10 Ways to Write a Better Resume
Resumes. Now that school is out or almost out, you’re probably seeking an opportunity, be it an internship, a summer job, or a full-time role. How does one page displaying your education, skills and experience stress you out like that? Why is a resume one of the most equitable way to consider applicants? I can’t even tell you how many times I have altered my resume(s) during college and post-graduation–saving, renaming, editing and saving again before submitting it in for an internship or a job. Currently, I work with MBA students, Career Coaches and Relationship Managers in a Career Services office five days a week, seven hours a day (excluding lunch) and I love it. I realized that I’ve left my resume untouched for quite some time. That’s why I’m here–to update mine and to make sure you do the same to yours.
IT’S OKAY TO NOT KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN.
We all started there. It’s okay to be a bit anxious or nervous. We’ve all been there or are there now. There’s no need to endlessly scream into the void. I get it, who thought it was sensible to decide that human beings can reasonably be summed up on just a page, right? Well, your resume, along with other supporting information in your application ultimately determines who gets interviewed and it’s an evident critical first step. You are good enough, yes you are. I opened up my most recently updated resume and decided to write a post to hopefully help some of you begin, make tiny improvements, and/or calm down.
Here are some key takeaways based on personal/professional experience which may help reduce the questions and curiosity in your head:
1) Date alignment
Here’s a quick short story to kick-start this point: At work one day some time ago, a lady called the office and right away asked me: “your resume guide…why are the dates on the left and not the right? I tutor English and I told my students that Americans have their dates to the right, but yours are on the left. Why?” I asked her who is calling/where she was calling from and she answered: “an individual.” Why, yes, she is, and so am I. Not part of my point. The thing is, I’ve personally had the dates on my resume to the right in the past and my current resume dates are on the left. It might be preference? Left-align or right-align your dates – do whichever you feel most comfortable with. Think from the reader’s perspective, too (though every reader viewing your resume is a different person, so you can never really get it 100% right). Which alignment will make it easy for readers to scan with the format of your resume? I honestly am one for comfort. It’s your resume and if you’re happy with it, you’ll be able to tell your story better and be more confident. Do what makes your heart happy.
2) Use bolding, ALL-CAPS and italics sparingly!
The description and words you use should be able to stand on its own without having to bold, capitalize or italicize. Utilize action verbs! Click here to view an infographic with 222 powerful verbs to use in your resume bullets.
3) Show accomplishments, do not repeat job descriptions
Your resume should always accurately reflect your achievements and their scale.
+ Avoid using phrases like “responsible for” and instead use action verbs.
For example, “co-created a Twitter guide and posted 3-5 tweets daily as a Social Media Intern with an audience of 3,500” or “manage seven graduate fellows and make sure projects are on track and each employee is completing their work”
It’s quite easy to slip into a mode where you simply list job duties on your resume as opposed to what you’ve attained in your various activities (I know and admit I did it before, hopefully not anymore). Employers want to know how you can be useful and create or bring about better change.
4) Which means quantify achievements whenever possible…
and it’s always possible.
Show your value-add by describing how you improved the organization by using numbers: “created, edited and sent out career newsletters to over 815 MBA students on a weekly basis.” Why? Because numbers give readers and interviewers context to understand the degree of difficulty involved in a task.
If you helped an organization save, earn or manage money in your extracurricular activities, volunteer work, internships, part-time jobs or full-time jobs, always include it in your resume. Just ask yourself, if you were a business owner or CEO of an organization, wouldn’t you want that efficiency? It’s also important to meet deadlines, internal and external. Therefore, with your previous experience, if you can show that you can save time or manage time for an organization, it is powerful in the sense that it will definitely grab attention.
DO NOT PLURALIZE YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Looking at my old resumes and others’ resumes, I notice that we have a tendency to pluralize our accomplishments instead of including numbers or amounts. Instead of “create newsletters” it’d be more detailed to say “create an MBA1 and MBA2 newsletter weekly”.
+ The more we focus on time, amounts and money, the better we are in presenting our successes and showing our potential.
+ Doing this also makes us realize we are often times more talented than we give ourselves credit for and how much we have to offer our prospective employers
5) Formatting and length
Are there actual real rules regarding resume length? Yeah, we generally vouch for a page but hey, human beings have different preferences and expectations when it comes to resumes and different human beings will be reading it. This doesn’t mean you should write your whole life story and journey and send someone a four-page resume.
Generally speaking, limit yourself to a maximum of two pages.
Don’t feel like you must use two pages if one will suffice. Equally, don’t feel like you need to cut out all the meat of the resume to meet the subjective standard of a one-page resume. Be as concise or detailed as you think you need to be.
HAVE SUFFICIENT WHITE SPACE
Aside from your name, which should be a larger font size, the font size throughout your resume should actually be the same size to ensure easy readability. Have adequate spacing throughout the resume, please! I made the mistake in trying to incorporate EVERYTHING in my resume. If I don’t include everything, they won’t know me completely! Stop. You don’t want someone to look at your resume and have a throbbing headache. There needs to be sufficient white space. No need to be so ‘texty’. Readers will spend less seconds looking at your resume, especially if they have another 100 resumes to go over.
Spacing is important, so here are some key areas where spacing should be present:
+ Between category title (ex: “Experience”) and the first relative experience (ex: “Customer Service Representative”)
+ Between each experience within the category (ex: “Customer Service Representative and “Human Resources Coordinator”)
+ At the end of an experience and the beginning of a new category (this space should be greater than the first two above points—I generally enter twice)
+ Beware of the margins! They should not be less than 0.5” (both horizontally and vertically)
6) Make your resume adaptable
You want to make sure your resume is formatted in a way that is easy to modify for different positions with different requirements. You shouldn’t send the same resume for every position you apply for…avoid that as much as possible. Use formats that allow you to easily open up your resume and shift the focus from one requirement or skill over another.
7) …but make sure your resume is specific and non-generic as possible
When you are trying to apply for a job, make sure you sit down and really read the job description and write down the points that seem to come up more than once. This is because those points might be super important to the organization. You can’t tailor your resume to the job if you don’t know what it entails. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of a situation. Employers want you to write a resume specifically for them to show how and why you fit the position in their specific organization. Get to know their mission and values.
After finding the key highlights of what the employer is looking for, find the experience you have that would make him/her most excited about your application and rework your resume so that it becomes your top experience on your resume.
KNOW WHY YOU ARE APPLYING FOR A SPECIFIC POSITION.
Is it because you just need a job? Are you excited for this opportunity? Don’t apply just for the sake of getting a job. Apply because you are passionate and excited about the role. Please don’t settle.
TAILOR YOUR RESUME!
Ask a friend, a sibling or a mentor can explain to you why you’re interested in the position based on reading your resume. If they can’t articulate why you’re applying for the job or how are going to be a good fit, then you need to tailor your resume some more. Tailoring your resume is so important because it decides what first impression you make. It does take a little work but it will be worth it, trust me.
PLACE YOUR RESUME SIDE-BY-SIDE WITH THE JOB DESCRIPTION.
This might help you compare how well your fit is. Identify words that will resonate in the recruiter’s mind by visiting the organization website(s) and doing more research through social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and any news articles they produce or others produce about them. Reread the job description and understand the organization’s goals and vision. Through that, you will also learn and recognize if it’s a place you see yourself being in. Are you going to be challenged? Are you going to be able to grow?
I’ve always been nervous and anxious when it came to resumes mainly because it’s deceptively easy to make mistakes on your resume and exceptionally difficult to repair the damage once an employer gets it. So prevention is critical, whether you’re writing your first resume or revising it for a mid-career job search.
Your resume is your first introduction during your job search and is the first opportunity to get noticed in order to get your foot in the door in the early stages of recruitment. Your resume is a living, breathing document of who you are and what you are capable of. It allows you to showcase your ability to be creative storyteller of yourself. With that, let’s finish off my last few points:
8) Be present on Social Media
Building a personal brand is pretty important. It can help pave the way for great opportunities down the road, especially if you have a large network. If you use Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter professionally, it’s a good start. Social Media is a powerful tool allowing you to learn from others and connect with others who share similar goals and interests as you–people who are able to challenge your thoughts and opinions and make you think twice. Now, if you start a blog, it’s a great way to find your own unique voice and provide something of value or inspiration to others and build credibility.
+ Don’t forget to add an address, a phone number, an email address and social media platforms you are active in (ex: LinkedIn, a blog, Twitter) on your resume
9a) Check for grammar and spelling errors
So many people miss out on wonderful opportunities simply because they were too careless in making sure their resumes were clear of any spelling or grammar errors. I remember reading a LinkedIn article where one person talked about someone’s resume saying “professional booger” instead of “professional blogger”. One sample resume read “conslutting” instead of “consulting” and another read “asses” instead of “assess”. Quite the difference, huh?
Give yourself at least a day to look over your resume. I stare at newsletters for far too long when I do weekly MBA newsletters at work, so much so that minor errors here and there do not stick out. Allow yourself a fresh pair of eyes to look it over the next day. If you don’t want to wait until the next day, take a small break, come back, and print out the resume (use a different medium) and see if you catch any mistakes.
9b) Don’t forget to name your resume file smartly
If you are done making edits and revisions to your resume, be sure to save it under a proper name such as “First name, last name Resume” instead of “Resume”. You want the recruiter/hiring manager to know who you are without having to click into it. One less step saves time (remember above?).
9c) Please do everyone a favor and save your resume as a PDF
If you are sending in your resume via email, be sure to send a PDF rather than a .doc so that the formatting isn’t accidentally messed up when the recruiter opens it on his/her computer.
10) Constantly update your resume
Take some time every now and then to pull up your resume and make some updates here and there. If you’ve learned new skills, add them in. The perks of having your resume updated on a regular basis is that you’ll be ready to chase after an opportunity should it present itself without spending hours tweaking it.
There you have it…just 10 tips that I think would steer you in the right direction.
A well-crafted resume will give others a sense of who you are as a person, as reflected in the activities and achievements that matter to you.
…And now an attempt at a small Q&A section for some Tumblr users who decided to ask:
Q1: How important is formatting vs. what the actual achievements are?
This depends on what position you are applying for. Like I spoke with an MBA2 Graduate Fellow in our office, Andrew G, we agreed that for example, if it were a marketing role you were seeking, then the format would probably be a big factor in their consideration. It’s similar to how you dress, where first impression often matters quite a lot. It’s not that format or achievements should be more relevant, but you don’t want to be over the top, but rather come off as clean, simple, fresh and not overwhelming. However, you do want some of your personality and character to show through. “Don’t let formatting make you lose.” Andrew and I discussed that good formatting doesn’t make up for badly listed/described experiences and vice versa—good experiences and achievements do not substitute for poor formatting. There needs to be an overlap, a team effort, a balance. Does that make sense?
Q2: Why ask me all these questions for a minimum wage job?
Just because they’re minimum wage jobs doesn’t mean they’re less significant, mundane, or shouldn’t require an interview process. They are necessary to evaluate your qualification and fit. I was interviewed for my minimum wage Customer Service Representative position at my university bookstore during my undergraduate college career. My role consisted of many responsibilities and the position made me become a better communicator and increased my confidence. I think what you gain from the experience is more valuable than the “minimum wage”. Of course, money matters when you have bills and loans to pay off, but even with the minimum wage, I was able to save up with my paychecks. Interviews are a two-way street, so it’s a chance for you to ask the company/organization questions too, to see if you would enjoy being in the environment. After all, you’re interviewing them too.
Q3: What are words that are eye catching to a prospective employer, either good or bad?
To have a strong resume, you first have to make sure your resume portrays the depth of your achievements. Did you increase sales by 15%, did you increase a company’s social media following by 500 followers or did you lead/manage a team of 10? Keywords are important in the structure and wording of your resume.
Take a look at this list of A – Z keywords here for some ideas.
Q4: Will the employer read my resume?
…….YES. Recruiters will scan your resume for keywords or experiences and skills to see if you would be a good candidate. Most likely, if you pass the resume screening stage, you will be brought in for an interview with one or many members of an organization. They usually get a copy of your resume before your interview so they can review and familiarize themselves with your experience and knowledge and come up with questions to ask you. An interview is a chance to show employers who you are and what you can offer them without regurgitating your resume. It is an opportunity to tell them other cool things about you not listed on your resume. Make sure you know yourself and your resume well. Do not include anything on your resume that you cannot expand on. So to answer your question, yes, please do have a resume ready.
Q5: I never worked before but I’m a hard worker and do things very well. How do I write a resume when I have no experience?
I think when we’re applying for a job, we generally care more about our credentials and qualifications than people hiring us. We obsess over being qualified on paper, meanwhile companies/organizations are really trying to find the right person to fit into the company culture who can help problem-solve and add value.
I’ve felt like this many, many times in life actually. Think about what you did in the past. There’s at least one project you worked on that has some relevance. So my two cents is maybe drawing from a volunteer experience, getting an unpaid internship, or creating your own experience.
Volunteering somewhere can give you transferable skills. It can allow you to get your foot in the door if you don’t have specific experience. Let’s say you want to get into Human Resources and don’t have relevant experience. Volunteering at a non-profit that has an HR person would be a good idea. Maybe you could help check references or helping to screen candidates…it counts for something. If you’re in school and you volunteered on the Dean’s Team or held a position in a club, add it.
Internships are another avenue to turn to. Many organizations look for talent and support without having the money to pay for a full-time professional. Some organizations don’t even have intern programs, but they might just be open to starting one if you provide the right information and interest. Focus on telling your story and speak passionately about why you’d like to learn and help out.
The last suggestion I can think of right now is to create your own experience. If you have a passion for design or writing and have attended art school, for example, then you can create sample work through a portfolio or you can create your blog to showcase your work. You can simply create experience by practicing. Connect with others, network and let people leave comments on your work. You don’t really need someone’s permission to create a website to have samples of your writing or photography up.
Here are some articles that may give you additional perspective:
Do YOU have any resume tips and tricks to share?
Please leave a comment below– all feedback and comments are encouraged and welcomed! (Like, if you found a grammar or spelling error in this post.)
If you have other questions that you think I might be able to help with, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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