Writing a resume is not an easy thing. Putting one together can be nerve-racking and cause us to question ourselves at every step. Should I include all of my work history? Should I include a section on skill set? What shouldn’t I include? How long is too long. All of these question are valid and can be difficult to answer.
When I first put together my resume, a really long time ago, I really didn’t put too much effort into it. I simply spewed out all of my work experience on paper. I was fortunate that this was during the dot com boom and employers were hiring up just about anyone that was available.
In fact, a lot of times, the interviewers didn’t even get my resume until I gave it to them…DURING THE INTERVIEW. This meant that I had the opportunity to speak to them in person about my qualifications and overcome the obvious holes and lack of focus in my resume.
In my nearly 20 years as a professional, I’ve interviewed for dozens of jobs. I’ve also interviewed somewhere close to 150 people. That means that I’ve reading through several hundred resumes. As you might imagine, I’ve come across some doozies, but I have seen some really good ones as well.
My experience writing and reading through resumes has helped me come up with a few pointers for creating a resume that is engaging, informative and get results. Unlike others, I’m not going to throw statistics or cite scientific research on the subject. These guidelines are based on my experience and the observations I’ve made when interviewing myself and interviewing others.
Consider Your Objective
First of all, you should consider what the purpose of writing a resume is. This isn’t always the same. There are a lot of different reasons for putting together a resume and each one of them can affect how you write it and what you include.
A resume’s sole purpose is for selling myself to a potential employer, right? Well, sometimes…OK, most of the time.
You might be thinking that I am a little off my rocker right now. A resume’s sole purpose is for selling myself to a potential employer, right? Well, sometimes…OK, most of the time. There are a few other use cases though. Are you selling yourself to a particular employer? Are you targeting a industry? Maybe you’re focused on a particular role. Are you writing a general purpose resume that you will be submitting to multiple, different, positions? Or are you writing a resume to serve as proof that you’ve been there, done that?
All of these reasons for writing a resume can, and should, affect how you write it and what you decide to include in it. So before you begin, take a few minutes to consider what the intent for putting the resume together. This will be valuable information that will guide you as you flesh out the details
Tailor It To the Audience
In addition to knowing the purpose of the resume, you should also be cognizant of the resume’s audience. This should have some impact on how you write your resume, what you include in it and what you highlight (more on this later).
In most cases, you’ll want to target the resume to the particular job that you are applying for. Whenever possible, you should include information about other places that you have worked where you had the same role, were in the same industry, developed a similar product or worked with the same type or size of data. All of these things will help create a connection with the reader and can potentially make you stand out from the rest of the candidates.
I know there have been several cases where I read someone’s resume and it made an immediate impact because that person had either worked on a similar product, with the same technologies, or in the same industry. Every time, it had a positive impact on whether I would consider this person further. This is exactly what you want. You want to make a connection with the reader and provided them with reasons to continue considering you as they whittle down the group of people that they are looking at for the job.
…research will help you target your resume to the employer and help it seem more relevant to the reader, the company and the position.
In a previous post, I wrote about how researching the potential employer is one of the keys to a good interview. Well, that also applies writing a resume. All of that research will help you target your resume to the employer and help it seem more relevant to the reader, the company and the position. With a little effort, you can make a HUGE impact on the effectiveness of your resume and help increase your chances of getting the job.
Include “Enough” Information
There is a lot of debate about how much information you should include in a resume. There are some people that will tell you to keep it short and others that will urge to write a book. I tend to lean towards the longer resume myself, with one caveat:
Make sure to highlight things that are important in a way that can be easily interpreted by the reader.
My current resume is around 8 pages long. Yeah, I know, that’s pretty long. I’m OK with that though. I would rather include more information than less. That being said, I try to highlight important things at the top of my resume and throughout my work history. I start off with a clear objective and follow it with a list of the programming languages, tools, and process that I have worked with. Then, for every position, I include a list of the programming languages, tools, and process that I used while I was there. This is at the top of each entry in my employment history and is highlighted so that I stands out visually.
I do all of these things to make my resumes easy to skim through while still providing some detail for every company that I have worked for. This way, the reader can easily get a feel for the diversity of my experience, the things that I have worked on recently and can still dig a little deeper into each of them if they want to get some more details.
Highlight Your Strengths
Your resume is your first opportunity to wow a potential employer. You have a small window of opportunity to make an impact and stand out from the rest of the pack. Remember, the person reading your resume will probably be reading a ton of resumes all at once. You need to make sure that yours makes some sort of connection.
One way to do this is to really highlight your strengths. If you’ve been doing this for a while, you’ve probably identified what it is you are really good at. Your previous companies, managers, and peers have recognized you for being good at a handful of things. Showcase these things you’re awesome at in your resume. Make sure to sprinkle it thoughtout your work history, skill sets, and other sections of your resume.
If you’re awesome at something and everywhere you’ve been everyone has told you that you are, then let your potential employer in on the secret.
For example, if you’ve been told that you are great at leading teams of developers, you should include examples of how you’ve done that at your previous positions. If you’ve been told that you’re technically awesome, then make sure to highlight all of the languages, tools and processes that you’ve worked with.
If you’re awesome at something and everywhere you’ve been everyone has told you that you are, then let your potential employer in on the secret. Just be careful not to come across as arrogant or cocky. Always employ the right amount of humility when bragging about your awesome-sauce. That being said, I’ve always argued that a resume is one of the only cases where you should try to sell yourself…and maybe even brag a little. Just tread lightly.
Always Be Truthful
This last pointer is super freaking easy to do and extremely important…never, ever, ever, ever lie or embellish in your resume. You should only ever include things that you are 100% sure of. A quick rule of thumb for writing your resume is…If there is any doubt, leave it out. You want to make sure that you can speak intelligently, and without hesitation, to anything that is in your resume.
A quick rule of thumb for writing your resume is…If there is any doubt, leave it out.
You should also not to take credit for other people’s work. It really isn’t worth it. Our community is a small and tightly connected one. The odds that someone at the potential employer will know someone else that you have worked with in the past are really high. Being called out for something that you’ve claimed to have done but didn’t really do can be a deal breaker for an employer. Don’t be that guy. Don’t take that chance. Don’t do it.
You should also be careful about calling yourself an expert on anything. I’ve always been super sensitive to this issue. I never call myself an expert on anything…ever. You should leave that for others to judge. I know that the times I’ve come across resumes where the candidate calls themselves an expert on something I’ve always gone away questioning there sincerity and/or cockiness. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth so I avoid it and I would suggest that you do as well.
The key takeaway from all of this is that you should really pay close attention to how you write your resume and what you include in it. I know it can be a little stressful, but if you follow the four guidelines that I’ve described here you’ll be off to a great start. Remember, a resume is a living document. You should expect to tweak it as you go. In addition to adding new skills and work experience, you’ll find things that work well and other that don’t and want to adjust your resume accordingly. Treat it as your personal billboard. You have a short amount of time and will be one of many so make it count, make it relevant and make an impact.
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