Everyone has an opinion about what a great resume looks like, but no one seems to agree on a single definition of great. As many job seekers, I have solicited feedback from many people on how I should word, organize and format my resume. And like others, I find myself working with conflicting advise and opinions. Even when I have complete trust in the advise of all the people from whom I have gotten feedback, I still am left with substantial–material differences of opinion.
Here are some examples: I have a robust and diverse background. I have been a project manager, a product manager, an executive and a consultant. In recent years with the volatility on the economy, I have had to be flexible in the types of roles I take. I am capable of many things, so how do I convey what I am really good at. As an example, I have a Masters degree, I am a veteran and have a current PMP certification. How should I highlight those things? I have had VP level jobs and been a general manager, so how do I tie that into my more functional abilities? Do I put my education first or my work experience? Do I use bullet points or should I use a more narrative format? Do I even mention I have a PMP when applying for non project management jobs? Should I de-emphasise my executive experience or my functional experience?
I need to be realistic. There is no one-way to format my resume. Different people like varied things and unless you know the people well within the organization you are trying to reach, then it is as much of a guessing game as a research effort.
These conflicts can be paralyzing. Here is how I reconciled to move forward and ignore resume anxiety: I choose to be proud of all my achievements. Embrace that I am not a one-hit-wonder and that I can do many things and utterly honest about my employment history and abilities. So, I am not hiding nor dumbing down who I am on paper. Its all out there! I want to work for a company that appreciates a well rounded, flexible mind such as myself.
But there is still the mission of reaching your audience–that is when the advise on format must be taken seriously… you need to look for common patterns of opinion and take those points to heart. For example, Emphasize the points that capture your intentions. I recently was advised to put the title of the role you for which you are applying as a title line on your resume, front and center. The recruiter who gave me that advise said that resumes are usually initially screened by HR folks who may or may not know anything about the role you for which you are trying to be considered. The first eyes on your resume are likely not to be the hiring manager. Moreover, you have lots of competing resumes vying for their attention. So the core advise here–make your intentions know right up front!
As an example of how disconnected the first eyes can be on what the hiring manager might be looking for, I was recently given the feedback that I was passed upon because I do not have enough “.com” experience. That the last “.com” job I had was over 10 years ago. I was baffled. First line in my resume is “Dynamic and passionate professional with over 15 years of experience in the web (.com) space.” So, how did this person come to this conclusion? The truth is that the screener was not in the “.com” space and was unaware that the companies for which I worked in the past were MAJOR “.com” players. I made some wrong assumptions that the talent acquisition people know anything about the web space. So, when I want to re-enforce my “.com-ness” I need put Move.com instead of Move, Inc. Fine… done.
I think the point here is that you cannot assume that the first people looking at your resume know anything about the role they are recruiting for. They have other sets of expertise they are focused on and you cannot expect them to “get you” with nuanced language and keywords alone. Luckily for me, more often than not, the people looking at my resume are experts and most of the first eyes seeing my resume are super smart folks, but I cannot count on that all the time, as indicated in the above example.
Another conflicting point of advise I received was around the use of bullets over narrative descriptions. I admit, I went too far in both directions there. I over used bullets in one version and obliterated all bullets in the subsequent version. A highly trusted recruiter I worked with recently gave me some solid advise in this space. Use bullets when you have points to emphasize that guide quickly glancing the eye to get a summary opinion of you. Bullets are easy to read, but they are not used for telling the story of you. So, use bullets on summary information or for example points and use narrative when telling your story. The goal is to get them to read more without expecting them to be enthralled by your use of prose. Think marketing! Capture their attention at a glance. If you do that, you will have plenty of time to give them more information.
In the end, remember that resumes are not the primary means of getting in to an interview, your network is. Find out who is on the inside and contact them. Don’t expect your resume alone to do anything for you. Get in contact with a human–that is the goal. LinkedIn and your phone are the best tools for getting someone’s attention–your resume is only part of the equation.
This topic can go on forever, so let me summarize what I learned at a high level:
- Get lots of feedback and look for common patterns (because you will have conflicting advise). Execute on those common patterns.
- Don’t assume the first eyes on your resume know anything about your specialty or the job itself. Be explicate and clear about your intentions.
- Convey the “you” you want to convey, but emphasize the information you need to for the role for which you are applying.
- Use both bullets and narrative, but use them appropriately. Bullets are to give people a reason to read more. Use narrative to tell your story of you.
- Your network is everything and don’t assume your resume alone will get someone’s attention.
Happy job hunting