Good Résumé versus Great Résumé

Julie Shenkman
Posted by in Career Advice

There are clear differences between a good résumé and a great résumé.

  • A good résumé is a glorified application. This type of résumé explains to the hiring manager the following information in this order: dates of employment, companies, titles held, and job functions. It concludes with when and where you received your education. It is good because the hiring manager can get a clear summation of your past experience and education.
  • A great résumé is a marketing brochure. This résumé highlights the scope and depth of your experience. It describes the expertise you have developed throughout your career that relates to your future employer's needs. A great résumé communicates a compelling reason for the prospective employer to need and want your services.

Good résumés identify where you went to school, the jobs you have had, and your responsibility in those jobs. Great résumés extract the relevant accomplishments from your past experiences and highlight them. This prompts the interviewer to ask about them with the future in mind.

Great résumés also pave the way for great interviews. A well-crafted résumé will prompt the interviewer to target specific areas that are most relevant to the open position. A résumé that lists everything you have ever done requires you to be prepared to talk about all these things in an interview. It is difficult to prepare for such an extensive interview and can lead the interview astray.

Create a Great Résumé

Once you have adopted a future-focused orientation, you are ready to create your résumé. The presentation of your information, the layout, and the language you use to communicate value are extremely important. There are only two things you can be sure a hiring manager will do when reviewing your résumé: (1) Hiring managers will begin reviewing a résumé by starting at the top, and they will read the lines from left to right. (2) Their first impression will have the greatest impact and will influence how they perceive you. It creates the lens through which all other information is filtered.

Based on these principles, it is essential that the most relevant, important information be presented at the top and along the left side of your résumé. The least important information should be at the bottom and along the right side.

Résumé Format

In order to transform your résumé from a good résumé to a great résumé, concentrate on using your layout and language most effectively. Here's how.


The main heading is where you provide contact information for the hiring managers. Your main heading lets them know who you are and where you can be reached. This section should be designed like a professional letterhead. Résumés are formal documents, so you should not use abbreviations here.


Fran C. Smith

1153 Terry Avenue - Atlanta, Georgia 30306 - - 404-555-1234

The main heading highlights your name and provides the contact information on one line, followed by a divider line. This format saves space that can be dedicated to communicating more of your strengths. Notice that it is not necessary to label the phone number or e-mail address; these items are understood. Be as concise as possible.

Use the same heading on your references page, cover letters, and thank-you letters. By creating a professional-looking letterhead, you offer a consistent image to the hiring manager. It also allows the hiring manager to quickly access your contact information on every document.

Section headings are titles you assign to different areas of your résumé. For example, your employment section will have one heading. Your education and community activities sections will have their own headings.

Section headings are extremely important. A section name influences how the hiring manager perceives the information within the heading. If you use an objective statement as your first section heading, you communicate your needs to the hiring manager. You are saying to the hiring manager, "My objective is to get a job."

If your first section is a summary of qualifications, your section heading communicates the value you offer the hiring manager. You focus the reader on the ways you will meet the company's needs. This heading also tells the hiring manager you are indeed "qualified" for the position. You summarize the qualifications that will be explained in detail in the remainder of the résumé.

A summary of qualifications should be confined to three high-impact statements.

  • The first statement should highlight your years of experience in the profession and industry.
  • The second statement should identify the areas of expertise you want to emphasize.
  • The third statement should identify personal attributes that are important to the role and company.


Summary of Qualifications

Offers more than 10 years of progressive advancement in the manufacturing industry, serving as an operations executive. Demonstrates a proven record of success in leading as many as 250 associates, streamlining business processes, and managing multiple projects delivered on time and within budget. Possesses exceptional communication skills and the ability to develop high-performance teams.

While "Summary of Qualifications" is the best section heading to begin your résumé, there are several exceptions to the rule. If you fall into one of these exceptions, then you need to consider beginning your résumé with an objective statement.

Exception 1: Clarity. If you are making a transition by applying for a position that diverges from your past experience, an objective statement is needed, since your skills are not an obvious or solid match for the position. Use the objective statement to clarify your interest in the position and show that your skills are transferable.

Exception 2: Intent. If you do not use a cover letter to introduce your purpose in sending the résumé, an objective statement is appropriate. The objective statement communicates the purpose of your résumé. In this circumstance, the objective should be very direct and specific to the prospective company and position.

Additional section headings that are useful in constructing a résumé that communicates value to a hiring manager include:

  • Areas of Expertise
  • Career Highlights
  • Professional Achievements
  • Key Accomplishments

These sections follow your summary of qualifications. They emphasize specific strengths you have developed throughout your career. These sections provide an opportunity to bring special attention to experiences that are most relevant to the hiring manager, regardless of when and where they occurred.

For example, if you want to convey that your experience as a leader is a key asset even though your leadership experience has been in a different industry, you can emphasize this in a leadership experience section. This way, the hiring manager focuses on your leadership qualifications first before reading about it later in the context of the industry.

Be careful not to give too much information in this section. For example, if you create an areas of expertise section, ideally confine your expertise to four areas and not more than six areas. Listing too many areas dilutes the depth of expertise. The same holds true for accomplishments and achievements. Focus the hiring manager's attention on your most important accomplishments by creating three strong statements.

Select a high-impact section heading for your employment section. Do not use "Employment History" or "Work Experience." These headings are vague and generic. The terms employment and work define virtually every type of job available, from soda jerk or paperboy to corporate CEO or marketing director.

Instead, create a compelling section heading that optimizes your experience. The following section headings are appropriate for professional résumés. They communicate a career path, versus a series of jobs.

  • Career Progression
  • Career Advancement
  • Professional Experience

Now you are ready to arrange the most important information at the top left of the page and least important information at the bottom right. Start with what is most compelling to the hiring manager. Begin with your professional title or your industry and company name. Then list the location and your dates of employment to the right.


Marketing Director 
XYZ Industries, Atlanta, Georgia

June 1992-June 2002


Résumé Length

There are differing opinions regarding the appropriate length of a résumé. The general rule regarding résumé length is:

  • One page for less than 10 years of professional experience
  • Two pages for more than 10 years of professional experience

However, this rule can vary depending on your circumstances. For example, say you have more than 20 years of professional experience. If the last 5 to 10 years are the most relevant and substantial, then a one-page résumé that highlights this experience may be more appropriate.

This conversation between an author and his editor illustrates why you should pay attention to your résumé length.

Editor: I like your book except for the ending.

Author: What's wrong with the ending?

Editor: It should be closer to the beginning.

More is not better in résumé writing. Your objective is to keep the hiring manager's attention focused on your skills that add immediate value to the company. If you describe every experience and function of your entire career, you risk diverting the focus away from the parts of your résumé that are most important.

Additionally, if you put every single experience on your résumé, you have to be prepared to discuss every single experience in the interview. As a result, your interview will be more difficult to prepare for and you run the risk of being asked about experiences that are not relevant to the position. You may be perceived as "not a good fit" because, based on your résumé, the hiring manager asked about the wrong skill, rather than what was needed for that particular position.

Résumé Content

Transform your résumé from a description of job functions to a series of accomplishment statements that are of interest to the hiring manager. To do this, read your job function statements and ask yourself:

  • What was the purpose of this responsibility/project/task?
  • How was this job function relevant to the company?
  • Did this job function save time, save money, increase revenue, improve a process/policy/infrastructure?

The answers to these questions are typically the most important elements of the résumé to the hiring manager and need to be communicated clearly.

Reprinted from: The Play of Your Life: Your Program for Finding the Career of Your Dreams -- And a Step-by-Step Guide to Making It a Reality by Colleen A. Sabatino © 2004 Rodale Inc. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. 

Colleen Sabatino is enjoying nationwide recognition as a career counselor. Her seminars and corporate consulting sessions are so popular that MBA programs are planning to adopt her book as part of their curriculum. >From setting the stage, to crafting the life-script that will open the necessary doors, Sabatino's program affords the secret to becoming a star in your own life.

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