Career & Finance

How to Format Your Resume and the Mistakes to Avoid, According to an Expert


Is there anything more frustrating than creating a resume? Maybe assembling Swedish furniture, but other than that, I’m drawing a blank. The stakes are high, it’s squeezed in during time you’d rather spend doing anything else, and it’s nearly impossible to sum up all of your qualifications on a single page. 

In short, writing a resume is hard and stressful. Luckily, we have technology to help us out. And even luckier, I had a chance to speak with a top resume expert. Enter Katie Sullivan, Senior Program Manager at Microsoft. She helped create Microsoft’s Resume Assistant, which is an easy-to-use resume creation tool that integrates with LinkedIn so you can customize your resume based on the role you’re actually applying for on that platform.

Since resumes are clearly something Katie knows a thing or two about, I wanted to get her top resume tips, from how to make your resume stand out to what mistakes you should avoid. 


1. Understand the role you want

Before starting the actual resume writing process, Katie recommends that you take time to fully understand the role you want, which you can do by reviewing the LinkedIn profiles of people with the title of the role you’re applying for. How are they describing their work experience? Carefully review the desired skills and qualifications listed on the job posting and see how you can incorporate those into your resume. Katie noted that Resume Assistant can do a lot of the work for you, as it can show you examples of how people with similar roles describe their work experience and skills—so you can tailor your resume to the job you want, not the job you have. 


2. Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes

Next, Katie suggests that you do a little role play, “Pretend you’re the hiring manager making decisions about the position you’re applying for. What kind of candidate would you select? What experience would you want, and what accomplishments would you want to see?” She noted that it can be difficult to promote ourselves, which can cause some major resume frustration, “It can be hard to market ourselves. This can be especially true for women. Research shows that women don’t apply for jobs unless they’re 100 percent qualified. It can be easier to frame your accomplishments when you approach your resume from the perspective of what you would want in an applicant if you were the hiring manager,” Katie said.


3. Identify your strengths

It’s time to brag about yourself, and you should start internally. “As you begin to craft your resume, take a moment to ask yourself, ‘What sets me apart from others?’ Consider your previous roles and experiences to help you identify your strengths and accomplishments,” Katie advised. She said the goal of doing this is to capture your relevant experience for the role, while also distinguishing yourself from the pool of candidates.


4. Don’t overlook your passions

Now it’s time to get personal. And no, Katie isn’t advertising you head into TMI territory, but she does recommend sharing your passions on your resume, “Whether this is your first job or your fifth, include interests and areas of focus outside of the office. Doing so provides additional examples of how you apply your skills to advance your personal goals,” Katie suggested.


5. Use action verbs 

A few vocab tweaks here and there can make all the difference for your resume. For Katie, action verbs have the strongest effect. She believes they can demonstrate the detail and breadth of your work. For example, a mediocre resume will state that you “developed materials.” A great resume will highlight that you “led and developed materials resulting in an increase in company profit by 50 percent.” 


6. Avoid common mistakes

Nothing will annoy a hiring manager more than seeing the same mistakes again and again. Of course, they don’t want to see any mistakes, but you really don’t want to be a candidate that falls prey to common ones. Katie knows from personal experience just how damaging these mistakes can be. “Over the years, I’ve reviewed many resumes that did not appear to be tailored for the specific role. That’s a sure way to demonstrate a lack of interest in the specific role to which you’re applying.” Katie noted. “I’ve conducted many interviews where I’ve learned candidates have valuable experience that was missing from their resume. Be sure to re-approach your resume with each new job application, because no two jobs are the same.”

Of course, you’ll also want to catch any typos and grammar errors that can stick out like a sore thumb. And you should avoid making claims on your resume without backing them up, “I recently saw a tech resume with an ‘Areas of Interest’ section that included software design, but had no mention of coding projects or languages. Calling out skills acquired from your personal projects can be really compelling to employers, especially when you can tie it back to the role you’re applying for,” Katie advised.


7. Learn how to stand out 

When I asked Katie what she thought could really make a resume stand out amongst the crowd, she suggested mastering the humble brag. Katie explicitly suggested outlining your specific responsibilities, how your efforts moved the needle at your company, and how you implement processes that lead towards improvement. 


8. Avoid the cookie-cutter resume 

Last, but certainly not least, Katie would like you to remember that resumes are not one-size-fits-all, so you should be customizing your resume for the specific roles you apply for. “While it may be tempting to send the same version to every job you’re applying for, it’s crucial that you tailor your experience for the role you’re pursuing. Don’t be afraid to be bold and let your personality shine through,” Katie said.