Your resume is a marketing document. Its job is to market YOU and your abilities to a prospective employer. The goal is to position you to get your "right fit" work. Your resume must convey to potential employers exactly what you have to offer them, and the results you are likely to produce for them based on your past record of accomplishments.
Different industries have preferred formats and content, including academia, IT, business consulting and engineering. Yet much of what makes a compelling resume is common across all fields. The format and content I suggest can be a starting point for everyone, even if you later need to customize your resume or CV for a particular industry or job.
To begin, I advocate putting a PROFILE at the very start of the resume, just under your name and contact information. A profile is not an objective (of course you want a job), nor is it a litany of your skills (boring!). A profile is a succinct description of who you are in the workplace.
Your profile presents your unique value proposition – what you love to do and are good at doing, the skills you want to use in the future, and the attributes you want to highlight. Your profile also will capture your personality through a judicious use of adjectives. In sum, your profile conveys the substance and flavor of who you are in the workplace.
In some ways, the process of creating the profile is more important than the final product. Developing it gives you the chance to think carefully about your "unique value proposition." In fact, the reader will usually catch the first five or six words of the profile and then move on to Experience. They might come back to it but even if they don't, the profile will make an impression. It says that you've thought about and know who you are.
Everything you say in your profile must be backed up by your accomplishments, which are listed under each employer and job. Essentially, the profile is the thesis that you then go on to prove with concrete examples. It also is useful as a way to ensure that your resume is internally consistent in terms of the message you intend to convey.
Some people include CORE COMPETENCIES. This section summarizes your tool box of skills,expertise and specialized abilities or knowledge. It needs to contain key words common to your industry and your target positions so your resume will be selected by any computer program searching for key words (e.g. on LinkedIn or within a company). You can use bullets or not. It looks pleasing visually when they arranged in 3 columns. I suggest limiting the number of items in each column to 5 or fewer, to make it readable.
Some senior level people have a section called KEY ACCOMPLISHMENTS. These are stories that highlight and summarize some of your major achievements, and indicate the scope and impact of your work. Identify three or four accomplishments of which you are really proud. They need to show different aspects of your ability. For example, one story could show your facility with numbers or complexity, another could showcase how you work well with others and team, another could demonstrate how you deal with crises, and the last could focus on long-term payoff of your planning and disciplined execution.
Write out each story and then come up with the headline or punchline. This is the core result and the behavior that led to the result. The best headlines tell a pretty complete story even if someone doesn’t read the whole story. When you write your story, remember that numbers really help tell the story. And the shorter and pithier the story, the easier it is to get someone to read it.
Usually, reviewers find it much easier to read a chronological listing of your EXPERIENCE. Sometimes a functional resume makes sense if your industry is more focused on your technical abilities, as in IT. Yet most people will want to connect what you did with when and where you did it. Do the work for them by providing a chronological resume.
Most readers go through the entire resume once just glancing at employer, years and title. If all seems to be complete and consistent, then they glance at education to see if you have any degrees. So make sure you have no huge holes in time, and no major typos!
For each job you've held, include a brief JOB DESCRIPTION that indicates the scope of your responsibilities, and then bullet points that highlight your ACCOMPLISHMENTS.
The job description takes four to six lines to summarize the company you work for, your job responsibilities, and the scope and depth of your position. Say "Led all communications and marketing efforts for Fortune 1000 technology firm (STOCK SYMBOL)" or "Oversaw day to day operations for 45 year old non-profit that teaches literacy to adult New Yorkers" or "Managed entire recruiting and on-boarding process for 300 person homeless services agency." Use numbers when possible. For example, say "oversaw $3.5 million advertising budget" or "supervised team of 12, with four direct reports."
Bullets are ONLY for accomplishments. ACCOMPLISHMENTS are the results of your work, the impact you had, the "so what" of your responsibilities.
* Ask “so what” to get to the impact of whatever activity you want to include. If you want to include it, it’s probably important but only if you can somehow tie it to an impact that is measurable and/or directional – as in “increased” and “improved” and “enhanced” and “expanded” – or gives clear evidence of major responsibility, as in “directed,” “led,” “managed,” “launched,” and “created.”
* You can have 5-7 bullets for your most recent job, 4-5 for your next most recent, maximum 2 for the next most recent and none for the oldest ones.
* Use active, directionally positive words like "increased," "improved," "advanced," "optimized," "enhanced" and "expanded."
* Use numbers as much as possible, especially with dollar signs and percentage signs; they are real eye-catchers and speak to many employers' focus on the bottom line.
* Split the accomplishment into "what" and "how": the impact or result, and how you achieved that result. For example, "Increased revenue year over year by 80%, through redeploying sales team."
* Be brief. Limit each bullet to one, maximum two lines.
* Give leading information to cause the reader to ask a follow up question. Remember, the point of a resume is to get you an interview. The interview is where the reader can ask you to explain how you redeployed the sales team and why that resulted in 80% revenue increase.
* Only include things you really want to do again – similar or greater scope of responsibility, the type of work or project, specific skills you really want to use again, or attributes you want people to notice.
EDUCATION comes after EXPERIENCE. List the most recent degrees first. Any continuing education comes after the degrees.
Other sections that can be useful in positioning for a position are:
VOLUNTEER ACTIVITY - especially helpful if you want to work for a non-profit organization or a civic-minded company.
AFFILIATIONS that show you active in your industry, community, and profession.
PUBLICATIONS if you have published anything relevant to your desired work.
PUBLIC SPEAKING or PUBLIC SPEAKING/MEDIA APPEARANCES - a useful section for anyone with such experience who wants a leadership or spokesperson position.
Which sections to include depends on what your target job is and what will best build the case for you as highly qualified to do that job. So use your core value proposition and your Must Have List to guide what you include in your resume.
NEW FAVORITE QUOTE (MAXINE'S NOT HIS)
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