Your resume is a marketing document. Its job is to position you to get your “right fit” work. Thus, its content is crucial. It must convey to potential employers exactly what you have to offer them, as well as the results you are likely to produce for them based on your past record of accomplishments. Here’s how to do that.
To begin, I advocate putting a profile at the very start of the resume, just under your name and contact information. A profile is not an objective (of course you want a job), nor is it a litany of your skills (boring!). It’s a succinct description of who you are in the workplace.
Your profile presents your unique value proposition – what you love to do and are good at doing, the skills you want to use in the future, and the attributes you want to highlight. Your profile also will capture your personality through a judicious use of adjectives. In sum, your profile conveys the substance and flavor of who you are in the workplace.
In some ways, the process of creating the profile is more important than the final product. Developing it gives you the chance to think carefully about your “unique value proposition.” In fact, the reader will usually catch the first five or six words of the profile and then move on to Experience. They might come back to it but even if they don’t, the profile will make an impression. It says that you’ve thought about and know who you are.
Everything you say in your profile must be backed up by your accomplishments, which are listed under each employer and job. Essentially, the profile is the thesis that you then go on to prove with concrete examples. It also is useful as a way to ensure that your resume is internally consistent in terms of the message you intend to convey.
BODY OF RESUME
The first thing read by a prospective employer is the name of the company for which you worked. Then they usually will glance at the title and years worked – some will read title first while others read years worked first.
Here’s the order of information that I recommend for the basic information:
- Employer’s name first, in bold, followed by its location, not in bold. Use the city in which employer is/was located. Only include the state if the city is not immediately recognizable e.g. Wareham, MA, or is easily confused with something else, e.g. Springfield, MO vs. Springfield, IL vs. Springfield, MA. Otherwise, New York or Boston or Chicago or Los Angeles is sufficient.
- Dates of employment, not in bold, on the same text line as the employer’s name and location. The dates should be tabbed over so they are on the far right of the page, preferably lined up with the right side of your address block.
If you worked at the company in more than one position, put the complete block of time over the far right. Next to each position title you can put in parentheses the dates you held that position. For example, Vice President, Sales (3/02 to 7/05).
Job titles can either be grouped together if your job responsibilities were substantially the same with the most recent encompassing the previous responsibilities plus more. If the jobs were substantially different, I treat each one as a separate job under the same employer.
- Title of your position, in bold and italics, directly underneath the employer name and location.
My experience is that most readers go through the entire resume once just glancing at employer, years and title. If all seems to be complete and consistent, then they glance at education to see if you have any degrees. So make sure you have no holes in time, and no major typos!
Only after that first quick read will they go back to look at individual jobs, starting with your most recent one first. After rereading your employer’s name and title, usually readers will move to the body of the entry. Here’s what it should contain:
- A brief paragraph describing your job
- Bullet points that highlight your accomplishments
In a four to six line paragraph that starts on the line directly underneath the title of your position, briefly describe the company you work for and your job responsibilities. Say “Led all communications and marketing efforts for Fortune 1000 technology firm (STOCK SYMBOL)” or “Oversaw day to day operations for 45 year old non-profit teaching literacy to adult New Yorkers” or “Managed entire recruiting and on-boarding process for 300 person homeless services agency.”
Use as many numbers as possible to give readers a good idea of the scope and depth of your responsibilities. For example, say “oversaw $3.5 million advertising budget” or “supervised team of 12, with four direct reports.”
Readers’ eyes are drawn first to numbers, then to CAPS, then to bold. Italics are rarely an eye-catcher, so use them only to indicate the title of an article or project, not for anything substantive.
Bullets are for accomplishments. I recommend limiting yourself to 5-7 bullets for your most recent job, 4-5 for your next most recent, maximum 2 for the next most recent and none for the oldest ones. Quantifying these bullets is important. Those are the things that will get you the interview. The interview allows you to fill in more detail and also to talk about accomplishments that weren’t listed.
Here are my tips for great accomplishment bullets:
- Lead with the results and impact of your work, when writing accomplishments. Use active, directionally positive words like “increased,” “improved,” “advanced,” “optimized,” “enhanced” and “expanded.”
- Use numbers as much as possible, especially with dollar signs and percentage signs; they are real eye-catchers and speak to many employers’ focus on the bottom line.
- Split the accomplishment into “what” and “how”: the impact or result, and how you achieved that result. For example, “Increased revenue year over year by 80%, through redeploying sales team.”
- Ask “so what” to get to the impact of whatever activity you want to include. If you want to include it, it’s probably important but only if you can somehow tie it to an impact that is somehow measurable – as in “increased” and “improved” and “enhanced” and “expanded” – or gives clear evidence of major responsibility, as in “directed,” “led,” “managed,” “launched,” and “created.”
- Brevity is best. Limit each bullet to one, maximum two lines.
- Give leading information to cause the reader to ask a follow up question. Remember, the point of a resume is to get you an interview. The interview is where the reader can ask you to explain how you redeployed the sales team and why that resulted in 80% revenue increase.
- Only include things you really want to do again – similar or greater scope of responsibility, the type of work or project, specific skills you really want to use again, or attributes you want people to notice.
The next post will address the remaining parts of a resume: Education, Affiliations, Recognition, and other sections that might be relevant to you.