Over the past three months, I have delivered four focused resume programs to fairly broad audiences ranging from new graduates and early-career professionals to rising stars and C-level folks. I’ve identified some common technical questions and a few oft-repeated “techniques” that might be standing in the way of a second glance - and preventing a critical opportunity from happening: to be selected among those candidates being vetted for a coveted position. Some pointers may sound pretty basic - but, time and again, I frequently see the do’s missing… and the don’ts still occurring. Keep in mind that these tips, for the most part, focus on the technical, the presentation (as opposed to content, which should always be customized, branded, value-driven, and unique to what differentiates you; that’s ‘a whole nother ball of wax’).
The Basics: Do’s and Don’ts for Technically Enhancing Your Resume
• Show (not tell) predictors of success, using action verbs and eliminating the articles. For the most part, you can drop nearly all uses of “a,” “an,” and “the” … one of the few cardinal rules: do NOT use the word “I” in your resume … but absolutely use it in your cover letter and LinkedIn profile, both of which are written in a far more personality-driven, engaging narrative.
• Present your community service, professional affiliations, volunteerism, and appointments (but, please, unless it’s for an audience outside the United States, and this will be country-/culture-dependent, do not list marital status, health condition, age, height, weight, social security number, or number/ages of children).
• Your resume should be a concise and succinct marketing document that demonstrates your capabilities — in one or two pages (no more - the few exceptions being in academia and with medical profession CVs)… consider using leadership addenda, project briefs, leave-behinds, and other peripheral documents to round out your portfolio.
• Ensure your design includes plenty of white space and creates a readable, skimmable presentation… no tiny, impossible-to-read fonts.
• Be sure you have a text version of your resume for email/Internet purposes; some audiences will want a PDF. These are both in addition to the gold standard: Your resume must be in Microsoft Word. And you’ll still want to have a quality paper for printouts that are brought to interviews, used in certain networking situations, and - sometimes (to great effect) - mailed with a targeted letter to a decision maker (my favorite is Crane’s Pearl White Kid - 32 lb. - crane.com; mailed flat in a 9×12 white catalog envelope through the good-old U.S. mail, you’ll definitely stand out, no one is doing this anymore! [except my clients!].
• Please don’t use a laundry list - avoid using too many bullets… and an obituary-style resume is dead ;) Forward-focus always: Demonstrate what you can deliver (support with quantified achievements and CAR [challenge-action-result-strategic impact] stories).
• Do not use words such as tasks, duties, responsibilities… instead, communicate with strong action verbs and be precise about the value you delivered (Spearheaded, championed, turned around, coalesced, engineered, etc.).
• Ensure paragraphs/blocks of text are no longer than 4-5 lines and, preferably, 3 at the most.
• Always proofread multiple times; spellcheck does not catch everything.
Remember: The sole purpose of a resume is to open doors to contacts/interviews where candidates can best sell themselves. I used to think of them as being the single most important tool you need when beginning a career search. Consider this: You reach out to network with someone and the first thing they say is, “Bob, email me your resume.” After that, there are a hundred more important steps you’ll take to get to the offer! Today, I am *nearly* ready to say that your resume and your LinkedIn profile are equally critical tools that must be complementary, co-branded, and consistent in their messaging of authenticity. I’ll share lots more success strategies in the months ahead. But these are some pretty often overlooked areas that folks can take quick steps to improve the quality of their career communications. Have at it!
– Jan Melnik, M.A., MRW, CCM, CPRW, President, Absolute Advantage … CMO Coach, C-SuiteCareerCatalysts.com
Be inspired. It’s your career. It’s your life.