Let’s cut to the chase, your resume probably sucks, and that’s OK. When you practice something once every few years you’re usually not very good at it.
I’m a Professional Resume Writer (yes that’s a thing, and there are dozens of us, dozens!) and I’ve written resumes for everybody from new professionals fresh out of college to Executive VPs looking to get their first CEO job. In my years of experience, I’ve noticed that most people make the same, easily avoidable mistakes. So I made a list of 8 resume commandments that will greatly increase your chances of getting that interview.
Keep in mind this is basic, general advice, not a foolproof plan. And remember, you still need to have the applicable experience and be at least somewhat likable.
1. Write for your Audience
After submitting your resume to countless online portals and LinkedIn postings, it’s easy to forget that you’re sending it to actual human beings.
Remember, your audience consists of recruiters and hiring managers, who, in addition to being human beings, scan through hundreds of resumes every day. Stand out by showing them what they want to see. They literally tell you what they’re looking for in the job description; so use it to your advantage. Highlight the experience you have that correlates with what they want.
2. Don’t be Humble
This is the only time in my life I will advocate against Kendrick Lamar for any reason. Don’t be humble, puff your chest out and brag. Humility doesn’t come across in print to somebody that doesn’t know you. Be confident, not arrogant. If you’re shy or humble naturally, listen to Run the Jewels while you’re writing, I find that usually helps. And yes, I relate most of my resume advice to contemporary hip-hop music.
3. Start with an executive summary and MAKE IT COMPELLING
Every single person I work with either doesn’t have an executive summary or one that is completely superfluous. “multitasking” isn’t a skill, neither is “hard worker”. You’re expected to be and do those things. This section is the most vital, and it should be written so well that the rest of your resume is just a formality. I hate the term “Elevator Pitch” but that’s what this needs to be. A succinct summation of exactly how talented you are. Highlight your skills relevant to the position/career you’re in. Pick 5 things you want to focus on and write one sentence per, then edit the hell out of it until it shines.
4. Put accomplishments for EVERY SINGLE JOB. NO EXCEPTIONS!
Always, always, always put your accomplishments on there, for every job, every time. It doesn’t have to be something incredible like “Best Sales Person on the Eastern Seaboard” or “#1 Employee 4 years running”. Think about a process you improved or a project you managed that went well and briefly describe it in bullet points under each job description. We do so much in our day-to-day jobs it’s hard to remember when we try to think of it all at once. One way to avoid this is by keeping a running list that you can reference once you sit down and start writing.
5. Don’t Mention Irrelevant Things
This goes back to knowing your audience. Your internship 10 years ago? Your server job at Red Lobster? Those things don’t apply to what you’re applying for. Focus on your relevant work experience so the reader can focus on what matters. Also, it makes it seem like you’re padding the resume in lieu of experience and doesn’t give off that “professional” vibe.
6. Formatting matters A LOT
Sure we’ve all seen that idea to “rethink” the resume on Pinterest, but unless you’re a graphic designer, these templates are completely useless. You’re only going to confuse the recruiter/hiring manager who will quickly move onto the next candidate (remember your audience!). They’re used to a certain format, so their eyes are searching for specific information on certain parts of the page. The flow should go like this:
- Name/Title/Contact Information
- Executive Summary
- Job descriptions (repeat as needed)
- Accomplishments (repeat as needed)
- Professional Affiliations*
*Never put this stuff at the top. Put it last, use bullets, make it one line each and don’t over explain something that hiring managers and recruiters are going to look at for 1 second.
Also, page count is relative to the industry/sector/job title you’re applying for. The length is irrelevant as long as what’s on those pages is compelling and relevant. For example, I’ve written Federal resumes go for 8 pages long that have gotten people interviews.
For most people, 2 pages is a good rule of thumb to keep from rambling. If you have a lot of experience/certifications (looking at you IT professionals) fit your summary/experience in the first 2 pages, and if necessary, use the third as a large list of education/achievements/certifications/clearances. That way, the reader will be able to verify you have the qualifications their company requires without getting confused.
7. Tell a Story
Human brains are wired to learn through storytelling. Use that to your advantage. Every job description should read like this:
- Here were/are the responsibilities I had at this job (in the job description)
- Here are some specific projects/programs I worked on (in the job description)
- Here were the results I produced while I had those responsibilities (list of achievements)
The more your resume tells your story, the more likely somebody will read it. This applies to your cover letter as well.
8. Not good at writing? Find a friend who is.
If you’re a bad writer, get by with a little help from a friend. Have them take a look and give you notes or edit it for you. Don’t have any writer friends? Contact me and I can make you sound like the most qualified, effective employee the corporate world has ever seen. My contact information is below, send me an email and I’ll send you a quote.
One final word of advice from A$AP Ferg: Put in work. The resume will get better and better the more you format and edit it, and it could land you your dream job.
Professional Resume Writer