Last year, I published my 10 commandments of resumes as a series of posts. As I prepare for a workshop tomorrow on resumes, I am reminded of this post and thought I'd share it here as a single article. Mind you, it's long, but if you're struggling to create a great resume, I think you'll find this worth the read. I'd love your feedback.
Are you tired of your job? Thinking about starting the search for a new one? Well, your first step is to create a compelling resume that will help get your foot in the door. For those of you who have been in the same job for some time, you'll discover that resumes have changed over the years. Gone is the list of responsibilities. What employers and recruiters look for now are what actions you've taken and what results you created to benefit the business. That helps them see how YOU can help THEM.
Another wrinkle is the advent of applicant tracking systems (ATS), which has greatly changed what's required in a resume. An ATS is calibrated to score your resume based on data such as key words, skills, former employers, and years of experience. Your resume is scored. The higher the score, the better your chances of having your resume reviewed. Fail to include the right combination of key words and other data, and your resume can score low, never being seen by human eyes.
Now, as with most career coaches, I do not recommend my clients simply apply blindly for jobs using online applications. The most direct way to your next job is your NETWORK. However, you still need to get your resume into the employer's system, so you want to make sure it's found.
So, here we go!
Commandment #1: Thou Shalt Not Use a Header
We have all become quite used to using headers in our documents. They help us format information, and use it consistently on each page. Sadly, some ATSs strip the header out. So there you are. You've worked hard and put in hours and hours of work (or dollars if you used a professional resume writer) on your resume, only to have it arrive without your NAME, EMAIL, PHONE NUMBER AND LINKEDIN PROFILE. The employer may be really excited about your resume, but have no idea who to contact.
The solution? Simply type your NAME, EMAIL, PHONE NUMBER AND LINKEDIN PROFILE URL at the top of the first page. Use tabs for spacing, and keep the alignment consistent with the body of the resume. If you desire, you can put a line across the document to separate this information from the body.
On the second page, simply put your NAME, PHONE NUMBER, and EMAIL at the top. This is important so that if your resume is printed out and the two pages get separated, the employer still knows who those pages belong to.
Commandment #2: Thou Shalt Not Use Tables
Today, the topic is tables. We love to use tables to align multiple columns on our resumes. After all, they help create multiple columns for those all-important key words. And they help align the Employer Name and Employment Dates. But beware! Many Applicant Tracking Systems strip out this information because they are not programmed to interpret tables. Just like yesterday's topic on headers, any information contained in tables is likely to be lost.
Sadly, there are few alternatives beyond simply tabbing and spacing. Here are a few tips for the most significant sections of your resume:
1. Name and contact section at top of first page. Simply type your name (all caps in a larger font, and bolded) on the left margin of the first line. Then press the Tab key as many times as needed to reach approximately 11 spaces to the right margin. Enter your phone number. Since it is no longer recommended that you include your home address, the second line can contain your email address and LinkedIn URL. To see an example of a header, click HERE.
2. Key Words. It can be very frustrating to organize your key words area. I most prefer to use the bullet symbol (without the bullet functionality) by inserting it into the text. To do this, click on the Insert tab in MSWord. Then select Symbol, and using the drop down arrow, locate and select the bullet. Finally, paste is at the left margin of the Key Word line. Enter one space and your first Key Word. Simply copy the bullet from the first Key Word, tab to your next preferred location, paste and enter your next Key Word. Continue across the line, entering no more than 3 columns. You can then continue for 2 or 3 more lines. To see an example, click HERE.
3. EMPLOYER NAME, City, State and Years of Employment. Again, by simply typing the Employer's name (bold and all caps), a comma, City, ST beginning at the left margin, tabbing and spacing across to approximately 11 spaces before the right margin and entering the years of service (2008 - Present). There is much discussion over the use of months on a resume. I'll leave that to another time. Use your preference.
Commandment #3 - Thou shalt not have more than a 2 page resume
I've had more than one client come to me with a 4-5 page resume chock full of great accomplishments. It's hard to talk them into cutting it down. They are proud of their accomplishments and feel it's important to convey EVERYTHING to a potential employer.
The sad truth is that the first person who actually looks at your resume, devotes all of 8 seconds to it. That's how little time you have to convince them your resume is worth more reading. This is why so much attention is devoted to the top half of the first page. You MUST grab their attention here. The trick is to put as much PERTINENT information in this section as possible, without cluttering it up with lines, italics, and other busyness. Include just enough to let them see you as a real contender! Here are the three things to include at the top half your page 1:
1. Clear Contact Information. See my previous blog on this topic.
2. A Strong Summary (formerly called Objective) of who you are as a professional, including your desired title, areas of expertise and traits that make you a valuable asset.
3. Key Words. Present these clearly, succinctly and include only those that are relevant to the position you are applying for. Yesterday's post discussed the formatting of the Key Word information without the use of tables.
This section is followed by your Professional Experience, then Education, and finally, any relevant information that will make you stand out. Do you have certifications identified as requirements for the job? Have you published or presented?
And, yes, it is hard to compress all of your experience into 2 pages. Admittedly, there are some exceptions where you can run more than 2 pages. HERE's a great article that discusses length. But, this is the exception more than the rule.
I like to quote Mark Twain when dealing with resumes. He's known for apologizing for a long letter by saying, "I'm sorry this letter is so long. If I'd had more time, it would be shorter." I love this! Yes, it takes time, concentration and skill to be concise. You don't want to give it all away in the resume. You want to pique their interest so they call you in for an interview.
Let's take a closer look.
Limit your resume to the past 15 years. In truth, employers are most interested in your last 5 years. Reaching back into your history for jobs you held 20 years ago is not likely to be relevant in most cases. There are exceptions for skills exhibited in the past that are highly relevant and you haven't used recently, or a particular employer you wish to list. In most cases, this can be resolved with a section called OTHER RELEVANT EXPERIENCE where you simply write a sentence or two about that experience.
Carefully choose the accomplishments you list. Identify the top 5-8 things you did, and their results for your most recent work. State it simply. What did you do and what resulted? Don't give them all the details. You can do that during your interview. Use strong action words to begin each statement, and use a variety. I've saved a list of these on my website. Here's one example:
Designed and implemented a new mentor program for sales representatives, resulting in 30% improvement in customer satisfaction ratings.
A potential employer will be sure to notice this if they are having customer satisfaction issues, and will want to ask you more during your interview.
Each successive job can have fewer statements. With each successive job going back into your history, relevance decreases, so you don't have to have as many bullets. Include only the most significant.
Education. Typically, you need only include the degree earned, School, and location. It is not necessary to list years, unless you are a recent graduate. Here's an example from my resume:
MA, Human and Organizational Learning, The George Washington University, Washington, DC
It's not going to be quick or easy, but you will end up with a resume that is crisp, concise, relevant and conveys the right impression. And, isn't that what you'll be asked to do once they hire you?
Commandment #4 Thou shalt customize your LinkedIn URL is today's commandment.
Nothing looks more professional and says I've got it together like a LinkedIn URL that has your name/business/trademark. While there are so many things about LinkedIn that a job seeker should know, that's a whole separate topic. Today, we're just focusing on your URL.
Instead of www.linkedin.com/in/andreacole23_242, I customized mine to www.linkedin.com/in/colecoach. So easy to do and so easy to remember.
Imagine you are out running errands one day. You don't go to the grocery store or lumber yard with a copy of your resume. Suddenly, when you least expect it, you run into a potential networking opportunity. Every possible thought runs through your brain about how to make a lasting impression on this person AND give them some information they can follow up on. Well, with a customized LinkedIn URL, you CAN quickly recall what yours and provide it. And, the best part of all is that it's quick and easy to do.
Log into your LinkedIn Profile and go to Edit mode.
You'll see your LinkedIn URL at the bottom of your header section with the little pen icon next to it.
Click on the pen icon and you'll be taken to Your Public Profile page.
On the right hand side, scroll down a bit and you'll see "Your public profile URL".
Simply click on the pen icon next to your URL and enter what you would like it to be. Typically people use their first and last name, like www.linkedin.com/in/andreacole.
When you click through, LinkedIn will alert you if this is already in use, as was the case with the previous attempt. You might then try last name, first name - www.linkedin.com/in/coleandrea. Again, that was taken.
Or add your middle initial - www.linkedin.com/in/andrealcole. Once again, taken. It's amazing how many Andrea Cole's are out there!
Or simply your first initial and last name - www.linkedin.com/in/acole. You guessed it, taken again. So I went with something that described my business. www.linkedin.com/in/colecoach. Voila! Done!
Keep trying until you find one that hasn't been claimed. It might take some creativity, but just be sure you use something you can easily recall and that is relatively easy for other people to interpret.
Save your new URL and you're done!
Remember to use this on your resume. I like to see it used at the top of the first page along with other contact information and again on page 2, just in case the two pages get separated. A potential employer will still be able to find you and read all your marvelous accomplishments!
Commandment #5 Thou shalt include accomplishment statements using strong action words.
Resumes have changed through the years. The list of responsibilities is outdated and long gone. What recruiters and employers want to see now is what you've accomplished. What actions did you take in each of your roles and how did the company benefit?
Here's one from my resume: Reduced first-year turnover for new consultants from 35% to 7%, preventing $672K losses in annual training costs, by instituting a “side-by-side” onsite mentor program with senior consultants.
A potential employer can look at that and envision me doing the same thing for them.
Crafting your statements is a challenge. I frequently quote Mark Twain to my clients. "I'm sorry this letter is so long. If I had more time, it would be shorter." Yes, it is hard to condense what YOU want to say into what THEY want to read. Be concise. Tempt them with the highlights. Let them call you in for an interview to learn how you did it. That's when you can share more.
Let's talk about how to craft your statements.
1. Begin with a strong action verb, always stated in the past tense. (Remember, you're telling them what you've already done). Examples include Facilitated, Led, Introduced. For more, see a document compliments of hr.Berkeley.edu that I've saved to my website.
2. Feel free to use "I". Even though we live in a culture of teams, YOU are being hired, not the entire team. Be proud and OWN what YOU have done.
3. Just give the high level information. What did you do?
4. What were the business results that came about due to your actions? Hopefully you have quantifiable data (reduced error rate by 20%, increased customer base by 300 in less than a year). But don't worry if you don't. Tell them what you can. "Significantly improved customer satisfaction" can work quite well. Just be sure to be honest. Of course, some have to consider Nondisclosure agreements. Do not disclose internal information. See if it's been in the news, or published elsewhere. If so, you can use it. If not, use some general term that will adequately represent the results.
5. Try to put on the reader's hat. Ask yourself, "So what?" after each bullet on your resume. If you can't answer that question, your bullet may not carry any relevance to the reader.
6. Have the most bullets for your most recent job, with decreasing numbers for each successive position.
7. Finally, remember, the resume is not for YOU. It's for the EMPLOYER. Convey to them the value you can bring to their company. Don't tell them every detail. Entice them to call you in for an interview to learn more.
Commandment #6 Thou shalt have a strong opening statement.
Call it what you will: opening statement, objective, professional summary, you'll want to present a short, yet powerful summary of your experience, strengths, and skills. Again, being concise, yet thorough, is going to require some work. Remember that your resume gets, on average, 8 seconds of review by a human being. That's enough time to look at the top half of your page 1.
Just as discussed in yesterday's blog about accomplishment statements, you need to be concise with your words AND be thorough. It's not easy and will take some time to develop a statement that accurately and powerfully conveys the value you bring and entices the reader to continue reading. Let's take a closer look at what's required.
1. Shoot for 3 to 4 sentences. Any less, and you probably haven't said enough. More than that, and you've probably said too much. Now, as with everything, there are exceptions. I've seen perfectly written statements that were 6 typed lines on the resume because this person simply needed that much. Could it have been shorter? Probably, but in this case, it worked.
2. Don't use 'I' statements. This one can be a matter of taste. Some prefer to use them, others don't. They save 'I' statements on your LinkedIn profile where it's perfectly acceptable, and in fact, encouraged to put more of your personality into the summary. The header photo for this blog shows a nicely written example without using 'I' statements.
3. Start by stating what you do. Are you a Financial Analyst? A Software Engineer? A Sales Representative? Put it out there so they can see you in the job. Again, there are some different thoughts on this one too. Some prefer to use a generic title, such as Accounting Professional. Others prefer to put the job title they are applying for here. This modification of the resume is best practice and we'll discuss it more thoroughly in Commandment 9. But, beware, while customization will work for the resume, your LinkedIn profile needs to be more global so it can accommodate more than one potential job. Look for information online about LinkedIn. There are plenty of great pieces already written on this topic. Click HERE for one such article.
4. Next, tell the reader where you specialize. Non-profits? Start Ups? Fortune 500? Small Business? Or, perhaps, particular industries. If you are targeting high-tech companies, include your experience in high-tech. Many people can list more than one. Again, it helps frame your experience and allows the reader to start envisioning you in the job.
5. Now, we're at the point where you tell them what your special skills are that will allow you to stand out from the competition and demonstrate why YOU are the perfect candidate for the position. I advise clients to compile a list of all the skills they have. Then, for each job, include those that apply to the job. You might be a skilled negotiator, but if that skill isn't highlighted in the resume, it's probably not one to include.
6. Finally, my preferred final sentence begins with 'Known for'. I like it because it allows the statement to go beyond what YOU say about yourself. It tells the reader what others say about you. Look at old performance reviews, ask colleagues and coworkers. It makes the statement a bit more powerful.
So, there you have it. Follow the steps, work with the words, have someone else read it, and you'll have a concise, yet compelling, opening statement to your resume!
#7: Thou shalt include name and contact on page 2
This one might seem intuitive to some and obvious to others, but believe me, it's overlooked all the time. We all know to create a contact section at the top of page 1 containing our name, email, etc. But remember, once you've used your connections to make your introductions, most companies are still going to require you to apply online, or at a minimum, submit a resume. Once received, your resume is often printed. Imagine this happens, the pages get separated, someone is REALLY impressed with page 2, but cannot identify who this talented, experienced individual is.
Yes, it happens! To avoid this, simply include some basic information on the first line of page 2 (and 3 if you have more than 2 pages). What to include? I recommend three items: Your name (first and last), your phone number, and your LinkedIn profile URL. That's it! Even if your resume pages get separated, your experience will be easily identified, and the employer can still find you to review your LinkedIn profile and call you in for an interview!
#8: Thou shalt list key skills on page 1
We head back to the top portion of page 1 once more, to a topic we covered from a formatting perspective - your key skills. I've spoken about this one before from other perspectives, but given the number of resumes I've come across that lacked this important element, I feel it's worth one more look.
Commandment #2 talked about avoiding tables when building your key skills, and Commandment #3 , discussed what skills to include on your resume. Let's now revisit this area in its entirety.
The top half of page 1 of your resume will get approximately 8 seconds of review by a recruiter or hiring manager. As a result, it needs to include three key elements: contact information, professional summary, and key skills. Doing so, presents the most important information to capture the reader's attention and make them want to read further.
You want to highlight those skills that are particularly relevant to the job you are applying for. Yes, that does mean you will tailor each resume to the specific job you're applying for. We'll talk about this more in tomorrow's blog. Carefully review the job description. What are the key words that are listed as Required, or that are mentioned multiple times? Those are the skills you want to include, assuming you have them, in the key skills area on your resume. Pick both technical and soft skills to reflect the full breadth of the value you bring to your work. One tip people like to use to is to copy/paste the job description into a website like tagcrowd.com to make a word cloud of key words. Another is paste both your resume and the job description into a site like jobscan.co, where, not only can you get a list of the key words, but you can see how your resume stacks up against the job description by seeing what your score is. This is really important if you decide to apply for a job without making use of your network. Certainly not highly recommended by anyone in the career coaching field, but sometimes necessary.
List enough key skills to be thorough without listing a complete laundry list. Let the skills you most want to highlight for that job shine through. List them in order of importance from left to right and top to bottom. In the header picture above, Global Media Strategy is the highest priority skill, followed by Digital Planning & Execution and so on. Take time to review the job description, choose the skills to include and lay them out appropriately. I recommend 3 across and 3-5 lines, giving you up to 15 key skills to share right up front on page 1.
Today's commandment is Thou shalt customize your resume for each employer.
I know. It's not what you want to hear and it's going to require additional work. In today's world, it's all about key words and ensuring your resume aligns as closely as possible with the job description. There are lots of books and articles from many career counselors that support this. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn't agree.
So, where do you start? Let's just work our way down the resume.
1. Some people like to place the title for which they are applying either on the top line with their name, or directly above the opening statement, or perhaps, in the opening statement. If you do any of these, clearly you need to change the title each time to match the one you're applying to. How embarrassing to have Financial Analyst when you are applying for a Senior Accountant position!
2. Next up, that all important key word field. Look at the job description. What are the key words that keep popping up time and again? Run the job description through tagcrowd or wordle to create a word cloud. What words are big and bold? Use those words in the key words section. And remember, they must be actual words that apply to your background and skills. Don't lie or exaggerate on your resume....EVER! Getting caught in a lie is a sure way to lose out during the interview, or worse yet, after you've started the job.
3. Match the language of your resume to that of the job description. I also work in the area of leadership development. If I were looking for a job, the job description may call it leadership & development, or organizational development. Whatever their lingo is, change the words in your resume to match......keeping it honest! You want people to look at your resume and see the person they are seeking.
4. Don't be too wordy. Is everything you've written on that 3 or 4 line accomplishment statement really necessary? Is there anything there that doesn't apply to this position? Then take it out. I am a big proponent of not providing any 'distractors' on your resume. Only use information that is relevant. I have a background in accounting, but I'm not going to include that anywhere on my resume unless it's relevant to the position I'm applying to.
5. Hobbies and affiliations. Many clients I've worked with have some interesting hobby, interest, or experience. That's great! But, is it relevant to the job? Perhaps you're a volunteer at the local animal shelter. Wonderful! But wait, how does that add to your candidacy? Probably not much. On the other hand, if you are applying for a job with a non-profit and have no experience working in a non-profit, but do have extensive experience volunteering at non-profits, by all means include it, since it is relevant and will ADD to your candidacy.
6. It's been said, but worth repeating: don't lie or exaggerate. It may get you in the door, but will not sustain your candidacy once discovered.
7. Proof read, proof read, proof read! Make sure there are no typos. Have someone else read through your resume and see if they notice anything. Get their thoughts on how you've worded things. A second set of eyes is invaluable.
8. Finally, you've done all this work to make your resume match the position you are applying to. SAVE IT! I like the practice of creating a folder on your computer for each company to which you apply. In that folder, keep the job description, resume and cover letter. This ensures that when you begin speaking to the recruiter or hiring manager, that you are speaking to the same resume, AND speaking their lingo!
There you have it! You've now written a resume that is a winner! Its language looks, feels, and sounds like the organization you're seeking.
Commandment #10: Thou shalt not make it too busy
This is an easy one for people to break. It's tempting to use color, lines, italics and a multitude of fonts, but based on conversations I've had with recruiters recently, they prefer less, not more. Now, as with all of these 10 commandments, there are exceptions. I've seen some amazing resumes for graphic artists, or marketing professionals that make sense for their line of business. When and where to use a more embellished resume, is an article for another day. For now, we're talking about the vast majority of people who, while using their network, need to have a resume that is easy to read and easily uploaded to companies' websites.
1. Photos. Personally, I love the idea of your photo on your resume. It's personalized, just like your LinkedIn profile. But, any employer can easily view your LinkedIn profile, with your picture, so leave it for there and not on your resume.
2. Color. Yes, it's a nice touch, and a little color is not a terrible thing. But keep it simple. We'll talk about lines in a moment. If you use a line, go ahead and throw your color in there. It's clean. It's simple. It's not distracting.
3. Lines. Yes, lines. I see them overused all the time. One line at the top to separate your contact information from the body of your resume is fine. But to separate each section with lines is a bit of overkill. I'm sure there are people out there who disagree, but recruiters I speak to don't like them. And, after all, we're trying to please them, right? They are the gatekeepers between you and hiring managers.
4. Italics. This is probably the most overused formatting I see. Don't italicize things like your job titles or company names. Use them judiciously and only when appropriate. Save the use of italics for something truly noteworthy on your resume.
5. Multiple Fonts. Yes, this one is interesting. The overall impression one gets reviewing a resume with multiple fonts is that the writer didn't pay attention to fonts and inadvertently used more than one. Now, this is NOT the impression you want to give. There are three fonts commonly recommended for resumes: Arial, Times New Roman and Calibri. Calibri is my favorite. Select all text, change the font to your choice, then adjust the font sizes to bring attention to certain items.
6. Font Size. Overall, you want your resume to be easily readable to all. Generally, fonts 10-12 are acceptable, although I find 10 in most fonts too small. Again, I recommend Calibri 11 for most of the resume. It's easily readable for most generations. Do NOT be tempted to make the font smaller to fit your resume onto fewer pages! Spend some time reducing the word volume. Remember my Mark Twain mantra, "If I had more time, it would be shorter."
Convert your resume to Calibri 11 (or Arial or Times New Roman). Here are my recommended adjustments:
Name. At the very top of your resume, use all caps, bold and font size14.
Headers. This is for the words preceding each section (Summary, Work Experience, Education). I like to see them centered and reduced to font size 10. After all, these headers are simply used as a reading guide. We don't want to draw attention to them. We want the reader to notice our accomplishments.
The above are the only time I change font size on resumes I write. Of course, you have your own preferences. These are simply guidelines and my recommendations. The only other embellishments I'd use in formatting is to bold the following: Company name, titles, total years of employment, degrees, publication titles, and certifications, all in the same size font as the rest of the resume.
Andrea's passion is to see you achieve your professional dreams. Whether you are a corporate leader seeking leadership development for your employees or an individual seeking guidance in building your career or preparing for retirement, she will coach you to success.