How to Write a Stand-Out Resume

The average job opening attracts 250 resumes, and research shows that hiring managers spend just six seconds reviewing each of those resumes before deciding to dig in further or move on. Your resume is your entry point to a company — your first impression, the first information a hiring manager knows about you, and your first shot at your dream job.

Making that entrance as strong as possible, from the start, matters. 

If you’re like most Lambda grads, you likely didn’t come from a tech background. This may be the first software job you’ve ever applied to, so why would you need to spend time polishing a resume, if most of your work experience has nothing to do with your new field? 

Glad you asked.

Unless you have a personal contact at every job you apply to, the information you include in your resume will help the hiring manager decide whether they care to schedule a phone screen, or even look at your portfolio. 

It’s true that your portfolio and GitHub will be important in your job applications — maybe even more important than your resume at this beginning stage of your career. However, having a professional resume that highlights your skills in an easily scannable format can make you stand out from other job applicants from the start.

Items to always include in your resume

Even if this is your first foray in the world of software development, it’s smart to spend time polishing your resume so you make a great first impression. Here are a few elements that  that every resume should have, regardless of which field you work in and what kind of job you’re applying for:

  • Make sure your resume includes your phone number and a professional email address — something that includes your name, if possible, at Gmail or your own domain. Think janedoe@gmail.com, not jan3do3_gamer1987@hotmail.com. 
  • Include any relevant web presence with your other contact information. LinkedIn, your own domain, an online portfolio, GitHub, or professional social media are all worth listing. Think carefully about which social media profiles you include — listing one that contains unprofessional content could end your shot at a job interview.
  • A resume with headings and a bullet-point format is easily scanned by the eyes and by software. Clean and simple formatting is always a good choice.
  • Color is professional when used with restraint, and to emphasize key information — for example, section headings. Keep it to three colors maximum. If you think there’s too much color, you’re probably correct.
  • Stick to fonts that are commonly used and easily readable: Times New Roman, Helvetica, Arial, Verdana, Calibri, and Garamond are all solid choices. Fonts can be used to add emphasis and a bit of flair, but don’t go crazy. Use two fonts at most, and make them harmonious -- try one serif and one sans serif.
  • As for size, use at least an 11-point font. Anything smaller than that will be difficult for some people to read.

Items to never include in a resume

Just as some things always belong on a resume, others never do! A few examples:

  • Avoid fonts that are difficult to read or that look unprofessional — Comic Sans MS and Papyrus are the worst offenders here, but anything that is overly stylized is a bad choice. 
  • If you are printing your resume out, stick to plain white paper. 
  • You can use color for some emphasis and interest, but make the bulk of your text black — and make sure the colors you choose are easily readable online and contrast well with the (white!) background.
  • Do everything you can to keep your resume on a single page. It takes work in formatting and in tight writing, but it is worth it. Remember that you can always provide more detail on specific examples or expand on certain skills in your cover letter.
  • Don’t include a photo on your resume. It’s not standard and can make you look like you don’t understand professional norms. Also, including a photo can actually lead to disqualification for some roles if the organization has a blind screening process that attempts to weed out bias. 
  • Finally, don’t include your references on your resume, or a line like “References available upon request.” It is normal to ask for references and employers know they can request them if needed. Save that space for something vital.

The importance of power statements

In your resume, you want to provide enough information to entice the hiring manager to offer you an interview so they can dig more deeply into how your skills and background will fit with their role and organization. Focus on actions, achievements, and quantifiable results whenever possible. Give details about your projects and your successes. Explain not only which skills you have, but what you have used them to do at work (or in personal projects) and at Lambda.

Power statements are the best way to provide those details in an impactful way using a small amount of space. These statements describe not just what you did in a particular role, but what you accomplished — what your impact was at the organization. 

These statements have a simple format: action verb + quantifiers/qualifiers + result. Action verbs give your statements some punch — think of words like launched, managed, or increased. Make sure the words you choose are accurate and reflect your role honestly, and avoid terms that are more vague like helped or contributed to. Be as specific as possible. 

Your quantifiers or qualifiers explain the “how” of what you did. Quantifiers are numbers that show what you achieved, like the percentage by which you increased sales. Qualifiers are everything else. Think about factors like these when writing this part:

  • Did you increase efficiency or productivity by a certain percentage?
  • Did you recruit, manage, or work with a certain number of team members or employees?
  • Did you hit your targets within a tight deadline?
  • Did you resolve a particular issue?
  • Did you work with a particular type of client?

For your result, say what you did and why it mattered. Maybe you increased client satisfaction, reduced customer callbacks, or freed up money to hire a new staff member. Highlight the positive outcomes of your actions.

All of the bullet points under your sections for experience and some of them under projects should be formatted as power statements. These statements should be no longer than three lines long in a traditional resume or five lines in a column-style resume. Your sections for your skills, education, and summary don’t need power statements.

How to format your resume

With the must-have items in mind and your power statements crafted, it’s time to put it all together. Having a clear understanding of what your resume needs to do for you will make this part easier. 

First of all, use a standard resume format with clear headings: education, work experience, skills, etc. You want it to be clear which sections refer to which key pieces of information. If you are in the UX stream you’ll want to show your design aesthetic in your resume, but Lambda students in other streams can stick with a more traditional resume format. Canva and Creddle are good options for a more design-focused document, and MS Word and Google Docs are great for a more standard resume.

Break down the information within each section clearly, with bulleted lists under each heading. This is where your power statements will go. You don’t want to end these bullet points with a period — they aren’t really sentences! — which means you have to keep them tight.

For a resume that has a full-page width, order your sections like this:

  • Name
  • Summary
  • Projects
  • Skills
  • Experience
  • Education

If you are using a column format, things will look a bit different: 

  • Left column or page header: Name, Summary
  • Left column: Projects, Skills
  • Right column: Experience, Education

You may have to move things around a bit to get a good fit, especially with columns, but keep your projects and experience near the top versus your education — what you’ve actually done is the most important thing.

Resume best practices to consider

Here are a few more tips to ensure that your resume stands out from the crowd:

  • Your goal is to write a resume that reflects how your knowledge and experience apply to the position you’re aiming for. You don’t have to include every job you’ve ever had, only those that best fit the position. If you had a few similar positions that display skills you want to highlight — for example, retail jobs that show management experience — you can group them under one heading. This is also a good way to include freelance experience.
  • And remember, don’t discount skills and experience just because they didn’t come from a paid job. Great work on a project for Lambda counts, as does open-source projects you contributed to in your spare time or valuable experience gained in a volunteer role.
  • Don’t be afraid to include some of your personality and interests in the resume, when they are relevant for the job application. Not every hobby fits into a resume, but there are instances where they can further highlight valuable skills and experience. For example, if you run a popular blog or social media account, that can highlight your writing, design, or marketing skills.
  • A summary isn’t necessary but it can be a powerful way to introduce yourself if you can make it specific and unique. This can be a place to address a career change, employment gaps, or unique strengths. If you don’t feel that your summary adds value to your resume, omit it.
  • Keep in mind that research has found that three-quarters of hiring managers use recruiting or applicant management software that pulls out important information from your resume and may sort for certain keywords. This sounds like a detriment, but it’s not if you know how to use that to your advantage. Look for keywords in the job description like teamwork and management experience, or for particular skills the candidate should have. If your experience fits that, make sure you use those keywords in your power statements.
  • It can be helpful to keep a plain-text version of your resume, laid out in a legible format, handy for systems that require copying and pasting the information instead of uploading your own file. On the other hand, once you have the content nailed down feel free to play around a bit with different resume formats and styles. Word and Google both offer free, attractive resume templates.
  • When you’re finished, don’t forget to proofread! Ask a friend to check for typos or anything that doesn’t make sense.  Before you send it to a hiring manager, ensure that your resume is 100% free of any errors or typos and that your formatting is readable and consistent.
  • Finally, when you’ve crafted a professional, appealing, readable resume, save it — as a word document so you can edit it later, and as a PDF, with a filename that includes your own name so it’s easy to find.

We know, it’s a lot to consider. But the good news is that many people don’t know how to craft a professional resume that highlights their skills and projects. The information here will help you get ahead of the pack and get to the next step: a job interview.

Now that you have a beautiful, professional resume, you’re ready to apply to and land your dream job. Good luck!

Hire a Lambda Grad
Our graduates are trained by experts and available for hire in all 50 states.
Find a rockstar candidate
Ready to hustle?
Jumpstart your new tech career by becoming a Lambda student.
Apply now
Become a mentor
Help the next wave of aspiring developers and designers.
See real products built by top students