Tools Of The Job Trade: The Paper Resume

Landing the job of your dreams seems to be more difficult than ever.

In a world where hundreds of people are applying to one job listing and people are building websites to tout their expertise, it can be hard find ways to stand out, especially when the traditional and most often-accepted form of representation is contained on a single piece of paper. Despite its occasional shortcomings — a lack of space, adaptability, and creativity, to name a few — the paper resume is still universally recognized as the preferred sum total of your career experience.

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Crafting the perfect resume is a lot like copywriting (my career of choice). It’s a unique combination of marketing and storytelling. How can you convey all that you are and all that you’ve done to exactly the right audience in one page, maybe two?

It’s certainly not easy. And, according to a 2014 study of human resource managers, they’re not spending more than five minutes looking at your masterpiece.

Where most job-hunters fail is by creating a resume that looks and sounds just like everybody else’s. To be fair, it’s hard to stand out when you’re keeping your work story simple and succinct. Plus, the paper resume is a very specific format — one that you shouldn’t stray too far from (for instance, 66% of those interviewed in the aforementioned study prefer that you list career and education experience the traditional way: in reverse chronological order).

But it’s not impossible to simultaneously “follow the rules” and stand out from the pack.

Heres how to make this old classic, the paper resume, your own:

1. Pay Attention To The Job Description 
Here’s the thing about job descriptions: they’re about as fun to write as they are to read. Though not usually the most exciting content in the world, they’re written a specific way for a specific reason, because this company is trying to be very clear about the person they want to hire for the job.

So, pay attention!

Take note of the words they use and the qualifications they desire. It’s helpful to sprinkle specific keywords from the job description into your resume, which means you’ll need to tweak your resume for every application (which you should be doing anyway).

This is especially important if your resume is first being read by a computer and not an actual human being. Both an online application program and a human will immediately recognize those keywords in your resume as the key qualities they’re looking for in an employee. Of course, you should never add words, skills, or qualifications that don’t actually apply to you. But if they don’t, you might want to take a step back and reassess your eligibility for this job, anyway. Perhaps you need to take a course or nab one more internship before you apply. 

2. Quantify Over Qualify
One way to make your resume stand out? Reduce the copy and add more numbers. Your resume shouldn’t read like a list of descriptions for every job you’ve ever had. It should show more than your past responsibilities; it should show what you’ve accomplished.

I once worked for a digital marketing agency where I managed accounts for well-known consumer brands. While the companies were impressive, name-dropping them on my resume didn’t really speak to the work that I did or the results that I garnered. Instead of just name-dropping my former clients on my resume (which, of course, I also did), I shared details of specific campaigns that I facilitated, as well as the results we saw. That information was unique and compelling.

One thing to consider: It’s easier to remember the specific work that you’ve done and results that you’ve amassed right after you’ve done it. Instead of waiting to update your resume when you’re looking for a new job, consider making updates after every big win. You might find that your draft resume becomes a little long — given the superstar employee that you are — but you can always edit it down later. And it’s never a bad idea to have all of your career wins on hand!

… quantify the work that you’ve done and show what you (and only you) can do again in the future.

Other people may have your same job title, or they may work with clients or on projects on par with yours. But nobody will have gotten the exact same results as you, so quantify the work that you’ve done and show what you (and only you) can do again in the future.

3. Add Some Style
This point is often up for debate. Traditionalists will argue that a resume isn’t supposed to be fancy and varying fonts, colors and graphics only serve to distract from the important content.

Possibly. I think there’s a happy medium. If you’re applying for work in a more traditional field, you might not include text of varying colors or MS Word clip art (note: never include MS Word clip art), but you can still experiment with fonts and sizes. Your header might be 16-point, Georgia font, while the rest of your text is 12-point, Helvetica. It’s not a hugely distracting variation, but it does make your resume more interesting to look at — which is important when it’s one in a stack of hundreds, if not thousands.

On the flip side, if you’re applying for a job in a more creative field, then creativity is often (understandably) encouraged. Your resume is an opportunity to show your ability to think outside the box and get creative with your story. Your wording need not be the only medium through which you share your career history and your skills. You have the opportunity to showcase not only where you’ve been and what you’ve accomplished, but what you’re creatively capable of right now.

4. Let Them Know Where To Find You
Lastly, treat your resume as an introduction and let your future employer know where they can find you. Are you always tweeting about industry think pieces? Add a link to your Twitter profile. Do you include your latest graphic design projects on Instagram? Include your handle on your resume.

Assuming that you only post appropriate, employer-friendly content on the Internet — which you do, right? — leading your recruiter, HR manager, or future boss to your website or social media profiles only gives them a greater opportunity to get to know you, and see how you’re uniquely far and above every other applicant in the pile.


Although the paper resume is a more conventional format, there are plenty of ways you can inject your experience and personality into one. Take into account your unique skills, accomplishments, and industry — as well as the specific company and position you’re applying to — and follow the suggestions above to best display what you have to offer to the audience you’re hoping to reach.

You’ll be a shoe-in.

Stay tuned for more in this series as we detail best practices for your personal website and LinkedIn profile!

Images via Morgan Ashley Photography


Jenna is a writer, editor, and denizen of any bookstore's self-help section. She is the editor of Career Contessa's CC Daily blog, and her writing has been featured on Salon, Thought Catalog, The Everygirl, The Muse, and more. She lives and writes in Pasadena, California.

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