”
  • “It reads as more of a hands–on person than a strategic, high–level leader.”
  • “It’s too focused towards X industry, and I want to position myself for Y.”

2) What Are You Targeting?

A successful answer to this question rests upon an understanding that it has multiple levels. This includes: 1) the type of work you’d like to be doing day–to–day, 2) the level you would like to be considered for, and 3) the type of organization you feel would allow you to do your best work.

It’s not just about a job title, and in fact, most people don’t have that defined when they come to me. Surprising, right? But it’s less about job titles these days and more about where people feel their talents can provide the most impact, and the environment/company/industry that offers that opportunity. While having a defined job title will help you narrow down your focus and your marketing efforts, I also suggest answering this question in the bigger picture of those 3 areas, and then try talking it out with someone who will be objective and provide their honest feedback.

After all, if someone else can picture your ideal role from your description of it, then you’re on the right track.

3) How Do You Want to Position Yourself?

When a hiring manager, recruiter, or anyone else reads your resume, what is the key message you want them to walk away with, and is that idea supported in the document (hint: the summary section is a good place to work this in)?

For example:

  • “Even though I don’t quite have management experience, I work well with all different types of personalities, and I have always been promoted based on my ability to learn quickly, to adapt, and to be versatile to the needs of the role.”
  • “I’m a creative person and am constantly learning new software, but I’m also well–versed in the entire creative process from concept through completion, and I have the knowledge and experience to be able to lead a top performing creative team.”
  • “While most of my experience is in the non–profit sector, I bring a strong transferrable skill set that positions me well for a similar type of managerial role in the corporate arena.”

4) What Is the Core Value You’ve Brought to Your Role?

In other words, it’s not just about doing your job well – what has been the end result of your work, and I’m not talking just about quantifiable metrics, because that’s not applicable to all specialties.

How have you helped the company succeed, grow, scale, achieve profitability, diversify its portfolio, achieve stability, streamline its processes, think bigger or broader, create efficiency, develop a positive culture, pivot towards a new direction, stay competitive, attract top talent, etc.?

5) What Are the Top Skills and Strengths You Bring to the Table?

Think beyond the obvious – what else can you offer in comparison to someone else who might boast similar technical or practical skill sets? For example:

  • “Having run my own business (or worked for a small company), I’ve gained valuable exposure to all the different facets of an organization, and how they work together to make a company successful and operate effectively.”
  • “I have traveled across the globe on photo shoots for international campaigns, and I’ve gained exposure to a lot of different international markets in the process.”
  • “I’ve never stopped growing. In almost every organization, I’ve made it a point to learn everything I can about the business, the product, and the customer, and that’s led to a number of promotions.”

The secret to writing a powerful and impactful resume is… there really is no secret.

A big component lies in knowing what questions you need to be answering, and making sure the answers are coming across clearly, effectively, and in a way that supports both the content and the design of your document.

Start by asking yourself, and answering, the 5 questions above, and don’t stop at just one answer. Jot down multiple examples and iterations of how you might explain your value, your strengths, your ideal role, and how you want to position yourself. Think less about the actual language at first, and more about the bigger ideas you want to get across.

Those ideas serve not only as the foundation of your resume, but also the backbone of both your personal brand and your entire job search strategy.


For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Brooklyn Resume Studio!




DanaAbout the Author: Dana Leavy founded Aspyre Solutions, focusing on small business development and career consulting. Her mission is to support creative and socially-conscious small businesses, through career transition coaching and business consulting for creative professionals and entrepreneurs.

Dana has helped hundreds of professionals in advertising, marketing, design and other industries execute effective career plans to find and DO the work they are passionate about. She has presented seminars on navigating careers, transition and work-life balance to several colleges and universities, and her advice has been featured on MSN Careers, Fox Business News, NewsDay,, GlassDoor and Follow Dana on Twitter!



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