Estimated reading time: 7 mins
What makes a great resume – one which you can’t put down? A great resume writer, that’s what. Through my years of IT management and recruiting IT professionals, I’ve seen countless resumes (in the 1,000s), so what makes me keep on reading some and put the rest aside for later reading?
To compliment my recent focus on interview preparation, personality and performance reviews I now lead us towards the art (or perhaps science) of writing resumes. Your resume is your brochure – it’s a document which is your personal sales tool to potential employers. There are good resumes, and there are bad ones! Here are a list of highly effective habits I’ve found that the greatest of resume writers exhibit:
1) A great resume writer tells their readers what they achieved, not just what they did.
This is so important. So many resume writers make the say what they did and ignore the impact they had in terms of achievements and results. Employers want to see the cause-and-effect ; you’re the cause, what was your effect? So great resume writers tell what their contribution achieved when performing the role, project or task, e.g. “I took responsibility for this project and by applying my DotNet skills I saved over 500 man-hours across the team “. Note the use of a number – 500. Great resume writers quantify their achievements if possible. Employers like to see the numbers!
2) Great technical resume writers are written for transposing into databases.
The reality of the recruitment industry is that your resume isn’t a document that stays intact. It is rare, nowadays, for your resume as you wrote it to go straight to employers. Recruitment agencies are the brokers that sort and filter resumes to save their clients time. So great resume writers craft their work in order to help agencies re-key the information in the document. The document is written and submitted so the text can be cut&paste into the standard forms of the agencies. This means they avoid adding loads of formatting, using textboxes, placing information in the margins, using small fonts and any graphics.
3) The best technical resume writers link their experiences and achievements throughout their career.
Many people, including myself, have had a variety of jobs in their careers that don’t follow a traditional career path through promotion. Unless you take care, your resume can look like you’re jumping around the IT industry, meandering your way through without building core expertise. Great resume writers understand this so they find a common thread, or threads, through their career and emphasize it. So if you fit this profile then look for achievements or results that show consistency, for example, in the way you approached the problem, managed stakeholders, or lead people. Like the best resume writers, it’s always best to show that you continue to build on your strengths throughout your career.
4) Great resume writers help readers to assess levels of expertise and experience.
This is a tip I’ve learned from reading the best resumes. Often, the expertise and experience of the author is embedded within the text of the document and it isn’t graded, so I frequently struggled to grasp exactly how much of an expert the author had in specific technologies and practices, as well as the depth of experience. The occasions I didn’t struggle is when the author showed their skills and experience in a matrix, ranked from high to low. This allowed me to scan the list quickly to aid reading prioritization.
5) I’ve found that great resume writers compose different versions, and offer them all to employment agencies.
It’s fairly common for people to have different versions of their resume, but it is less common for authors to offer all versions to agencies. The greatest resume writers get into the habit of maintaining several versions so that agencies can select the best format and level of detail for their own requirements. Versions don’t just have to differ on the level of detail – they can differ on the emphasis. For example, you could offer an agency a resume which has technical focus, or perhaps a management focus, or even a project focus. I’ve even known people to provide separate resumes with a leader focus and a follower focus. ‘Spin’ the content against what you’re focusing on.
6) Great resume writers write concisely and clearly.
Maybe a no-brainer? Nevertheless the most effective resumes are kept short and the text is clear and uncluttered without unnecessary words. I think the best resumes are kept under 3 pages. Any more and I put it to the bottom of the pile as it requires too much work. I wrote some time ago about avoiding using over-compicated language . You must remember that your employer might be intelligent and familiar with industry terms and jargon, but there is a strong chance that there is a temp in the recruitment agency that doesn’t, and your words are screened out or put into the wrong context!
7) Great resume writers have an angle of personal intrigue.
How much personal information (and stuff about hobbies and interests) to put into a resume has been debated for decades. You’ll find inconsistent advice across much of what is described as resume ‘best-practice’. My observation of the most effective technical resume writers is it’s not how much information is provided, but how interesting or intriguing the information is.
What about personal information? Most agencies who reformat your resume strip this out, but my advice is to add in the detail you think is relevant. What’s relevant? Well despite contemporary wisdom, I think it is important to add your age, gender and race. Will this prejudice you? No, it should not. In fact this information gives potential employers and interviewers a picture of you to build in their heads – much closer to reality. Visualization is a powerful tactic in helping you stand out from the crowd. On that note, including a photo is also a neat trick. It’s up to the agencies if they choose to include this personal information – but at least it’s available to them.
Get this – I reckon that out of all the resumes I have ever seen, 80% told me their author liked reading, watching movies, cooking etc. and in almost all cases, I thought ‘big whoop… I don’t think so’ . So why write it? The best resumes add an angle of intrigue by saying something unusual about the author, e.g. “I am active in creating unprecedented means of raising money for my favorite charity XXX “, or “I fly miniature aircraft as if they were full-sized ” or I’ve also seen “I am a keen movie-goer, but only when overseas “.
Add some angle which captivates the interest of the reader!
8 ) Resume writers who consistently succeed do so by writing good ‘copy’.
Why should a resume be of a lesser quality literature than any other written document? Good ‘copy’ is well written text that has a proven structure and format. The best resume writers know how to structure their documents because they know what works – they build on their successes of the past. However, they don’t start from a blank sheet; they do start by researching existing resumes and finding the ones that have had great results. This differs between industry sectors, so my recommendation is to contact the agencies you’re working with and ask them to send resumes they know have been very successful (expect personal details to be edited out!)
9) The most effective resume writers don’t end with their resumes.
Great resume writers don’t rest on their laurels. Our resume is just one document used in the recruitment process. The champions of effective resumes don’t wait for their document to fall into the right hands – they put it there themselves. This involves building strong relationships with agencies by never letting them down (e.g. not turning up to an interview) and establishing rapport. They also initiate the process themselves by creating presence in their potential employers. See my post on How To Search The Invisible Job Market for tips on how to do that.