Expert Advice on Writing a Compelling Résumé

A web developer's resume is on a table next to a cup of coffee and succulent.

As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. And when it comes to applying for a job, that first impression is your résumé. That isn’t to say that you won’t have one or more opportunities to make a great impression as you move through the interview process, but having a strong résumé is essential.

“A résumé isn’t going to get you the job, but it is going to get you the interview,” says Barbara McCleave, SPHR, SHRM-CP, whose credentials are human resources (HR) certifications. Barbara is an HR Recruiter for Catholic Charities of Long Island and a Career Counselor at the North Babylon Library in Long Island, New York. 

She says that when writing an effective résumé, you want to tell a story about yourself, your accomplishments, and your aspirations.

“One of my favorite interview questions is ‘Can you tell me about a work-related accomplishment you’re particularly proud of?’” Barbara says. “That’s very different from the question, ‘Tell me about an accomplishment your boss really appreciated.’ When you ask the first question, you’re getting at a person’s enthusiasms and interests, which is like a nuclear-powered skill.”

Putting your résumé in order

Like any good story, a résumé needs to be well-organized, which starts with formatting. The format of your résumé depends on factors like the kind of job you’re applying for and how many years of experience you have. Still, Barbara urges job seekers to consider their résumé a marketing document.

“Recruiters have to look at hundreds of résumés,” she says, “so including your skills, experience, and abilities right up front in a summary is going to make it more likely your résumé gets consideration.”


Although traditionally, an applicant’s professional objective would go under their contact information, Barbara recommends leading with the summary. Emphasize what you want for yourself and who you are professionally. The summary might include proven skills, a demonstrated ability to get results, or specialized knowledge, such as being bilingual, which Barbara says is a sought-after skill. If you’re fresh out of school, lead with your educational accomplishments.


Of course, your résumé needs to start with a header. Only include your name and phone number and a link to your LinkedIn profile if you have one, in bold type. Barbara recommends not including any other details like your address or even your middle initial in the age of identity theft.

Work experience

After your header and summary, you can get into your specific work experience. You don’t have to limit yourself to one page – although some recruiters may later ask for a one-page summary – especially if you’ve had a long career or multiple promotions.

“Don’t constrain yourself,” Barbara recommends. “Some people have had numerous jobs, or they’ve increased their scope of responsibilities progressively through a company. Get those title changes in there because the premise is ‘promotable.’ Your past performance predicts your future.”

She adds that keywords are essential today. That means using the industry-accepted term for your job or skill. For example, Barbara would call herself a Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist, although that’s never been her title. List your exact titles in your job history to sync up with what a past employer might say about you. Also, be specific when it’s beneficial. For example, a nurse should include what departments they’ve worked in and any special skills.

Letting your best self shine

If you want to make a career change, emphasize transferrable skills on your résumé rather than industry-specific abilities. For example, if you’ve done a lot of collaborations or are good at problem-solving, that’s something to highlight.

“When you talk about abilities, it’s usually about the ability to persevere or succeed,” Barbara says. “People hire people to solve problems.”

When creating or revising your résumé, think about the accomplishments you’re the most proud of over the last ten years – whether it’s in school, work, or life. Listing those out not only makes for a résumé that shows the enthusiasm that will grab a recruiter or hiring manager’s attention. It can even help you guide the direction of an interview.

“Listing the things you’re proudest of will lead a horse to water because you’re saying, ‘Invite me to tell you more about these things I’m proud of,’” Barbara says. “And by listing out all of those accomplishments, you’ve refreshed your own memory and are 90% ready for the interview because you’ll be prepared to talk about yourself.”

Learn more: 

Watch the APH ConnectCenter’s Employment Connections webinar where we explore the topic of preparing a strong résumé with Barbara in more detail.