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Ten Steps To A Great Resume

1) Don’t do a resume. Don’t start by trying to write “a resume.” Most people do not like to read resumes; so don’t write something that people don’t want to read. Write something that will convince the reader that she should hire you.  Start with a plan. Figure out what you need to say to get the reader’s attention.  Then (and only then) weave that message into something that resembles a resume. In fact, scratch that last thought. It’s not important that your resume resembles what people think of as a resume. The important thing is that it gets noticed and it communicates something to the reader that will get you an interview.

2) Write it to a person. I’m not talking about addressing the cover letter. I’m talking about the writing of your resume. Imagine the person who is going to open your envelope. Write it to her. Talk with her. Too often resumes are written as if robots read them, but robots don’t read resumes. People do. People like personality, emotion, stories, and insights. The reader wants to know about you and what you can do. Don’t forget that they want to know about you.

3) Write clearly. Be concise, succinct, and concrete. Can your mother understand what your resume says? If not, a rushed HR person or a busy executive will not digest what you’re trying to communicate. Do not use corporate mumbo jumbo (example:  “Achieved strategic operational objectives including increased shareholder value overall and attained planned incremental increases within each retail unit.”). What?

4) Focus on your accomplishments. Companies want to hire people who have accomplished things. Day-to-day responsibilities tend to sound dull. Day-to-day tasks can usually be turned into or covered by well-written accomplishments. If you have a job responsibility in which you accomplished nothing during your tenure on the job, you might not want to highlight it on your resume.

Don’t just say that you were in a leadership or managerial position. Holding a leadership position is secondary to what is accomplished while in that position. If you can produce results, then you’ll be put into positions of authority, management, and leadership. It’s best to tell how you earned your leadership position and how you kept your leadership position (accomplishments) rather than just telling that you had a leadership position (responsibilities and duties).

5) Look professional. If you can’t make the resume layout look good, hire someone who can. Use a template available online or within many software programs. Don’t go with a flashy template because they easily look like templates (and that’s not good). It’s not hard to look good, but it takes care and understanding in the visual area. First impressions make a huge difference. Be coordinated. The envelope must match the cover letter and they both need to match the resume.

6) Dissect the help-wanted ad. Most help-wanted ads give you an outline to what the company is looking to hire. Be sure to look for all of the clues hidden within the ad explaining what they are looking for. If the ad mentions “effective time management,” try to be the first candidate to get your resume in. If the ad specifies that you must know certain software programs, tell them or show them that you know the programs.

7) Make an impact. After reading your resume, the reader should want to hire you… or at least want to interview you. If your goal is anything less, you’re aiming too low.  How can you tell if your resume has impact?  Answer this question: “Where are the few things in your resume that convince the reader to want to hire you?”

8. Edit, edit, edit. You only have the reader’s attention for about two minutes before she has decided that she likes you or doesn’t. With every line on your resume, ask yourself, “Why will this impress the reader?”  If you cannot answer that question, edit the text or remove the item from your resume. Everything on your resume should be included because it will impress the reader.

9) Critique it. Get many people’s point of view on your resume. Ask people to find things they don’t like about your resume (because that’s how some people read them). Most universities have career councilors who will review resumes from alums. Send your resume to your parents’ friends. Send the resume to headhunters. Send your resume to professionals who you’d like to work with. Send your resume to a career consultant. Ask all of them to review your resume and tell them you want to make it better.

10) It’s not about you. The reader is looking to hire someone to solve a problem or fulfill a need. The first section in many resumes is “Objective.” Is the reader focused on what your objective is?  No. The reader’s primary interest is THEIR objective (not YOURS). Show the reader how you will help their business.

Follow these simple but tough rules and you’ll have an interesting resume. If you have ideas for more steps, share them here (in the comments).

Please remember that there isn’t a resume that will impress everyone. If your goal is to making a resume to please everyone, you will not succeed. You will end up with a watered-down piece of nothing. Instead of trying to please everyone, create a resume that will have impact and make you look good to the reader.  Good luck!



13 Responses

  1. Thanks for this succint write up on developing a great resume.
    Equally important is the fact that a resume should tell a story…maybe not in the biographic sense or literary oeuvre, but in terms of linkages. Subsections and related subjects should be seen to ‘link’ closely with each other. For examples Education, Fellowships and other academic awards and such related contents should be in same locus of the resume.

  2. Great article lotsaneatstuff! In particular “Write to a Person” seems advice that is unique. What would help me is an Example CV for a professional who has more than 15 years work experience across 4 companies to convey – it has to capture your tips (2) and (4).

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