The Art of Resume Writing
How outdated is your resume?
Let’s start with the basics behind the resume. If we think of the resume as a presentation of the candidate, then it better be well designed, accessible and easy to scan.
Resume File Type
The worst way to get started is with a resume that can’t even be opened. Keeping resumes to a DOC or PDF file type is generally the safest bet. One key factor to note is how users on the other end might use a resume. For most recruiters and hiring managers, text from a resume must be parsed or copied into a database. Occasionally, PDF files can prevent text from being copied. Before sending off a resume, ensure that the text can easily be copied and pasted into another text field or processor.
Space Saving Resumes
Headers, footers, margins and columns can all be misused to cram a resume down to size. Many candidates attempting to adhere to the two-page resume guideline will treat each of these formatting options as a way to save space. But cutting margins to their minimums or abusing columns will make text appear cramped. White spacing separates sections and helps encourage readers to scan a document while clearly presenting the resume. Removing all that white space will trigger some resume claustrophobia and tire out a reader.
Leave the Pictures Online
Candidates do not need a picture on their resume. Between LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media platforms used to engage others for networking there are already plenty of places a candidate can showcase their smile. But a resume is not that place. Posting a picture create formatting issues as well as take up valuable space. It is unprofessional and unnecessary.
There are endless ways to present a resume’s content. Some people underline job titles. Others bold company names. Some choose a single dash or an em dash between dates. Most important is to keep it all consistent. If titles are underlined then every title must be underlined. Don’t use a single dash between dates on one position and an em dash on dates for a previous position. If a final sentence in a bullet point does not end with a period, none should. Consistency might not speak volumes about attention to detail, but inconsistency does.
Crafting the Resume Content
Now it’s time to get to the heart of resume writing by filling up the page. While many candidates struggle knowing what information to include and what to leave off, a number of people aren’t even aware of key areas they should be addressing.
The Resume Tweak
Let’s imagine a candidate with previous experience as both a lead hardware engineer and a manager of a product development team. This candidate may seek a position as a director of engineering or product development, but the resume itself should not be the same. Recruiters can help candidates tweak their resumes before applying to a position. This allows hiring managers to see all the experience they are looking for right from the start. Resume tweaks are designed to steer the focus toward a certain industry, position or objective.
How to Keep a Resume Concise
There should be a purpose behind each point in a resume. Every skill, project, and objective should make a positive statement about the candidate. When going over a resume, simply ask “Does this serve a purpose?” This prevents extraneous information that hiring managers do not need to read. This can also turn bland statements into actionable items. It is a more valuable use of space to get specific about one particular project and what was learned than to simply list three tasks performed.
Engage and Maintain
The purpose of a resume is to win an interview. In order for that to happen, candidates need to engage their readers and provide an overwhelmingly positive first impression. This is why resume guidelines have always preached actionable verbs. No one wants to read a history of a candidate. Hiring managers want a resume to highlight the skills, accomplishments and energy of the candidate. It should speak to what the employer wants and needs by showcasing what a candidate has done to solve their problems. A reader should barely be a quarter of the way through and already want to set up an interview. This makes the start of the resume crucial for capturing interest.
Opening of a Resume
The opening lines of a resume will indicate whether or not a reader continues, or at least what attitude he or she keeps reading with. Most candidates include an opening summary and some employ an opening objective. If an objective is included it should be brief and serve a purpose for how the candidate’s goals align with the employer’s opportunity. Summaries too should be concise and flow from one point to the next without veering off or getting too detailed. A couple of the major skills of a potential opportunity can also find their way into the summary as long as it corresponds with previous experience and a desired role.
Here are some of the questions candidates ask regarding their resumes.
Q. Fact or fiction? A resume must be 1-2 pages.
Fiction. The fact is that if a resume were truly engaging no one would stop reading after a “guideline” number of pages. While two pages is a good target for some candidates, many with longer careers will go on to at least a third page. The focus should always be on crafting interesting points that point to why a candidate will succeed in the role. If each sentence follows that thread, length won’t even be an issue.
Q. How should I format dates?
Many candidates get thrown off by formatting dates. The biggest issue is a lack of consistency. If dashes, abbreviations or other formatting structures are used they need to be consistent throughout the resume. Generally a date is used to correspond to the total time spent at a company (i.e. 2010 – Present) and additional dates are added for each position title within that company (i.e. 2010 – 2012 for Director of Hardware Engineering and 2013 – Present for Vice President of Hardware Engineering). When it comes to using months the rule of thumb is no months unless the role was less than one year (i.e. February 2014 – October 2014).
Q. Should I include references on a resume?
Simply put, no. References should not be included on a resume. Some candidates choose to state “References available upon request.” However this is already understood and would simply take up extra real estate on the resume.
Q. Does my resume have to be in chronological order? I have some overlap between projects and education.
The best practice is to keep professional experience in chronological order. However, in certain circumstances a candidate might want to include a non-professional experience within a date period between jobs. Simply put, if there is a glaring gap on the resume between jobs, then it should be explained and filling it up with that educational certification or volunteer project can offer the solution. However, these can generally be listed elsewhere on the resume without issue.
This is also a separate issue than the “skills then jobs” approach to resume writing, which we do not recommend. It is far better to showcase which skills were used under each position rather than trying to include all of a candidate’s skills in one section and then list a bunch of jobs. This method generally loses focus and readers will scan past each position.
Q. Do I need to list my GPA?
Listing a high GPA can be a great point to a resume. Likewise there is no need to draw attention to a low GPA by including it on the resume. The general practice is anything of 3.5 or higher can be listed with the school.
Q. I can never get the tenses right? Is there an easy way?
The action points on a resume should be in the past tense for previous positions and can be in the present tense for current positions. But this can get tricky when a current position includes items that were done once and are not ongoing, such as hiring engineers to a team or publishing an article. If you are having trouble you can take the easy way out and write everything in the past tense.
Q. What’s the most important thing I can do for my resume?
Proofread. Then proofread again. Read it aloud to catch errors your eyes pass over. Then have your recruiter look over it and get an additional pair to catch any mistakes.