I’m a marketer, an SEO specialist, and a content expert. I have zero experience so far in hiring anyone.
The fact that I’m currently between jobs also doesn’t add authority to my take on resume writing. But I do hope you’ll bear with me through this because some of the things I do know about are corporate communications and marketing.
Resumes Are Marketing
While the word “resume” comes from a french root meaning “summary,” you cannot just treat your resume as a summary of your work experience and educational background.
In order to write a resume that gets read, you have to understand how and why people read your resume.
First of all, depending on your industry, the folks reviewing your resume may be looking at hundreds of them. This means that if your resume doesn’t catch someone’s eye at the top, it may be relegated to the resume graveyard.
Second, the temptation is to only include the very dry dates and companies and institutions on your resume, but you have to figure out a way to differentiate yourself from your competitors right away.
Sounds a little like writing marketing copy for a website, huh?
That’s because it is very much like that.
This is not going to be a comprehensive review of resume writing. It’s just going to be tips from a marketer. This subject is covered in great depth elsewhere.
25 years ago, when I was looking for my very first job, the convention was to write an “objective” statement. Objectives are now very much out of fashion and will look outdated on your resume.
Instead, write a summary statement.
How are these things different? An objective offers only a very narrow glimpse of a candidate, and these objective statements were often very inauthentic. We know what the objective of the resume is. It’s to get a job. Generally, the objective statement offered little to no insight into your candidate. A summary statement instead summarizes the candidate.
Does that sound pretty vague? It is. Here’s why that’s a good thing.
Because the summary statement is very open, this is your chance to differentiate yourself. You can say something in your summary that sets you apart from all other applicants and convinces the hiring staff to read further into your resume.
What that means is that instead of saying something like this:
“I’m a graphic designer with x years of experience and familiarity with y design tools. I have received z awards for campaigns that I’ve developed.”
You can instead say:
“A seasoned graphic designer with a great love for the pop art movement seeking work that involves working with a team creating bold designs for an ethical brand.”
One of those is definitely more interesting, isn’t it?
Which resume would you rather read?
Your years of experience and your certifications are in the resume. You need to hook the reader. It’s not a bad idea to address required skills in your summary, but you should say something qualitative about yourself.
Lead With Your Strengths
Plenty of us find ourselves in a situation where part of our resume feels a little weak. Maybe we’re changing careers and don’t have a lot of relevant experience. Maybe we’re recent graduates just starting a career. Maybe we don’t have the usual number of certifications in our field, or lack education that’s made up for by our experience.
You shouldn’t omit these sections if you can avoid it. You include them, but you put the strongest section of your resume above the fold.
If you’re a recent Harvard Business School grad, include that at the very top of your resume, with your GPA and a sentence about the single most important thing about your educational career.
If you don’t have a great deal of education, lead with your work experiences. Better yet, lead with certifications and rewards.
If relevant to the folks doing the hiring, include volunteer experience. Performing unpaid work in your field indicates a passion for your job.
When I first graduated with my MBA, I led with a skills section. I had learned a lot through both undergrad and grad school, and earned some certifications. So I lead with skills, including my personal skills like writing, communications, and problem solving. I also included software that I was familiar with, as well as technical skills in my field.
Whatever the strongest, most enticing part of your resume is, it should go near the top.
Use Strong Words
You communicate a lot with the words you choose.
You want your resume to communicate passion, strength, and vitality. People want to know that you’re motivated to do the work you’re applying for the minute you walk in the door.
First, use strong, action oriented words whenever possible. You didn’t achieve a doubling of organic search impressions; you doubled organic search impressions.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not an opportunity to get extra creative. Avoid purple prose and use words that are short and clear. If you’ve just typed out a sentence that sounds like a resume sentence, go back and edit it.
Use short, direct sentence structure. Subject, verb, object. The more you make people work to read your resume, the less likely they are to finish it. The folks reviewing your resume are busy, don’t waste their time with long, awkward sentences.
Avoid passive voice. Use active voice whenever possible. Active voice reads as stronger and more exciting.
Don’t ever be afraid to express excitement about what you do, but remember to keep it brief.
Use Lists Often
I cannot stress the importance of this enough.
The people who first look at your resume are going to be scanning it. Providing lots of bulleted lists will help people understand who you are and what you’re offering very easily.
State the name of the section as a heading, organize the data into a bulleted list (the bullets are important; they give another cue as to which lines are new list items). Bold the important bits. These will normally be things like area of study, job title held, things like that.
Yes, your previous job title is more important than the corresponding employer. You still need that information on there, but the job title is more important.
State your accomplishments in a single sentence whenever possible.
Organize your entire resume as a series of bulleted lists with the important bits in bold, and you make it so much easier for hiring staff to get some idea of who you are and what you have to offer.
How to Use Design in Your Resume
So, we’re seeing a lot of really creative and decorative resumes out there. We see a lot of these cropping up for jobs in creative fields like film and design and acting.
For most of us, though, a punch of color does a lot of good, but too much is tiring and distracting.
Choose a color that communicates what you want. Blue communicates dependability and serenity. Purple communicates wealth and sophistication. Green communicates freshness and growth. Hubspot has a great little article about the psychology of color that you can check out.
I suggest using color as an accent; the design itself should be very clean and simple to make your resume as simple as possible. Use color to draw the eye to the most important parts. If you have a logo, pop it in one of the top corners with your contact information.
The general rule is to use a serif font in print and a sans serif font in digital media. This makes the text easier to read.
You probably have to cram a lot into your resume, but don’t neglect to include white space. Add a space in between resume sections so that it doesn’t look like a wall of text. Doing this makes your resume easier and faster to read.
Skip the fancy fonts in favor of clear fonts. Don’t try to save space by making your text smaller. Just cut out anything that’s not necessary. Details can be discussed in the cover letter, or hopefully in the interview.
Remember: clean, readable, well organized.
Bonus Tip: The Cover Letter
You won’t always get the opportunity to provide a cover letter, but if you do, you should.
Include a cover letter at literally any opportunity. It doesn’t have to be a fancy pdf either, you can just write it as an email with your resume attached. Whatever seems the most appropriate.
Your cover letter doesn’t summarize your resume. Each document should stand on its own. What your cover letter should do is offer qualitative information about you. Why you’re great for the position in your own words. What attracts you to the company, brand, or role. What you loved most about an educational experience or a past role.
This is your main chance to communicate a little personality.
You want to lead with why you’re contacting them, your own job title or specialty, and why you want the job.
After that, tell them why.
Do it in 3 paragraphs on one single page so as not to waste anyone’s time.
Close with a brief thank you and note any materials attached or sent with (resume, writing samples, digital portfolio, etc) so that the recruiter or hiring staff knows what to look for.
Another note, your cover letter should be customized to each role you apply for and to each company you apply with. If you actually want the job, it’s worth the extra time to make it relevant.
With the caveat that I have never made a single hiring decision in my entire life, those are the most important tips I can give about creating a resume. Obviously, these tips are influenced by my educational background and work experience, but I think they’re broadly applicable to most industries (with a few changes).
Do you think I got something wrong? Let me know, I love to learn.