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Writing a High Impact Resume

NationStaff's Resume Writing Guide

Introduction

Since every hiring manager is different, there can be no precise way to write a resume.This article is based on an opinion formulated over a decade spent in recruitment, and is an attempt to provide the reader with a simple formula that will maximize a resume’s impact. Although written under the assumption that the reader is an information technologist, much of the advice applies to any technical specialism or industry. I have also assumed that you already have an existing or generic resume that you are planning to update. If you are writing your resume for the first time, I would recommend a more comprehensive source of information; there are many websites and books that cover this subject in great detail.

A manager might review a hundred resumes for every interview he conducts. It is not surprising then that the decision to reject or approve an applicant to the next stage is taken quickly. For this reason hiring managers will scan or review a resume to see what jumps out at them; if nothing does, it has probably already failed. In almost all cases, the resume is an introductory tool, delivered with the sole intention of obtaining an interview. This implies that a resume should not be your complete life story, nor should it necessarily contain all of your achievements, skills, projects, qualifications, daily duties, favorite colors and so on. A resume should be a targeted, unique document that immediately emphasizes the characteristics that are most likely to be of interest to a specific hiring manager, and minimizes the effect of those that aren’t.

Writing the Resume

The resume is about you and is one of a number of tools you might use to help solve the problem of securing a new job. On the other hand, the resumes that get the best results tend to have one thing in common; they are written from the perspective of the hiring manager. Think of the resume as a marketing tool. The copy you write should be solely tailored to gaining the interest of this one reader. To do this, you must first get as deep an understanding as possible of the problem. The job specification is the first place to look, but the company’s website and other internet sources will help you build up a picture. Most technical specifications will include explicit skills required for the role. Use your in-depth knowledge of the industry to identify beneficial skills that are only inferred by the description and consider what attributes would make a candidate ideal for this role. At this point, any specific information about the hiring manager you can get from your recruiter is going to be extremely helpful in identifying key concerns, project goals, hiring preferences etc.

Be concise, accurate, relevant and honest. Do not be modest but try to be subtle. A common mistake is to get too detailed and end up writing yourself out of an interview. One of challenges facing managers hiring in a market so rich with candidates is the tendency to assume there is always a better candidate; after all, there is only so much time for interviewing and nobody wants to waste it. Too much information covering too broad a subject will lead to indecision and potential concern to a reader searching for a specialist. It is likely that you possess a number of attributes that, in the short term are of limited interest, but in the long run could prove to be extremely valuable. The resume should only imply these broader skills and knowledge, and should entice the reader to learn more. Above all, try to focus less on informing the hiring manager and more on gaining his interest. Treat the resume as a way to introduce concepts, subject matters, experiences that you can expand on at interview.

Example

To help illustrate some of the points raised here I have included a working example. Below is a job specification, as we go through the various steps I will build out an example resume:

The Summary

With any piece of marketing, you need a hook; something to grab the readers interest. That is why the first paragraph of your resume is so important, here you should make clear, concise assertions as to what you have done and can do.

  • Identify the key, explicitly required and inferred technical skills, and the attributes that you feel would make for an ideal candidate. Also, isolate your specific experience most likely to interest the hiring manager.
  • Write no more than 3-4 lines of short sentences that clearly assert your skills and experiences that are relevant to the role. What you write must relate to the specific problem in hand.
  • The summary should not be an objective; your objectives are not going to interest a hiring manager at this point, it is his objectives that the summary should address.

The Skills Summary

A technical resume will usually require a summary of skills and is also a great way to engage the reader. A common complaint I hear from managers is that too many skills are listed. There is nothing more disconcerting than going to a high end restaurant only to find the menu lists every dish under the sun – which chef can possibly make all those different dishes and still make them well? The same is true of technology.

  • Only list the core skills that are likely to be of interest to the manager.
  • If you feel it is important to list which version or release you have expertise with, then list only the latest version you know.
  • Do not list skills you have only a familiarity with, it is tempting to show everything you have worked on, but unless it is a subject that you are, at the very least, proficient with, don’t include it.
  • Also, avoid putting in sub sets of a skill, unless the job requirement specifies otherwise.

Professional Experience

If the Summary and Skills Summary assert what you know, then the Professional Experience section should demonstrate how you know it. Again, it is imperative to select the experience that is most likely to be of interest to the reader based on the information you have gained from the specification and your recruiter. Anything else should be excluded in favor of pertinent information or be reduced so as not to dilute the resumes impact.

  • In chronological order, list the various employees you have worked for, the date of your last day of employment, the city and state where you worked and your title on leaving.
  • Do not waste time describing the employer or its operations, such questions are best answered at the interview.
  • Long tenures can be broken up into specific projects, departments or titles (assuming you were promoted).
  • Under each tenure start by writing a short piece (no more than two sentences) that briefly introduces your responsibilities.
  • Introduce key achievements, projects and responsibilities using bullet points, be careful to include pertinent technology “buzz” words. I.e. if you built it in
  • Java, say so, don’t leave the manager to guess.
  • Don’t take this opportunity to educate the reader on the rationale behind the project or go into great detail on what went right or wrong. That is for the interview. For now, hint at these things by writing subtly about your achievements.
  • If a particular project was collaborative effort, be honest about it, but focus your writing on what you did.
  • Write up your most recent tenure using the present tense and your previous tenures using the past tense.

Education

The education section is straightforward and should include the institution, the award or diploma, the grade (if relevant) and the year. Do not include certification or awards that are expired or out of date. Avoid writing much detail about the course work unless there is a specific reason you think will interest the manager.

Other Sections

You may also want to include a section that lists any publications or certifications, many like to include a personal or extra curricular section. I do have one client who specifically looks for team sport players, that said, keep these things to a minimum. Too many sports hobbies and activities can lead a manger to wander when you have the time to work?

A word on length: Aim at writing a one or two page resume, dependent upon the content. A third could be necessary but if you can’t get it all down in three pages or less, review the job specification again and take our any unnecessary bullets. I can almost guarantee that in most cases a resume of four pages or more is rarely read and worse, can be irritating. Brevity is the key to impact, save the details for interesting anecdotes in the interview!

Formatting and Style

Do not spend too much time stressing over the format of your resume. Your recruiter will have a proven format he uses. If you are sending it direct, remember real impact is best achieved with good content.

Use Times New Roman or Ariel, for a more a contemporary feel, or any similar fonts.
Never use anything but black or dark gray ink on white or off white, standard letter paper.
Maintain the same formatting throughout your resume.

Definite Don’ts:

  • Don’t write in the third person. Once a standard, personally I don’t like it. You needn’t write “I” either, but that’s up to you.
  • Don’t use colors, charts, icons, pictures etc. Nearly always they are a distraction, unless there is a very specific reason to include one of these things
  • Don’t include reasons for leaving your last job – keep this for the interview
  • Don’t write about current or previous salary/compensation – this should be disclosed as part of the salary negotiations.
  • Don’t include references – these are generally given with a verbal offer of employment.

Good luck and happy job hunting!

About the Author   Twitter

Guy studied Psychology and Computing at Bournemouth University, England; majoring in Artificial Intelligence and Neural Networks before realizing that this discipline exclusively led to lab based roles (at least it did in ‘91). So he started a career in sales and subsequently ended up…