NOOOOOOOOO, not another article on how to write a resume! Yes, writing resumes is the worst, so I will try to keep this article as painless as possible.
The most important and least shared item regarding resumes is know your audience! Typically, this is a Hiring Manager or a Recruiter and both will give your resume limited time (seconds) before deciding to contact you or move on. People often find this concept of seconds hard to believe, but it is true and your ability to stand out in seconds will positively set you apart. If you only focus on this item and this item alone, you will will get more interest than your competition. Stop creating a resume for you and start creating one that captures the interest of your intended audience.
The first step before step 1 is to create your resume in a Google Doc, for saving, sharing, and allowing others to edit, Google Docs is the best in my opinion.
Step 1 — Format:
Make sure you have no formatting errors and the format is consistent throughout the resume. Cmon, will I really not get the job because of a formatting error? Yes, if you are a Engineer or a Project Manager that will be paid to get the small details right, these errors show carelessness. Consistency is important, so putting the company name over position or vice-versa, where you put the dates, etc., does not matter as long as those items are in the same place for each position.
Lastly, I strongly discourage creative resumes when applying for positions that are not in the creative space. Why, because they are harder to read. When you have seconds to attract and excite your audience and they have to search for the information because of a funky format, they will likely move on to the next applicant. I will go through all sections of the resume, but typically your format should start with a header, followed by a summary, your work experience, education, and a technical summary.
And the last big question on format is how many pages? No more than three, think of your audience, think seconds, two pages is ideal, but if your experience goes onto a third page, no big deal. One page resumes made more sense when they were not reviewed digitally.
Step 2 — Summary:
I recommend following all the steps, but this is the most important. The first section under your header (Name, Contact Info, Location) should be the summary. The summary section should be five to ten bullets (ideally less than ten) with specific skills you have acquired during your career. If your summary is in paragraph form or long sentences, your audience will skip over it. Please pause on this item, short bullets make it easier for your audience to pull out those specific/key skills quickly. Secondly, don’t include generic skills like team player, hard worker, works well under pressure, and so on, this is a common mistake that more than fifty percent of people make on their resumes (if you have this on your resume, don’t worry about it, that’s why you are reading this article). These are skills that are expected of everyone in every position.
The bullets should contain one, two, or three (sometimes longer if needed) words that provide specific skill/s. For example, a basic summary for a Software Engineer would likely include more technical bullets such as Python, Linux/Unix, Data Structures, etc. An HR Professional may provide skills such as Onboarding, Performance Management, HRIS, etc. This initial summary creation is to create the structure/format and get you thinking about your specific skills. But you will never submit a resume including only the items you think are important in the summary.
Always create a resume providing information that your potential employer would like to see (know your audience). So if you are an Engineer and the job calls for Java instead of Python (and you code in both languages), put Java as one of the bullets in your summary and remove Python and include it in your technical summary (see below). Look at all specific qualifications for the job and put all those specific qualifications in your summary (obviously only if you have them). The reason for creating that initial summary is to lay the groundwork for your resume. For those bullets take the time to think about whether or not they apply to the role and would be important to your audience, if not, remove them and shorten your summary.
I know I am getting preachy at this point, but the summary is critical for two specific reasons: first, a Hiring Manager or Recruiter will be able to quickly identify you as a potential candidate; second, when you apply to other positions requiring slightly different skill sets, your resume edits will take you seconds. This second piece is sometimes the most critical because working on your resume is the worst! By taking this step you will no longer dread and likely procrastinate applying for that amazing position you want and deserve.
Step 3 — Experience:
You will get the most differing opinions on what to put in this section from articles, Resume Writers, etc. Typically, when Hiring Managers or Recruiters look at someone’s experience, they are looking for two specific items, what did you do and what did you accomplish. Job responsibilities are important because your audience needs to know the day to day role and accomplishments are important because your audience wants to know you are great. The responsibilities should be concepts that can be condensed and grouped together. For example if you are an Engineer you might group all the technologies you work/worked on under one bullet. The accomplishments should be as specific as possible. For example, increased company earnings by 500K over a two year span by implementing Salesforce to track and retain customers with an annual spend of over 100K. This type of accomplishment demonstrates an ability to save the company money (a specific amount), in a certain period of time (months or years), by implementing technology (a specific tool).
The second critical piece is using the right verb tense. Each bullet (yes, all responsibilities and accomplishments should have a bullet) should start with a present or past tense verb. A bullet/s in your current job can be past tense if the accomplishment is complete. Go back through your resume and make sure that all the bullets for your past positions start with past tense verbs. Also, an easy way to replace bullets starting with Responsible for, is to use Handle/Handled, Perform/Performed, Compile/Compiled, etc.
Step 4 — Education:
Always include the highest level of education you obtained on your resume. Typically, below your summary and experience, but this is a personal decision (many articles will guide you to move it to the bottom of your resume after one year of experience, but it doesn’t matter). If you want your education near the top, put it there, but definitely below the summary section. If you are in the process of completing a degree, be as specific as possible, for example, 20 credits completed, 32 credits needed to graduate, each course is one credit. The number of credits per class is not the same at every school, don’t assume your audience knows how many credits your institution needs for you to graduate. Make sure the college/university name and type of degree are listed, all other items are optional (graduation date, GPA, etc.). Lastly, never put an educational institution on your resume without specific details if you did not graduate. Employers are able to verify very little information, but whether or not you graduated is something that can and will be verified. One last comment for those outside of the United States, dual Bachelor’s/Master’s programs are much more common abroad. If applying to jobs in the US, note that the program is a dual program, it is helpful.
Step 5 — Technical Summary:
Almost everyone has some technical experience these days, include all technical skills on the resume. For example Engineers, you may have more technical expertise than you have listed in your summary or in your experience sections. As a Recruiter I used a number of different ATS (applicant tracking systems), so I include them on my resume. Also it is a great place for someone to get a sense of your overall technical skill set all in one place, so definitely repeat the technical skills you have listed in other parts of the resume.
Step 6 — All Other Stuff:
Hobbies, references, and personal information, I don’t recommend these items because this information will not preclude you from getting a job, but it can block you. I have not moved forward with a candidate and I know Hiring Managers that have not moved forward with a candidate because of questionable items written in these sections. Specifically, I questioned the candidate’s decision making skills and erred on the side of caution by moving forward with others. For candidates outside the United States, including a photo and personal information is not typical in the US.
The only disclaimer on this section is knowing your audience. For instance if you are applying to a company that is a big supporter of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and you have been volunteering for this organization for the last twenty years, you may want to include a volunteer section on your resume. But if your resume is a strong match for the organization, not listing this item would not preclude you from getting an interview.
Step 7 — Edit & Review:
Edit, edit, edit, reread, reread, reread, and then share it with a friend, family member, or colleague to review. Why? The people that review your resume will catch simple mistakes you cannot see because you have reviewed it too many times. They will also be able to tell you, hey, this doesn’t make any sense. If your resume doesn’t make sense to someone in this group, it is not going to make sense to the people you are trying to impress.
To recap, know your audience, make sure the format is consistent throughout, create a strong summary specific to the position you are applying for, your experience should be defined by clear responsibilities and specific accomplishments, be clear about your educational background, make sure to have a technical summary (if applicable), and review your resume and have others help you review it.
I sincerely hope this helps, enjoy the fun experience of working on your resume!