How to keep your resume out of the trash

How to Keep Your Resume Out of the Trash

Differentiate your resume with relevance.

We’re writing today with compassion for any of you who are looking for work. If it’s been a minute, the frustration is probably mounting. You might even begin questioning yourself, and the value you bring.

Repeated rejection can discourage even the most resilient person.

With that said, we want to give you the best chance to ensure your resume is given a fair chance.

You see, we just posted and hired for two new positions at Let’s Grow Leaders. And, what we saw during this process surprised us—and we realized that there are some insights here to help your resume stand out.

For one of these roles, we posted an opening on two different job boards. In the postings, we asked applicants to send their resume and include their answer to one question:

“Who is a leader you respect and why do you respect that person?”

Within ten days, we received 250 applications.

Three Simple Ways to Differentiate Your Resume

Now, if you’re looking for your next position, that might feel overwhelming. You might be wondering how you can possibly stand out from those 250 applicants.

It’s easier than you might think. There are four straightforward ways you can differentiate your resume. They aren’t difficult and they don’t take too much time.

1. Respond accurately and completely.

Let’s start with the most obvious opportunity. In our post, we asked that specific question about a leader you respect.

Of those 250+ applicants, how many do you think answered that one simple question?


Only four—that’s it. Out of 250+ applications, we received four qualified applicants. (The job involved attention to detail and responsiveness so seeing if they followed directions is a very relevant qualification.)

The first step to submit a relevant application is to read carefully, understand, and respond to the posting.

There were hundreds of people just clicking a button, saying, “Yeah, that might be a possibility.”

You can differentiate yourself right away just by responding accurately. Over the years, we’ve seen literally thousands of applications. The number of people who complete the process fully and accurately is shockingly small.

2. Respond rapidly.

We corresponded with those four applicants. Two of them immediately distinguished themselves with their level of responsiveness. One person didn’t respond at all. One person took up to two days to respond. In contrast, the other two replied within four hours.

Now, we recognize that you’re managing a life that might be messy and hard to plan. Even so, your level of responsiveness will set you apart from other candidates. It conveys your professionalism and that you take your work seriously.

3. Respond with research.

You have access to more information about prospective employers at your fingertips than at any time in history.

For many organizations, a quick look at their website, their leaders’ LinkedIn profiles, or a web search will help you learn about their work, their mission, their history, their recent celebrations or achievements, and more.

In your cover letter or follow-up correspondence, show your work. Talk about what they do and why you’d like to be a part of it. You can reference a recent success and why it’s motivating. There are countless opportunities to tailor your comments meaningfully.

Spend ten or fifteen minutes to understand the organization and you will further distinguish your resume and interview from all the others.

Often, you can find the hiring manager online and write them directly, noting your submission through the platform they used, and personalizing your message with relevant research.

If this research sounds like a lot of work, we invite you to consider that, in our experience, less than 1% of candidates do this. You’ve instantly distinguished yourself as someone who’s serious about being a part of the team.

4. Respond to your interview with questions.

There are plenty of guides to interviewing effectively, but the one skill we want to emphasize is to ask good questions.

If you have an opportunity to ask your interviewer questions, be prepared with thoughtful questions. Asking good questions demonstrates that you’ve done your research, you’re seriously interested in the role, you understand the opportunities or challenges, and that you belong in a successful organization.

Examples of powerful questions we’ve been asked when interviewing candidates include:

  • “What’s your vision for the company in the next five years?”
  • “I saw in that Business Journal article that you had a record year last year. How are you building on that? How do you hope this position will contribute to that success?”
  • “You obviously have a clear strategy to _____ and it’s working. I’m curious how you got there?”
  • “Looking at your marketing presence online, it looks like you’re targeting this demographic. Have you considered finding more of those people on this platform?”
  • “In your LinkedIn profile, I notice you have a lot of experience doing _______.  I’d love to learn more from you about that. What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned along the way?”
  • “How has this challenging time impacted your business? What are you doing differently?”

Hiring managers can spot someone going through the motions in an application in a hot minute. Taking time to go a level deeper will give you an immediate competitive advantage in the hiring process.

Your Turn

We’d love to hear from you. Based on your experience of either receiving or reviewing resumes, what helps to differentiate the ones that get taken seriously?

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Resume Remedy: 5 Questions Your Resume Must Answer

5 Creative Ways To Make Your Resume Stand Out

You’re no ordinary candidate, so why settle for a yawner of a resume? Long gone are the days of fancy creamy vanilla paper as the go-to standard. Most resumes are emailed and viewed online. So ditch the old-school approach and leverage the latest technology to make your resume pop.

5 Ways to Make Your Resume Pop

1. Name Your Brand

Begin with few word branding statement that describes your unique brand. Define what makes you stand out as the go-to candidate. Sally Hogshead has a great TED Talk on how to be “fascinating” in a few words or less. If you want a more in-depth view, her book “How the World Sees You” is also a great resource.

2. Create an Infographic

There are few hot new FREE sites (some still in beta) that enable you to import your LinkedIn profile to create info-graphics and visual maps of your experiences and timelines. is super easy (I created my profile in about 20 minutes). I had to laugh, you can even get your “resume” printed on a tee-shirt (heck, you never know when that may be just the right gimic). To get uber-fancy you can create a robust infographic. To do it well takes a bit more of a time investment, but if I were in the job market I would go this route. Their online stuff is all free, but if you want to print it, you pay a nominal fee. If you want to use traditional infographic tools, this post gives some great advice on what to include.

3. Make Your LinkedIn Profile Sizzle

LinkedIn is still the first place most recruiters go. The good news is the sites come a long way in the last year. You can now upload video, podcasts, images and other examples of your work. I’ve taken advantage of a lot of this (all with their free service), if it helps as an example, click here.

4. Use Power Words

If all this sounds too sexy, and you want to stay old-school, at least use some power words to strengthen the pull. Jennifer Miller introduced me to this GREAT infographic from ZipRecruiter. They analyzed 3 million resumes and correlated them with managers ratings of “5 star.” Power words include: “experience”, “management,” “project.” Weak words such as “me” “myself” “need” “hard” and “learn” should be avoided.

5. Focus on RESULTS not actions

Whatever you do, don’t just have a list of jobs you’ve done. You wouldn’t believe how many resumes I see that still suffer from this number one no no. For more see 5 Questions Your Resume Must Answer and 15 Things You Should Never Put In a Cover Letter Cover Letter 

Resume Remedy: 5 Questions Your Resume Must Answer

That guy with the job posting already has an “obvious choice.” He’s been grooming several mentees. Others have invested in informational interviews. HR told him he had to post the job, so he’s got a stack of candidates. You’ve got a slim chance. How will your resume stand out?

Your resume must scream, “you would be a knucklehead if you didn’t talk to me. ” I’ve read such resumes. I’ve hired the not-so-obvious choice. It started with a resume that could answer my questions.

5 Questions Your Resume Must Answer

Even if you’re not looking for a job now, pull out your resume. Are you listing responsibilities, or telling a powerful story?

1. Do you drive sustained results?

Most resumes talk responsibilities, scope and scale. Instead, talk % improvement, growth, or $ saved. Resumes must talk numbers. Include your story of sustained change. Resumes without data are fluff.

2. How do you lead?

Provide evidence of leadership. Briefly talk approach. If you led people, don’t describe your accomplishments in terms of “I.” No fluffy words. Specifics invite conversation.

3. Can you adapt and grow?

Show me risks. Linear career path? Talk volunteer gig. Explain how you lead in risky times.

4. Do you care about quality?

Every job search book says, “use spell check.” 80% of resumes I receive include typos. Or bad formatting or misdirected audience. Fix it, or don’t send it.

5. Can you drive innovation?

Talk about how you drove change. Describe how you are an irresistible change agent. (This could be a key differentiator between you and the obvious choice)