Monday, July 12, 2010

Fix Your Resume - It Looks Like Everybody Else's

Generic resume advice is everywhere. Following generic resume advice like the majority of people on the net will give you (wait for it...) a generic resume. It may look impressive by itself, but if your resume doesn't stand out from the giant stack of resumes your prospective employer will surely get on a regular basis, then it will be ignored.

Acheiving the "perfect resume" simply isn't a realistic goal in the current job market. The US has a record number of qualified and unemployed people, most of whom have stellar resumes. Think of the modern job search as being 80% about who you can connect with and only 20% about making a good resume.

So if you devote 10 hours a week to your job search, I would spend 8 hours talking to friends, family, and other people about their jobs and availability. The remaining 2 hours -- if that -- can go towards your resume. Don't get too caught up with job sites and Craigslist, a simple inquiry email to a friend can be infinitely more valuable than 50 resume submissions online.

Since the resume is clearly less important than getting the word out, you have my permission to not agonize over it. But here are a few simple rules you can follow, since you still want the resume to stand out in a crowd.

The resume should be tailored to the desired qualifications of each position - usually a list of 3 to 5 main bullets in the job description. One of my potential jobs required these general skills:
  • Process Improvement
  • Communication
  • Management
  • Reporting
  • Online Advertising
So instead of listing my employment history for the last 5 years, I listed these qualifications in bold and pasted in bullet points of various things I had done to demonstrate each. I also lifted keywords directly from the job description and bolded them.

Any time you have a chance to mention a number, whether it's how much money you saved, percentage of efficiency you improved, number of accounts you closed, etc, include it. So instead of saying, "I worked on the Meely Worm process improvement and helped our team become better," say something like, "I helped develop and launch an internal process improvement that saved 16 hours per week in labor costs, amounting to $16,000/year savings for XYZ Company."

Combine that with a slick heading up top, and you have a very readable first page of your resume. I put employment history, education history and various certifications and degrees in small bullets on the second page...if they are interested in page 1 -- and if the resume came from the right source -- they will keep reading.

When I applied for jobs, they were all similar enough that I could use the same resume for each one. One job placed a much higher importance on Process Improvement and no priority on Online Advertising, so I reordered my sections. I kept the blurb on advertising in there, because it was interesting and pretty cool in its own right. I wound up getting an offer for that job.

If you want a pretty resume, steal a page from Apple (their stuff is very pretty). The default font on their Keynote software is Gill Sans, and it looks great on a monitor or printed out.

This is my resume format (the details have been fictionalized...because it's more fun that way). This resume format, combined with word of mouth introduction from people who were already employed there, got me first and second interviews at two different technology companies in the of them is globally renowned. It really can be this easy. Steal and tweak at your own leisure.

1 comment:

  1. Cripes! Looked like I posted on the wrong post. oops. That's what comes of Interneting and watching the West Wing at the same time :)

    One of my favorite résumé stories is about a friend of mine who is fairly early in her career. She has a very good job now, but not too long after moving to Chicago she lost her job, worked for the census for a short time (in the first wave of hiring in early 2009, not the recent big wave) but then got laid off. She sent out résumé after generic résumé and got no interviews. Finally, fed up, she made one that essentially consisted of bullet points of character traits in 14 pt font with no substantiation of them, plus a list of her work history and dates. We're talking things like "Arrives early, stays until the job is done" "Hard worker." "Great people skills." And a few others. No details about her previous job, no data, nothing but that list and job titles, company names and dates. She got a call for an interview at a real estate management company the next day and was hired on the spot. (She hated the job, and promptly found a better one that she's doing very well in now, but that's not the main point.) In my last job search I never had the guts to try what she did, but I think it's a good illustration of how making your résumé stand out, even if that means drastically breaking the 'rules' can yield surprisingly good results.