There is a ton of advice out there related to resume writing; some more practical than others. However, I have noticed a noticeable lack of advice related to how job seekers should systematically review and improve their resume on a line by line basis, as part of a broader strategy to assist them in their interviews. Your first interview is actually your resume being submitted to an employer. Nothing else matters if an employer does not like you or understand you on paper. Now that we have addressed the general way in which one may approach writing one’s resume, I present ten specific rules to live by for resume writing.
1) Telling Ain’t Selling
Don’t tell the readers of your resume what you did; show them what you achieved. Your resume, as much as possible, should in essence be an outline of what you would ideally get the opportunity to say about yourself in the course of an interview. In the course of highlighting your achievements, you implicitly also show your experiences, but do so in a much sexier way. To that end, make sure to avoid vague words like assisted, planned, developed, and other similar words you might use to describe your achievements. For every action word you use make sure to ask yourself “how precisely did I?”; as in “how precisely did I assist?”, “how precisely did I plan?”, or “how precisely did I develop?”.
2) Resumes Are Intended to Answer Basic Questions About You. They Do Not Create More of Them
A resume is a snapshot into your career history, your qualifications and achievements. The reader should come away with absolutely no doubt as to who you worked for, when you worked there, what the company did and where (geographically) you worked. The why and the how of your jobs can be explained in a cover letter if you are uncomfortable stating the circumstances of your job changes on your resume. Put yourself in the mindset of someone that might not possibly have any knowledge of your current or previous employers, your industries, or your company’s/industry’s unique jargon and/or acronyms.
3) You Can Eliminate the Objective Section on Your Resume
Your objective is to get whatever job you are applying for. Objectives needlessly take up valuable real estate on your resume and provide no assistance to you, as they are at best redundant and at worst can be costly if you forget to update your objective when applying to a job that may not be consistent with your stated objective. You have 6 to 20 seconds max to make a good initial impression on your resume.
4) Your Resume Does Not Need to be One Page
It is not the length of your resume that’s important (within reason). What is very important is how you use whatever space you take up on your resume. If your career history is long enough and you have enough relevant bullet points, then there is no reason to artificially limit your resume to one page. However, if you have less than 3-5 years work experience, you can probably find a way to keep your resume under one page.
5) You do Not Have to be Mr. Personality to Show Your Personality
Employers want a sense of what you are really like in person. Make sure to include at least one bullet point for each job that demonstrates the type of person you are, how you think and/or what you value. Anything that demonstrates how you are unique from the many other candidates with similar bios to you.
6) Use the Proper Tense
I have seen and heard of many otherwise highly qualified candidates removed from consideration for positions because they did not write in the proper tense. If something is presently occurring (e.g. your present job duties) then it belong in the present tense. Conversely, if something occurred in the past (e.g. your responsibilities at your previous jobs) then that belongs in the past tense. I have nothing more to add here.
7) You Achieved Far More Than You Realize
This goes back to rule #1 in regards to “telling ain’t selling” and making sure to include your achievements. Many people struggle to think of a single achievement or success story at their previous jobs. Remember, in a resume there is no such thing as failure. If you did not get the results you wanted then you got the experience you needed; and that in itself is an achievement.