5 Steps to Writing an Effective Professional Resume
Many candidates consider the interview the first step in getting a job. In reality, the first step is creating a résumé that is compelling enough to land you that interview. The résumé is the first medium through which candidates can showcase their abilities, achievements, and passions, and demonstrate their fit for the position to which they’re applying; remember, this is YOUR marketing document! There are several keys to capturing the attention of hiring managers with your résumé, while ensuring the focus remains on effectively conveying your qualifications and what will uniquely enable you to excel at the company.
1. Prove Yourself with Concise Simplicity
Even if you have years of industry experience, an arsenal of valuable skills, and a top-tier education, you’ll never get an interview if the hiring manager cannot quickly see your most valuable characteristics in a single glance. If hiring managers don’t find anything compelling about your résumé in the first 15-30 seconds, then they won’t take the time to look twice.
Use bullet points instead of dense paragraphs, but ensure not to shorten your achievements so much that they become choppy, difficult to understand, or lose all emotion. Use acronyms and abbreviations only when you are certain they are industry standards with which the hiring manager is familiar. If you can’t be sure, spell-out the words instead. In most cases, it is best to use a single common, sans serif font, such as Arial or Calibri, and all black text. Use italics, bold, and underlining sparingly, consistently and only when it unquestionably improves readability by calling attention to points worth stressing.
How you list your work history depends on you. If all or most of your history is directly relevant to the job at hand, list your past positions chronologically. If only some past positions are worth highlighting, list them first, and then list other less important positions in chronological order under a different heading lower down the page.
Remember that, in most cases, it makes sense to put more weight on recent jobs and achievements. The last thing you want to do is make a hiring manager think your career peeked twenty years ago by listing eight bullet points for a past job and just a single bullet point for your current job, for example.
2. Create Content that Matters
There is a significant difference between drafting a great résumé and drafting a relevant résumé. It’s a good idea to have a master résumé that lists your complete history, and then to use elements from this master to create shorter résumés, with only relevant positions listed, each time you apply for a job. This way you never lose track of your work history, but you only show hiring managers what matter to them.
From there, tailor the descriptions on each custom résumé to tie more closely to the job to which you’re applying. Make sure to draw parallels that showcase how past jobs required similar skills as the position you’re seeking and how your history will uniquely enable you to excel at the job. Considering many employers use software that pre-screens résumés, searching for relevant keywords, it is vital to ensure these keywords are present in your résumé. As a starting point, work words and phrases from the job description into the natural flow of your résumé.
Many professionals are familiar with the concept of using “power words” and carefully selected phrasing to turn a simple sentence like “managed a team of six programmers,” into a compelling sentence like “maximized ROI by maintaining open collaboration among programmers.” If you’re using this technique to make a strong résumé shine even brighter, well done. However, if you write “flame technician at a world-renowned beef emporium” when you had a summer job at Burger King, you’re not fooling anyone. You do not want to look like you’re trying to hide weaknesses with slippery wording, or make your résumé so strangely-worded that your real accomplishments are difficult to decipher.
3. Remember that Results Sell
While words can be tweaked to dress an otherwise unimpressive résumé, numbers and percentages are factual and can greatly boost your résumé’s impact. Instead of stating that you “increased operations’ efficiency,” for example, paint a clear picture: “reduced materials’ costs by 6% and increased labor efficiency by 8%, year over year.” However, be careful not to overload your résumé with figures. A handful of numbers are easily remembered, but a sea of numbers is easily tuned out and might cast the impression that you are trying to oversell your results. Quantify results only when it compliments your skills as you have called them out on your résumé; do not use them instead of detailing your skills.
Always resist the urge to fabricate results or alter numbers to make yourself look better. Rather than saying you decreased customer turn-over by 25%, when really it was only 22.3%, use phrasing like “decreased turn-over by more than 20%” instead. Furthermore, even if you know you single-handedly generated $1,243,240.45 worth of revenue at your past job, this figure will have a more meaningful impact on a hiring manager if you write “generated over $1.2 million in revenue.” Clean, rounded numbers are still factual, but are far easier to read and remember.
Listing awards and honors on a résumé can quickly convey your success and importance in your industry. However, just like with numbers, many times a few highlighted, great honors will speak far louder than a string of minor recognitions. If your honors are all equally as prestigious, but you feel space is an issue, consider dropping the oldest from your résumé. Furthermore, consider leaving all of your honors and awards off your résumé if they are all over five years old. A selection of old awards could make it look like you’re past your prime and no longer a relevant player in your industry.
4. Speak to your Audience
It is imperative that candidates create résumés that match with their job level and the positions for which they’re applying. To a hiring manager, this makes the position feel like a natural fit for the candidate. Of course, the résumé of someone applying for a $10 an hour position should be drastically different from that of a $150,000 a year salaried position.
Candidates should be careful not to focus on skills that are below their level. For example, unless it is somehow specifically relevant, it would not make sense for a computer programmer who is applying for a job as a java developer to highlight his or her ability to make PowerPoint presentations with custom animation. Similarly, if you’re applying for a job as an accountant, it’s not likely that your ability to use Adobe Photoshop has any relevance to that position, so it should not be included on your résumé.
In addition to demonstrating your fit for the position for which you’re applying, take the time to show how you will positively impact the company as a whole. In my experience, this is where a résumé rises from good to great! Identify the position’s requirements, investigate other open positions, and research the company and its products. Use this information to uncover the company’s primary needs, so you can then tailor your résumé to convey your unique ability to meet these needs. This is your opportunity to infuse your personal character into your résumé. Inform the reader who you are beyond your expertise; communicate who you are as a person. By proving you not only fit the position for which you are applying, but are also ready to tackle the company’s larger, underlying needs, you will stand out from the pack.
5. Rules are Meant to be Broken
Nearly everyone you talk to and every book you read will offer unique and conflicting advice about how to write an effective résumé. In the end, it will come down to a judgment call on which advice you actually take. You can either go with your gut, or ask a trusted friend or advisor to make the decision for you.
Many candidates have received conflicting information about the acceptable number of pages for a résumé. In short, there is not set rule. While ten pages is likely far too many, and being concise is key, ultimately your résumé should be as long as your relevant details can support. For experienced professionals, two to three pages is not uncommon, but keep in mind that every page after the first page will get progressively less of the hiring manager’s attention.
If you’ve heard a “rule” about résumés and would like to get CareerEncore’s opinion, please take a second to add a comment below. Also, know that CareerEncore takes the time to review the résumés of all candidates with whom we work and helps them create the most compelling résumé possible.
Adapted with help from: Cathy Baniewicz (http://bit.ly/J0THWo), Regina Pontow (http://bit.ly/J6IjX0), Alison Doyle (http://bit.ly/I0MnrM), Rumki Sen (http://bit.ly/Ih7GEA), Laura Schneider (http://bit.ly/IPXZAC), Bill Radin (http://bit.ly/J6Ivph)
Image Credit: Content (http://bit.ly/Ik1LSc); Audience (http://bit.ly/J4w8s7)
CareerEncore is a boutique recruiting firm dedicated to providing Greater Boston-area technology companies with exceptional talent. If you’ve proven yourself at a tech-driven company, functional experience aside (development, systems, marketing, sales, finance, operations, executive suite, etc.), we can help you find your next great opportunity. In particular, we are always looking for skilled software engineers, programmers, and developers. With all of our candidates and clients, we forge lasting partnerships. Our commitment to understanding your needs, coupled with our years of industry experience, uniquely enables us to successfully match talent with opportunity.
Don't Miss The Next Intriguing Story: Subscribe to CareerEncore’s Newsletter