Resume-writing Tips

Sometimes I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. So I consult my good friend Google or my social networks to get some knowledge. I know little about writing resumes. Mine has in some garbage about pageants and poetry.  So here are some tips from Educated and Inexperienced (well actually from a panel of people who look at resumes for a living).

Dude Where's My Job

The panel was asked to respond to ten questions regarding resume content and formatting. Below are the first five questions. The answers to the next five questions will be posted next week. This is in the interest of keeping the blog post fairly brief, and not (as some have pointed out) an opportunity for me to have two weeks’ worth of blog posts that I don’t have to write myself.

1. What can I include in a resume that really makes it stand out for you from the hundreds of others you see?

Kathy Wishart - This is a tough one because I’ve seen all manner of format and feature in resumes over the years.  A resume that stands out to me now is one that has energy to it and gives me a glimpse into the person I’m considering.

Dana Leavy - A solid resume summary statement is one of the best "tools" you can utilize to add oomph to your resume, and really give it a solid branding message that communicates your top skills and experience.  I say "summary" instead of an "objective" statement because a summary focuses in on the great qualities that you're essentially bringing to the table for the organization (what are they gaining?), versus an objective, which speaks from the perspective of what you want as a job seeker.  While that's important, it's not going to grab any company's attention - they already know you want to work for them, and leverage your skills!  A great branding summary tells them who you are in terms of your qualifications, what you're there to do, and what unique experience or perspective you can really bring to the role.  If you were to answer the question, "What do I want prospective employers to know about me?" this would be the place to really answer that strategically.

Mark Babbitt - Good resumes tell me what you CAN DO for me, not what you DID for someone else. This includes soft skills, quantified statements of achievement – and confidence.

2. What is the most common mistake that people make on a resume and/or what is the one thing you see on a resume that really irritates you (not including typos)?

Kathy Wishart - A good many people submit resumes that look like a list. They’re bare bones information and lack the flesh and muscle that tell me about a person’s accomplishments and suitability.  A straight up pet peeve, for me, in a resume is the word “etc.” It tells me nothing. I’m also not fond of the personal pronoun “I” in a resume.

Dana Leavy - The biggest mistake I see is utilizing a resume as little more than a sheet of paper that denotes your experience, education and skills.  There is no branding message that tells me why you're uniquely qualified for the role, versus having the minimum qualifications.  A resume should follow a slightly formalized format, yes, but it should tell the "story" of your career by really sticking to a clear branding message that's evident throughout the document.  And the other mistake?  Assuming it all has to fit on one page, cramming information together, and ultimately sacrificing the readability of the document.

Mark Babbitt - The inclusion of an objective statement and other “I” related comments. At least until the first interview, as a recruiter the least of my worries is what “You” want or expect. I’m looking for a good culture fit, coachability – and someone who can do the job right now.

3. I keep hearing that “keywords” are the best way to get your resume noticed, but I also hear not to use “over-used” “buzz” words….but the job ad ALWAYS has these words in it. What are your thoughts on this?

Kathy Wishart - Buzz words don’t bother me, personally.  I think the problem with buzz words is that people tend to overuse them and not back them up with concrete examples that demonstrate that they possess that quality.  I’d much rather infer that someone is creative by reading about a cool accomplishment than the job seeker simply telling me s/he is creative.

Dana Leavy - The summary and skill sections are great places to include an keywords or buzzwords that you know your audience is going to be looking for.  Don't overdo it, and keep it genuine - anything you say in your resume you should be able to back up with context and examples in the interview, so don't just throw in keywords for SEO sake.

Mark Babbitt - If you are applying to a larger organization or agency that uses an Automatic Tracking System (ATS) you have no choice but to pepper your resume with keywords from the job description.

4. Everyone says objective statements are overrated. How should the resume open, and what should be included with it?

Kathy Wishart - In the most technical sense, the resume opens with a solid cover letter.  The cover letter should replace the objective statement.  Resumes open with the name and contact information of the job seeker.  After that, I like to see a well-crafted profile statement and relevant summary of qualifications.

Dana Leavy - See #1 above: Open not with an objective, but with a summary that clearly communicates your brand in terms of your skills, experience and any particularly unique angles that would catch your audience's attention.  This is the first section they will read, and you want to set a strong context for the rest of the document that compels them to keep reading.

Mark Babbitt - The summary statement mentioned above is far more effective at showing the recruiter how you will solve their problem; how you will contribute. The summary statement can be either a short paragraph (maybe 400 characters) or five to eight bullet points that highlight your abilities, experience and soft skills.

5. How important is it to include elements of your personality in your resume? Can it be detrimental?

Kathy Wishart - In my opinion, certain aspects of one’s personality, as they relate to the job at hand, should come through in the resume. The employer is hiring the whole person, not just a skill set or repertoire of experience.   This lends itself to cultural fit which is a huge factor in why people stay in or leave their jobs.  But, be careful, some details are just “TMI” – too much information.  Employers don’t care to know (and don’t need to know) about things like sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and hobbies.

Dana Leavy - LinkedIN is a better place to do that, as well as a blog, or even your cover letter, because you can make the connection between the qualifications in the resume, and why you want to work for that particular company.  If you're vying for the attention of a creative company, a startup, or anywhere else where you know there's a very particular company culture that you have to appeal to, you can make that connection in the cover letter, or the other documents.  While it might seem antiquated, the resume still has to follow the old standards and function as a more formalized representation of your qualifications.  But I do think you can get a little creative with your brand - throw your volunteer or internship experience in there, maybe list your memberships & affiliations with certain groups they might find appealing. 

Mark Babbitt - Depends 100% on the industry and company. In a conservative Fortune 500 company showing a unique personality can be a huge detriment. In a start-up, non-profit or entrepreneur driven business, however, “being a character” may be exactly what you need to do to get the interview. In all cases, tailor the resume to the audience.

I want to thank all of the participants for taking the time to share their knowledge in this area. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave one on this post, or follow the participants on twitter and talk to them for yourself. Tune in next week where we address the following questions;

6. If you are over-qualified for the position, should you leave out some of your qualifications?

7. Chronological, Competency Based or Other? How do we organize our resumes to screen in and catch your attention?

8. Is there a better font, font-size, length etc.? When the employer doesn’t specify these things, what do we do?

9. How helpful are graphics and other media in getting through the screening process? Do you have any tips on this for applicants?

10. Is there any advice you would give to job applicants regarding their resume that you have not already addressed?