Resume Writing: Top Ten Tips
Writing your own resume can be really challenging. Where's the line between being too modest and being an obnoxious braggart? Even resume writers struggle with their own resumes. If you're just sitting down to write or re-write yours, here is my advice, in no particular order:
There are in fact trends in resume writing. If you haven't changed the look of yours in 10 years, that will be obvious. 2023 resumes don't include personal interests, headshots, your street address, objective statements, or "references available upon request." They do include a concise list of key skills, metrics that demonstrate accomplishments, and minimal cutes-y graphics and formatting. Go ahead and use Calibri instead of Times New Roman because sans serif fonts are easier to read on a screen (where most resumes are viewed nowadays).
Speaking of metrics - do use them, generously. If you managed people, how many? If you controlled a budget, how much? Did you increase social media engagement - by what percentage? Numbers that demonstrate objective wins are all the rage right now.
Your resume will be much more effective if you have a target in mind. Recent graduates in particular tend to think of a resume as a tool to get “a” job, and their desire and willingness to work for anyone who will hire them is commendable. But I use an archery analogy that seems to resonate: imagine you are blindfolded and holding a bow and arrow and you’re trying to hit a target. You have 360 degrees of space around you to shoot at. The smaller you can make the area you’re aiming for – if you can at least identify a quadrant – the greater your odds of hitting something.
Read your resume out loud. I do this all day long! It really helps catch awkward phrasing, punctuation mistakes, and word repetition. I also specifically read the first word of every bullet out loud to make sure I haven’t used the same verb again and again. (You did start all your bullet points with a verb, right?)
Proofread, proofread, proofread. When you think you’re done, put it away for at least 24 hours and then read it again. Better yet, get someone else to read it for you. After you’ve spent hours writing and rewriting your own life into a resume, you just don’t see the mistakes anymore.
Two questions I ask every client: 1) What is the favorite part of your current job? And 2) What is your biggest professional accomplishment? Those two answers should be represented in the resume somehow. The second one seems obvious, but the first is important too – your favorite thing is likely something you’re good at, and it’s likely something you want to have in your next role.
Dates: If you graduated more than 10-15 years ago, don't say so. There is no rule that says your long ago year of graduation is required. Also, use months and years, not just years, to describe when you worked somewhere, unless it was 15+ years ago. (But if you have a detailed description of a job from 15+ years ago, there should be a compelling reason that's on your resume at all.)
Think of your resume as a highlights reel more than an exhaustive autobiography. You don't want giant gaps, but you aren't required to include the job you held for eight months 12 years ago if it doesn't contribute to the narrative you are trying to tell. A resume is a marketing piece!
Tailor, tailor, tailor. It's a time-consuming pain, but you should make every effort to tailor your resume to the job to which you are applying. Pull words and phrases from the JD and put them in your resume. You'll know you're doing something right if you have dozens of customized resumes clogging your computer.
Two pages max. No exceptions. Ok there are a few legitimate exceptions, such as academic CVs and federal resumes. But there are not exceptions for people who have just done a lot.