In the midst of Graduation Season, neck-deep in resumes, I figured it worthwhile to share my tips for crafting a compelling resume sure to impress.
First, allow me to wax philosophical for a minute.
If your resume is an advertisement then you need to be Don Draper. You’ll never know a product like you know yourself. I know that’s uncomfortable to some of you but humility rides the bus. Get your bragging pants on.
But before you begin tooting all the horns, please remember one thing:
YOU CANNOT BE ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE.
You don’t want to work with all people. You want to find your tribe. Your resume is your flag, wave that thing proudly.
- File Name – Save the file as [last name, first name – resume – mo/yr] this will help it to be easy to locate amidst a sea of resumes the hiring manager has to review.
- Address – Your City & State will suffice to let them know where you’re located. Leave off your specific address for safety purposes.
- Objective – This is pretty dated and everyone knows you intend to get a job. I suggest using this space as your Headline & Deck – What do you want the person to know about you instantly? There’s no need to label this section and it should be placed front and center.
- Experience – The rule here is to only post the last three jobs. You can list more if they apply to your sales pitch for yourself and you keep them to headlines only.
- Experience 2: Electric Boogaloo – Keep the tiny text to accomplishments only, not responsibilities. Mention projects you headed or helped goals you accomplished or numbers you processed. Doing this makes us think you’ll be proactive, not reactive, and that’s the difference between life and death.
- Language – Don’t use 23 words to say you’re good at typing or like to make budgets. The person reading your resume is a lot like you. Talk to them.
- Skills – There’s an argument to be made that these should go up top before Experience and after your Headline & Deck. What do you know how to do, well, that sets you apart? If you have a killer app (excellent written communication, excel, industry software skills, etc…) go deep on those. Everyone assumes you can use Microsoft Office, but are you crazy good at some of them? Elaborate.
- Length – In the first 5-10 years of your career, your resume should be one page. Unless you cured cancer. And if you cured cancer, you don’t need a resume because you’ll never need another interview. But sadly, you didn’t cure cancer, so keep it tight.
If you’re going to two pages, make sure to use a header or footer to keep your name and contact info on the second page in case they get separated.
- Accuracy – Spell check isn’t enough. You want to use Grammarly to check the finer points. There’s a free option that is very robust and I’ve had it check over 6 million words I’ve written in the last 5 years, all without paying a dime.
- References – No need to say available upon request. You should use a similar header and already have a list of references ready to go in your back pocket with a small descriptor of how that person knows you and what they could likely speak about. When making this list, give your references a heads-up and ask if you can use them and how they’d like to be contacted.
- Iterate – Make multiple edits and take some chances. Run them past friends and classmates. Look at resumes from different industries and take parts that highlight your experience and use them.
- Navel Gazing – A well-made resume is also a perfectly polished mirror. It will reflect who you are as an employable person. If you see a lack of skills, accomplishments, or progress, take that note and plan to make improvements.
- Rules – THERE. ARE. NO. RULES. The document exists for one reason: to put the shape of who you are as a potential business asset into someone’s brain in less than 30 seconds. Then, give them the color of you in the 30 seconds after that. Anything you put on the page should serve that mission. Don’t forget it.
A few parting thoughts:
Templates? – I mean, sure. You can use them. But you want to make sure it serves you. Surface-level appeal breaks down faster than cotton candy in a monsoon. But using a basic Word template tastes like eating dryer lint.
Color/photos/icons – That’s most of the appeal of using templates. We’re not all graphic designers and we feel a little pop can help us stand out. Absolutely. But tread carefully and don’t use them as a crutch. I know what a phone number is, do I need an icon of a 1960s handset to find it?
Gaps in jobs – The world is split here. Some say to explain them. If there’s a compelling story, maybe you want to. The world is changing and I find myself rarely asking about gaps when I’m talking to a candidate I otherwise find promising.
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