December 21, 2021

Building a strong resume

Building a strong resume

So far, we have used our #TuesdayTalentTips to support employers.  But not today — today’s tip is for the job seekers!  Over my career, I’ve looked at literally thousands of resumes.  I’ve seen it all — the good, the bad, and the ugly.  So here it is, my definitive guide to writing and submitting your resume. Most of my experience in recruiting comes from growth-stage technology startups. This feels important to know as you keep reading.

Your resume is about you, but it isn’t for you.

At the end of the day, your resume should feel like an accurate representation of you. More than that, you should be really excited about the version of you it puts out into the world. That said, your resume is not FOR you — it’s for the person reading it. When making any decision about what to include on a resume, come back to this question first — does the person reading this need or want to know this?  This can offer clarity when unsure about whether a bullet deserves the real estate on your resume.

3 key questions: what did you do, why did you do it, what was the result?

This is often the first piece of advice I give when doing a resume review.  For every element, but especially for bullets that describe a role you have been in, ask yourself whether each of these questions is satisfactorily answered. If it isn’t, either update the bullet or ask yourself the very firm question of whether you should include this at all or not.

Stop trying to get it down to a single least at first.

The most confident resume writers I have seen are folks who create their primary resume document as a massive build out of EVERYTHING they might include in an application.  When they go to actually apply for a role, they create a copy and then whittle it down to just what they want to include for that job.  This does three things: 1) creates a record of what you submit to each company so you don’t have to remember, 2) frees you from worrying about forgetting something or having to choose which resume content is “permanent,” and 3) allows you to really tailor your resume to the exact role/company you are applying for. A note on length: I am a big fan of a single-page resume.  I have rarely felt that anything more than the first page of information has provided something useful. If you have less than ~6-8 years of professional experience, definitely use a single-page option.

Experience is king.

The first thing I review on a resume is professional experience, and preferably professional experience that has a connection to the role I am recruiting for. Spend the majority of your time preparing your work descriptions, ensuring they tell a full story (see section above about questions that should be answered). Other sections, like Qualifications, Skillsets, Hobbies, etc can be nice but rarely factor into a hiring decision.

Keep your style/design simple.

If you aren’t a designer, your resume isn’t the time to become one. My resume has been black and white forever — I know that I can present the cleanest, easiest-to-read option with this style.  Only add in design elements if 1) it is related to the job you are applying for or 2) you actually have this skillset.

If the traditional resume doesn’t represent you well, then don’t use it.

I regularly chat with folks looking to switch careers, fields, industries, etc.  Often, they feel trapped by their resume — that the traditional structure isn’t allowing them to tell their story. If it isn’t working, then don’t use it! I have been really excited about project or skill-based resume structures as a different option to use.  Have you seen another style you like?  I’d love to see it!

Get outside feedback.

Have someone review your resume who doesn’t know you well. Specifically, have them highlight what got them excited (to be sure they are getting excited about the things you want them to get excited about) and what had them confused. Use this as a chance to filter out any buzzwords or industry jargon that might be standing in your way.

PDF.  Submitted on the careers page.  Always.

Short and to the point — always and only submit a PDF resume.  Any other format gets chewed up by applicant tracking systems. Also, be sure to apply for jobs on a company’s website/careers page, not on a platform that offers “quick apply” options. What you end up submitting with the “quick apply” is rarely nice to look at, and I can promise that it will lead to a recruiter needing to convince a hiring manager that your background is worth considering despite the appearance of the application.

Now you’ve got a submission-ready resume. Might I recommend you check out our portfolio job board? Right now, we have nearly 800 jobs from over 55 companies looking for people just like you!

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