Guide to an Excellent Resume


This is a re-post of one of our most popular blog entries, Guide to an Excellent Resume.

Résumés have changed dramatically over recent years. In today’s competitive job market, you can’t afford to have a lack-luster document. Follow the fundamentals of a modern résumé to maximize the results of your job search campaign. The fundamentals include things such as an appropriate résumé structure, compelling content, sophisticated style, and accuracy. Here are just a few tips to help you create a new professional résumé.

The Skeleton of a Résumé

  • Start with the headline, profile, and core competencies sections to put your résumé into context and more importantly show how you are a perfect fit for the job at hand. A good profile should answer the question, who is this candidate and why are they a match for the job opportunity. Follow with a core competencies section to showcase the top nine to twelve skills relevant to the job at hand.

  • Professional experience

  • Education

  • Board seats

  • Relevant awards and honors

  • Relevant publications, presentations, patents, and media appearances

Recent Information is King

Think of your résumé as an upside down pyramid, meaning you should include more information about your current and most recent job. As you go back in history, less information (detail) is needed. For example, you may only have two to three lines of information about an early position. For almost all candidates ten to fifteen years of experience is the appropriate amount to show on a résumé. Hiring employers are more interested in your most recent experience because that is the best indicator of your ability to succeed. If you share limited accomplishments from your recent history, yet you have several major accomplishments from ten or more years ago, it signals the hiring employer that your best days may be in the past. You may give the impression that you are in decline, professionally.

How to Uncover Accomplishments

The most common mistake a candidate makes is not taking the time to uncover relevant accomplishments with measured results. If your résumé is focused on your daily functions, your résumé may be lacking in strong accomplishments. Another hint that your résumé may need a few more accomplishments is if your résumé closely resembles the job description issued by your company. You only need to share the highlights of your responsibility and functionality. Include scope of your responsibility, such as budget size, revenue, and staff count. Concrete examples of accomplishments will prove your ability to excel. A good model to follow when inserting accomplishments is the CAR Model (Challenge-Action-Result). Within a brief one to two-line bullet, describe the challenge you identified, action you took, and the measured result.

Résumé Length

A long résumé does not equate to a more impressive candidate. When a résumé is too long, the top achievements do not stand out. The reader may stop reading before seeing some of the most valuable accomplishments. Share information and level of detail important to the recruiter or hiring manager. A résumé should be long enough to share your relevant experience, skills, and knowledge. For some that may be a single page. For most it is two pages. For many in a scientific or academic career, the résumé (CV) may extend to four or more pages so that all relevant presentations and publications are included.

What to Exclude from the Professional Résumé

  • Activities, honors, and training not related to your goal

  • Workshops or courses covering routine or entry-level soft skills (new supervisor training, getting along with difficult people, etc.)

  • Sports, hobbies, political affiliation, and church activities

  • Outdated or unrelated technical skills

Understanding ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems)

Some candidates wonder why they are not getting a response. Perhaps the résumé is not ATS friendly. ATS refers to software automatically scan résumés. Today’s modern contextualized résumé scanning applications are used to identify keywords in the context of the entire document. Modern ATS applications identify dates associated with certain positions, accomplishments, and functions. Contextualization tools also parse words associated with the select keywords, such as job titles and all the functions generally related to such a job title. If your résumé is well-written, the appropriate key words should be naturally apparent in your résumé. A good test if you are hitting the key words is to compare your résumé to the job posting under consideration.

Résumés with pictures, graphics, and logos can be incompatible with ATS software. In some cases, your document can be booted from the system because large graphics have the potential “choke the system.” Colorful lines, standard bullets, and shading are alright and will not cause an issue.

Always write phone numbers in a “standard” format. (i.e., (555) 222-1515) Software looks for that series of numbers with the parenthesis and hyphen. Another mistake to avoid is placing your name and contact information in a footer. Info in the footer or header is often invisible to the ATS.

Handling Challenges

Almost everyone has a challenge or two to overcome. Challenges may include: lack of experience, career change plans, lack of required education, gaps in career history, returning to work after an extended break, unemployment, or relocation. Talk to a résumé writer with experience handling such challenges. If you can’t afford to hire a professional, drop me a quick email with your question. I usually have time to answer a quick email - without charge, of course.

Most challenges are not career-ending situations. If you follow the core principles or résumé writing, you can overcome the challenge. Those principles are to be honest, include expected information, and focus on your strengths relevant to your goal. If you try to be deceitful or omit expected information such as dates of employment, it will be a red flag that there is a problem. If you focus on the challenge (such less education) rather than your strength, you are working against yourself. For example, if you are marketing burgers, you don’t want to lead with the fat count. Instead, focus on the juicy Angus beef and homemade bun.

Editing for Impact

Avoid over-whelming your reader. Edit your résumé carefully. A résumé with fewer words will have greater impact. If you explained an accomplishment in 45 words, try to say it in 25 words. If you craft a concise résumé with carefully-chosen skills and achievements, you will impress the reader. Editing may take several drafts. After the editing for content is complete, proofread your document carefully. Ask for help with proofreading to be sure the spelling and grammar is perfect.

With the above elements, you are on your way to creating an excellent resume!

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