Every business venture is only ever as good as its people. Finding the right talent and fit for a position is a major undertaking for both hiring managers and applicants alike. Though technology has shifted the methods of engagement a bit, the fundamentals of job searching and hiring are remain steadfast. Over the years I have fielded many questions about writing a resume, looking for a job, and what the hiring process is really like. Here I outline the fundamentals for resumes, specifically. By no means is this an exhaustive how-to for the job search world, or a definitive treatise on resume writing. But, with these foundational basics in mind your next resume re-write will come together as a much more polished and cohesive asset for your job search.
At the heart of it, your resume is a summary overview of your accomplishments, acquired skills, and passions, woven together into a brief that tells a (generally reverse chronological) story of your career path and aspiration for your next step (or fork) on that path. A well-crafted resume is a calling card aimed to entice the reader into wanting to know more about you, ideally leading to a phone conversation or in-person meeting.
Further, your resume should function as a catalyst for interest in you. It should help the reader to see a potential fit and motivate them to want to reach out to you. Above all, a resume is about effectively delivering a quality message, not inundating with quantity. A good resume is written with the perspective of the reader in mind. What would you want to learn about the career, skills, and abilities of someone you have never met?
There are three parts to the resume process in this Internet-based job search world: 1. your actual resume (written word), 2. formatting (human versus an automated resume screener), and 3. social networking sites (building out your "dynamic" self on social networks). There is a fourth component that binds together all of your efforts: Networking (the old-fashioned way).
- Think of your resume as telling your success story. It should build you out rather like a brand. Successful brands have a compelling story and generate an emotional connection. It is possible to do that for an inanimate object, so strive for that quality of a human connection through your resume.
- Value-add. This is the perspective you need to create about yourself. It is that which demonstrates what you have accomplished in past roles, and then projects how you will be able to leverage that value against the next big thing.
- Resume writing genuinely takes time to get it all together and honed into something truly reflective of you and your goals, as well as comfortable and easy to speak to when you get your time in the spotlight. A reliable approach is to start with a "master list" of everything eligible for space on your resume. Rank the bits that are engaging for your field, that highlight your story, and demonstrate your journey of tackling bigger and greater things. Then, iterate on it. It takes a few tries and some real editing.
- What actually goes on a resume? Include only pertinent information that conveys a useful snapshot of your skills, accomplishments, and passions. Specifically, a reader should see the basic foundation (education and/or skill-building experiences) and then a career path that shows evidence of an upward trajectory or sense of development and growth. Include information that helps to address a few questions:
- What challenges have you been given, then surmounted, and with what result?
- How do you structure your approach/thinking? What makes it actionable?
- How does the work you have done relate to what you want to do, and what you could do for the reader?
- Frame the description of your work using an action-oriented tone and get specific: You say you translated raw data into actionable consumer insights. How? What was your thinking process? What made it actionable?
- You actually need two resumes: The human version (which you would email to a person or hand to a recruiter) and the text-only version that is stripped of any visual design and arranged in a format fit for keyword-based scanning software.
- First, create your “professional” resume that is well-written and formatted functionally for a human to read.
- Avoid wasted space on your resume. However, that rule does not give you license to pack it with a visually dense mass of information. A good resume catches the eye, appears well structured, and enables effective visual scanning across the key points you want to emphasize as relevant to your qualification for a job.
- Create a text-only version of that same resume to submit via applicant web sites. Creative formatting definitely trips up the automated systems which will result in your resume living in a digital black hole.
- Extend your resume and presence beyond job applications and career sites by creating a profile on Linkedin.com, the now-ubiquitous professional networking site. Grab your personalized LinkedIn web address (for example: linkedin.com/in/ryansievers). Post relevant updates on your timeline. Share out information and use the rich features of the site to engage and connect with others. Leverage yourself and learn about others.
- Consider joining Twitter to follow others and keep up to speed on the happenings in your industry and locale. Keep your posts up-beat, positive, and generally professional. Lock down Facebook and keep it purely social and disconnected from the professional version of you. (Facebook is like a school yard or water cooler. Not a good place for maintaining professional connections.)
- For the more ambitious next step, create your own web site with your own content. Keep it simple and showcase more detail and depth about yourself than you can on LinkedIn or via your resume. Despite all the "build it yourself" web tools out there, this is still an area where you can really make yourself stand out compared to the rest.
- This is the most important, yet most time-consuming and challenging part of your job search. The Internet was supposed to have democratized job searching and applications, but it has not and the old fashioned need and rules still apply. You may collect Twitter handles and follows more than business cards, but real face-time is what is still necessary. Your next great job will come through some actual "in person" connection, whether existing or one you are about to make. Everything above is about the supporting infrastructure that will help fill in the picture of your capability when that connection is made and someone is interested.
- Make sure your LinkedIn profile and resume content match up (discrepancies between the two look unprofessional).
- Use LinkedIn (and your professional web site) to expand on the subject areas and places where you have had to be briefer on your resume.
- Make sure your email address is professional (read: does not include numbers or nicknames). This format works best: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Place your mobile number (only) on your resume and label it as such. A recruiter will then know they are reaching you directly.
- Include your LinkedIn personalized address at the top of your resume.
One Page, or Two?
The "number of pages you are allowed" debate is something that can really get recruiters and hiring managers worked up, despite there being no steadfast rule on which everyone will agree. If you just graduated from college, up to about five years into your career, you are definitely a one-pager. Anything more and readers will think either you are padding unnecessarily, or you think a little too highly of yourself (neither of which is good). Between five and seven years of experience and you can consider two pages, but many of us resume readers still prefer a succinct one-pager at this stage (which can be a testament to your ability to summarize and present information effectively). After 10 years (or a PhD) your full resume will likely need two pages. Remember, you must still be succinct with your writing, but you should have enough experiences along your career path that your list is simply longer.
Revisions and updates are part of the normal process of developing and honing your message. Your career is a journey of growth and like anything that grows you will occasionally need to prune. Your resume is not written once and then carved into stone. It is a living document that should change right along with your experiences. Typically we wait until we have to update it and then the whole endeavor feels rushed, frustrating, and impossible. No matter the state of your resume or other assets you should always been reaching out and networking. Use that experience to push yourself against a deadline to get things done.
The search and application aspects of the job market are incredibly fragmented with frustratingly contradictory advice and very little standardization. When in doubt, ignore the hype and go with what you think makes sense—which may even help you to stand out against the unremarkable. In my experience, following these points has turned a head, made an impact, or caught someone's attention in a positive way that led to the next step.
Have your resume and other assets in place and be ready and confident to speak to who you are, what you love, and what you can do, with comfort and confidence. This will help you to put your best foot forward and engender confidence in those you are talking with, which ultimately will spare you from the inane "best of luck in your future endeavors" and instead garner a "welcome aboard!"