Monday, July 7, 2008

Resumes that Rock: Part 1

You're looking for a job, so you put together a resume. Do you know what your job is when you put together that resume? Sure, a resume summarizes all your work experience, education, and related facts and activities (the word resume comes from the French for "summary"). More important, a resume's job is to make it really, really easy for a reviewer to read and understand that information. So your job is to do all the work for the reviewer. That is critical!! I'll explain how to do that.

Rocking resumes have two essential components: content and format. Both are vital to an applicant's chances of getting an interview. This section deals with format.

Resume Format
You can have the greatest content in the world and still not get interviewed - if you have a bad resume format. The resume format I use is very effective because it's simple, direct, easily sent electronically, and logical to read. It showcases all the wonderful aspects of your experience.

Use an ordinary font, one that comes standard on Word software. My favorite to use is Garamond, sometimes referred to as the "more elegant version" of Times Roman. Serif typefaces, like Times Roman or Garamond, are normally easier for people to read, as well as very familiar and sort of expected. For Times Roman, use at least size 11 font; Garamond is smaller, so size 12 is better. If you really want to use a sans serif typeface, go with one that is elegant while commonplace. While many people use Arial, I think it's boring because of its ubiquity. Tahoma and Verdana are good alternatives, and Trebuchet MS is my favorite because its spacing makes for an easy read. For these typefaces, use at least a size 11 and preferably a size 12 font for Arial and Trebuchet.

One woman I knew sent me her resume for review. A previous version used a very fancy but totally undecipherable type face, so I was quite pleased (though surprised) when the next version used Times Roman. I made comments, sent it back, and was very surprised when she asked me why I changed her type face. Apparently, the type face she chose was so uncommon that Word simply switched to the default typeface. That's why I'm so cautious about formatting, because it can often get garbled.

Avoid fancy formatting, including any lines, text boxes, macros and offbeat tabs. The goal is to make it easy for the reader to read EXACTLY what you want them to read. Fancy formatting often gets garbled, such as bullets on your screen turning into question marks on someone else's. The last thing anyone should see is a question mark before one of your accomplishments. While they may understand that it's a formatting error, it is likely to raise a question about your competence, even subliminally.

It's best to avoid lines for the simple reason that a prospective employer needs to see you as a whole package, not as separate pieces. Lines are visual cues to compartmentalize things, separate you from your accomplishments, skip something or cut something out. You've probably put in a line because you want to look like you understand design or want to stand out. If you're really a designer, you understand that lines are usually intended to create clear distinctions between things. For example, a box within a larger article generally is for a complementary yet unnecessary piece of information - or for an ad, or some other extraneous item. NOTHING in your resume is unnecessary, so keep it visually one whole document, all of which is vital.

Be consistent and predictable throughout your resume. Use a single typeface. Use the same format for each job experience. Skip the same number of lines between jobs and sections. Whatever you decide, stick to it. Otherwise it comes across as sloppy - not creative.

Put your employer's name first, followed by the city and then the date on the same line. Bold the employer's name, but not the city or the date. Tab over for the date. On the next line, put your job title in bold and italics.

Line up your dates on the right side of the page.
All should be aligned with each other, and all should have the same format. It's up to you whether you use 10/02-10/04 or October 2002-October 2004. I prefer the former simply because it takes up less space and leaves a fair amount of white space between the name of the employer and the dates worked.

Describe your basic responsibilities in a short paragraph immediately under your job title. Make sure to convey the kind of employer you work for, the scope of your job, and range of responsibilities. Sometimes you will need to skip a space before you list your accomplishments, depending on how text heavy this paragraph is. Try to stick to 4-5 lines, with very short, compact sentences.

Under that paragraph, use bullets to list your accomplishments. I generally prefer 5 or 6 bullets, and never more than 7. With fewer bullets, people are far more able to focus in on what you believe is really important.

Skip one line between each job.

Skip two lines between each section.

Have a few commonly expected sections.
First is EXPERIENCE, second is EDUCATION, and third is PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS. If applicable, fourth is AWARDS & RECOGNITION, fifth is PUBLICATIONS and sixth is PUBLIC SPEAKING & MEDIA APPEARANCES. Headings are always all caps and bold.

The only time EDUCATION is first is when you have just graduated from college or graduate school and are looking for your first professional job. I've run across two exceptions: one was for a professor who had to conform to a format established by the academic institution. The second was for a lawyer whose schooling was far more impressive than his work history, given the places to which he applied. Had he been out of school more than five years, however, no exception would have applied.

EXPERIENCE means all your work experience, paid and unpaid. Include everything, in order to have a complete time line. Skipping years in a chronology simply raises questions in a reviewer's mind. The only questions we want from a reviewer are those asking you to elaborate on something in your resume.

Some people have significant volunteer and/or non-profit experience. If you want to transition into working for a non-profit organization, I recommend inserting a VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE or NON-PROFIT EXPERIENCE section between the EXPERIENCE and EDUCATION sections. Format it like you format your work experience, to convey the message that you take it as seriously as your paid work.

For AFFILIATIONS, AWARDS & RECOGNITION, PUBLICATIONS, and PUBLIC SPEAKING & MEDIA APPEARANCES, it's wise to add the word "selected" in parentheses after the headings. When in doubt, cut it out. It's better to list three or four really great items than induce a yawn with a minutiae-laden laundry list. The word (selected) should not be bold.

Use white space intelligently. Any reader needs a place to rest his or her eyes; that's what white space is for. White space is that space that contains no text. Something that is too text-heavy feels overwhelming to a reader and the tendency is to skim rather than read. Enough white space balances the text and helps the reader make it through your resume with ease.

White space is your friend in other ways. It allows you to highlight special things, as well, such as your name and your accomplishments. Your name should be on top, centered, in 16 point bold type. Your contact information goes below, spread wide apart toward either margin. Address, including e-mail address, goes to the far left, with telephone numbers to the far right. This creates tons of white space around your name, allowing it to stand out.

A special education teacher told me that readers of English and other Western languages naturally start reading about a third of the way down on the left side of a page. As we read, our eyes naturally go up to the top center of a page, and then fall back down on the right side. So a reader is definitely going to notice your name in the top center position. This positioning also makes it very easy for people to find your resume in a pile.

Aim for a two-page resume. My posts on May 28 and 29, 2008 address the reasons for this.

Next post: Content.

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