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Resume Writing for the Rest of Us

This economy is challenging to the best of us. There are a million posts out there about job hunting and getting a job. This isn't one of those.


We all need a current resume. Whether you have been in your job twenty years and are not looking to move or you are currently in the market, keeping your resume current reminds you of the value you bring to an organization. And it's usually a boost to your self-esteem, if you do it right.


Orienting Yourself

Most of us have problems starting with a blank sheet of paper. And most of us are not comfortable talking about ourselves. So, we will start filling up that paper with a few details that are easier to write.


Make a list of the companies you worked for and positions you held. Easy right? Include when you started in the role and when you moved to the next thing. Now think about how big the company was when you started working there. How big was it when you left or how big is it now, if you are still there? This can be number of employees, number of products, how much money it brought in, your team size, how many widgets it produced, or another measure that affected how you did you job. Put that below the company name ("During this time my company grew from x units to y units."). This might remind you of how things were in the beginning and how much things have changed, or not.


Remembering Your Role

This is the part where most people get stuck. How much do I tell about my job description? The answer is, not much. The fact is most roles are similar in terms of job descriptions. Restating your job description isn't much help to you and definitely doesn't help someone who doesn't know you and doesn't work for your company. What you should do instead is write one or two sentences about your responsibilities. Did you oversee a team of five and help with career development? Did you deliver quality products? Keep it brief and remember to focus on what you did. This will be the anchor that will help derive accomplishments, which we will get to later.


Self-Improvement

This is what is commonly referred to as the education and training section. These are activities you undertook on your own to further your career. And yes, I view it that way. Not everyone in your role has the same motivation, and not everyone in your role will undertake the same effort to improve.


In this section, include educational institutions you attended, degrees obtained, and significant course work that differs from your major. Depending on how far along you are in your career, you may include graduation dates and grade point averages. The further along you are, the less it matters. You might keep this information in a private copy of your resume to remind yourself and remove it when applying for jobs.


You should also include certifications obtained. Include the organization that awarded the certification and the full name of the certification in addition to the acronym (since some certifications from different organizations use the same acronym). As with education, the dates are important early in your career and become less relevant later.




Accomplishments

Now that we have the structure and easy details out of the way, we get started on the hard part. Accomplishments. The bullets under your company, job title, and short description of responsibilities should reflect your key accomplishments. And I use the word "key" here because you are an amazing person with many accomplishments, but we don't have enough space to list everything.


Let's take a minute to talk about how to identify a "key" accomplishment. There are two ways of looking at this. It could be what is important to a company or what is important to you. Ultimately the two should be in sync for you to be happy in your role. However, I will not assume that what makes you happy also makes you money. Sometimes the two will differ.


I will start with what is important to you. Think back on the specific role. You likely performed a litany of duties and possibly won awards (if your company is into that kind of thing). For me, personally, I did many things that were important to the company that I did not particularly enjoy doing and would avoid doing again. I either choose to leave those off my resume all together, or to frame them to highlight the part of the work I did enjoy. As a generic example that most of us can relate to, in a food service business you might not enjoy cleaning tables. However, organizers enjoy creating cleaning stations, socializers enjoy chatting with customers while cleaning, and decorators enjoy making the tables look nice after cleaning. Those can all be accomplishments:

  • Improved cleaning efficiency by creating way stations for servers to drop off dirty dishes and trash, reducing trips to the kitchen.

  • Improved customer experience by utilizing cleaning time to get to know the customer.

  • Received compliments on table decorations that resulted in more customers ordering dessert.

Alright, I made that last one up to highlight my love of dessert, but you get the point.


If you were in a position that you really enjoyed, coming up with your accomplishments is much easier. If a job is just a way to make money, you may have more framed accomplishments like the ones above. Or you may need to completely focus on what is important to the company. Regardless of which stance you take, keeping your list of accomplishments is important as it helps you remember that you are what is valuable here.


Finishing Touches

If you are not looking for a job at the moment, skip this part. This is mostly important to job applicants.


The last two parts of the resume to write are the summary and the skills areas. I usually recommend writing these last since you just went through the work to remind yourself of your awesomeness.


If you remember back to school, the summary is like the conclusion of a paper. It should not introduce any new material that is not already included in your resume. If you find yourself writing something here you haven't already included somewhere else, go back and add what you want to say to the other sections.


A good summary is eye catching. It is short, usually two sentences with a call-out list for education. And it includes all your other sections. Consider that this may be the ONLY thing the recruiter or hiring manager reads before the move to the next resume. Things to include:

  • Years of experience in the field you are seeking.

  • The prevailing theme from your accomplishments.

  • Summary of education and/or certifications.

You may skip the summary all together if your current role and accomplishments line up with the role you want. The recruiter or hiring manager can see whether you are a match based on your most recent job. Just make sure that shows up entirely on the first page.


Finally, we need to add the skills area. I think of this is the way to increase the odds of getting a keyword match, either when being evaluated by an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) or when recruiters are doing keyword searches on sites like LinkedIn. Find a few jobs that look interesting to you. Look for industry terms that appear frequently; and where you have experience or training. These can be one or two words each. Avoid longer phrases. Add these as bullets below your summary.


Formatting

There are many schools of thought when it comes to formatting your resume. Search engines are your friend when it comes to this topic. Formatting significantly varies by industry. Search for current examples for your industry. There are a few tips for job applicants, though.

  • Machine Readable: If you are applying for a job online, it will help reduce copy & paste into the application if your resume is machine readable. That means use text and avoid interesting drawings and side bars, machines cannot interpret them to transfer them to the correct fields.

  • Speed Readable: Pick three format types: different font, font size, bold, italics, colors. Different fonts and sizes should be limited to headings. Bold and italics should be used to add highlights to short phrases in your accomplishments to make it easier to read them quickly. Everything else should be one font size, normal capitalization, and a dark color like black or dark grey.

  • Blank Space: Use at least 8 pt font with normal character spacing and at least 1.15 line spacing. Add 6pt to 12pt space before a new section. This helps with readability and ensures recruiters and hiring managers can give attention to your highlights. Removing blank space to reduce resume length usually results in reduced readability and increased chance of being tossed in the bin.

Some industries, like design, may require more intricate formatting to showcase skills. Only use interesting formatting when applying for one of these roles.


I hope this helps you improve your self-confidence and makes it easier to talk about yourself!


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