(This article is part of a book called How to Find a Job, which now is available as an ebook on Kindle, nook, and Smashwords. All of the chapters have been revised, many have been expanded, and the book contains three bonus chapters (including Negotiating) that are not available on this blog.)
When I first started writing this book, I contemplated including a sample résumé or two. Specifically, I thought about including my own, because I know that it worked.
How do I know?
Easy: I based in on my father-in-law’s résumé. It got him a job. And it got me a job. And since he was at a level where he could hire people, he knew what he liked to see in a résumé, and in his own words, he would have definitely called me in for an interview if he saw my résumé.
(This is a huge compliment. Trust me.)
But here’s the thing: Go to ten different web sites, and you’re going to find ten different styles of résumé.
You don’t even have to do that, really. Open up the latest version of Word, click the option in the upper-left corner (it claims it’s the Office button on my version) and one of the options under new documents is Résumé.
There are over 120 résumé templates there. And any one of them might work for you.
For that matter, I don’t think you can talk to two different résumé experts without discovering that they split in a major way about some résumé detail.
For example: I went to a networking group where the leader swore up, down, and sideways that having a two-page résumé was not only acceptable, but the norm these days.
And then I talked to a friend who had just gotten a business degree. She told me she’d been informed that unless you were going for a job at C-level (CEO, CFO) your résumé could never, ever, ever, ever, be longer than a page. Not ever.
Even on my own résumé, I had a so-called expert recommend that I take off the word “Achievements,” which I had used to highlight what I had accomplished at each one of my jobs. This was the same person who said I should remove the Month/Year listing for each one of my jobs, and list only the years, to make it look like I had been at my last job longer.
Later, I started to feel the Year/Year thing was dishonest, and I changed it back.
So I have, in the end, only three pieces of advice I’ve collated on making a great résumé:
1. The right résumé is the one that gets you the job.
What does that mean? It means that there is no such thing as a wrong résumé. Can you get all your jobs and accomplishments on one page? Great. Do it. If it gets you the job, it was the right résumé. If it didn’t, it might have been the wrong one. If you send out the same résumé 20 times and no one calls you back, think about changing it.
But really, the way any one person reacts to your résumé comes down to what they’re looking for, and whether or not it’s on your résumé at the moment they’re looking for it. Much the way a horror movie isn’t going to appeal to a romance movie fan, well, if you don’t have what they want, you aren’t getting the call.
In the end, your résumé must be simple, easy to read (every HR person I spoke to during my job search said they spent somewhere between 90 seconds and two minutes looking at a résumé), and tell the person looking at it why you’re the best person for the job.
Everything else is just shuffling the words.
2. Weed out every typo.
Before you send out your résumé to anyone who can give you a job, send it to five friends with English degrees.
If you don’t have friends with English degrees, go to the local office of the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and have someone look over your résumé. Or call up a few good friends.
But whatever you do, get it checked.
Your résumé’s job is to get you a job, and if there are grammatical errors on it, the only thing your résumé is telling people is that you don’t care enough to assemble a one-to-two-page piece of paper and make it error free. So what kind of work are you going to do for them?
So get it looked at. A lot. And if you have a very picky friend, after you make the fixes, send it to them again to make sure you didn’t add a typo.
It’s worth the time it takes.
3. In today’s world, there’s no such thing as having just one résumé.
When I really started thinking about what skills I had, I began to realize that having just one résumé was insufficient. So I started making copies of my résumé and moving information around.
I made about a dozen folders inside the Résumé folder on my computer, I copied my résumé into each one, and I started making changes.
So, for example, in my Freelance Writing folder, I moved all my freelance work to the top of my résumé, and I devoted extra verbiage to the various magazines, newspapers, and online forums I had written for.
When I put together a teaching résumé, I emphasized all the work I had done at my jobs that involved me working in an educational capacity.
And so on.
A lot of job experts will tell you that each résumé you send out should be tweaked for the job you’re applying to. So, for example, if the job description listed “punctual” somewhere, they would find a way to get the word punctual on their résumé.
This was mostly designed to game the system when companies started using computers to vet résumés. And it might work. I don’t know. I know people who would spend hours tweaking their résumés, but I never heard conclusive proof one way or another that this got them more interviews.
(The very odd rumor I heard was that some people took to copy/pasting the job description in the footer of their electronic résumés, and then turning the font white so the computer would pick their résumé out of the stack, but a human wouldn’t be able to read it. The only problem there is, computers often reformat things. I’m guessing if anyone ever tried this trick, they probably got caught and didn’t get the job. Don’t waste your time.)
This leads me to my last thought on this particular tweak. Many résumé formats include a Summary Paragraph. I don’t know that it’s a requirement, but I was told by two different HR people how important it was. If you’re not familiar with one, it goes at the top of résumé and it looks like this:
Six years experience in chicken farming. Worked as a feeder, sorter, medicine-maker, milker, and chicken-builder.
Depending on the job type in question (teaching, writing, computers) I would always list my skills in the order that would most interest the person reading it. So for a computer job, I would write:
7 years experience in on-the-phone and on-site computer troubleshooting. 6 years experience in on-site education. 5 years of experience in journalism.
But if the job was in writing, I’d arrange it like so:
5 years of experience in journalism. 7 years experience in on-the-phone and on-site computer troubleshooting. 6 years experience in education.
As it turns out, this is the right thing to do, as both HR people informed me that if they didn’t see what they were looking for in that first line, they would toss the résumé into the No pile. They had 200 other résumés to look at, and skipping over someone who didn’t list the skills they needed saved them precious minutes.
Now, this might concern you, because you want to be a chicken farmer and you’ve never been one before. Relax. Find the skills that will interest HR and put those first. Your customer service experience, for example.
Other Résumé Tips and Tricks:
Here are a few other things that I learned during my tenure as an unemployed person.
Name your résumé something that will be easy to search for on your computer.
Mine was Joshua Grover-David Patterson Résumé.doc.
Why call it that? Because as time wore on and I wrote more cover letters, put together more collections of data about myself for networking meetings, and various other tasks, after a while my résumé was buried in the clutter of the Résumé folder on my computer.
And there are a number of other reasons to do this. You might drag and drop your résumé into the wrong folder. You might get a job, lose the job, and then have to find your résumé again a year or two down the road.
The point is, make it easy to find, and easy to locate using the Search function. By giving your résumé an easy title to remember, it will be easy to locate for uploading, emailing, printing, and whatever else you need it for. Yours should be Your Complete Name Résumé.doc.
Next, get yourself a jump drive and back up your résumé on it.
This one is simple enough. You should always back up the important files on your computer, and right now your résumé is the most important computer file you own. And if you have the jump drive with you, a fresh copy of your résumé is always one computer away.
Emphasize your accomplishments.
I’m still at a loss as to why my so-called job guru insisted that I remove the word Accomplishments from my résumé. It didn’t save space, and didn’t make my résumé any easier to read. In fact, it made it more difficult, as some of my paragraphs blended together on the page and it become harder to tell what was my job description, and what I did above and beyond my job description.
When I added that single word, suddenly in interviews I could easily point to what I had done that was exceptional. And make sure what you list there is exceptional. Employee of the Month. Amount of money you saved the company. Ways that you made a big impact.
Showed up for work on time every day isn’t an accomplishment, it’s just expected.
Always have a copy of your résumé with you.
When I started getting interviews and going to networking meetings, I went to an office supply store and spent fifty dollars on a nice black satchel, a professional-looking binder, and a punch of plastic sheets to store papers in.
Then I printed up five copies of my résumé, along with all the different kinds of documents I’ve written, and I put them into the folder.
Why? Because you never know when someone is going to ask for a résumé, so you want to have one on hand. I even went to a couple of interviews where the person who was supposed to talk to me had either misplaced my résumé or, in one case, was interviewing me because another person was called away on an emergency.
Carry copies of your résumé. And when you update your résumé recycle your old ones and make new copies.
Keep track of where you send your résumés.
This one will be key if the Unemployment Insurance people ever ask you where you’ve been applying. The fact is, it’s easy to let this slip by for a week or two. Don’t let that happen. Write down where you applied, and make sure that each week you’re not applying to the same places.
Create a text-only résumé.
It’s probably worth your time to make a “no frills” résumé.
By which I mean: Go to File | Save As |and under Save as Type, choose .txt. Then open up that file in a program other than word (Notepad or Wordpad, for example) and clean out the formatting junk in it.
What is this good for? Résumé copy/pasting, which you’ll surely be doing lots of as you continue to send out résumés.
Why would you want this? Well, a lot of the time, jobs will ask that you copy and paste your résumé into the body of an email. And sometimes, that works great.
And other times, it looks terrible, as all your formatting becomes characters your email program doesn’t understand.
Speaking of which, always remember when applying for a job to follow the rules laid out in the job posting. If they say no attachments, it means that if you attach your résumé to an email then it will probably be deleted before a human ever sees it.
And if the job requires transcripts, or reference contacts, or work samples? Make sure you provide what they’re asking for.
At one point, a friend and I applied for the same job. Both of us were qualified. Neither of us got a call for an interview. Why? Because we both missed one of the required attachments.
Give them everything they ask for. Always.