Resume Tips

Resume Basics

At least one version of your resume should be a tool designed to generate interest in you as a job candidate and lead to interviews.  This version need not be a detailed list of all your professional accomplishments and everything you’ve done.  Keep it short and simple.

Very often it’s helpful to have a long and detailed version of your resume.  This is frequently needed if you’re in a highly technical field — or if you’re a consultant and have worked on a number of projects.  There’s just no way to fit all of the relevant information into a one- or two-page resume.

Our advice, by the way, on length:  Forget all of those rules and guidelines and recommendations about keeping your resume to two pages, or even one.  If you’ve been working for awhile, and/or if you’ve worked on a lot of projects, a brief resume will provide very little useful insight into your career.  And you want to tell the story of your career to a prospective employer in enough detail so that he can decide if you’re the right person for the job.

A long form resume can also serve as a historical record for your own reference.  And you can use it to follow up a shorter “door-opener” resume with a prospective employer who is already interested enough in you to want some detailed descriptions of your skills and professional experience.

This long version of your resume can be several pages in length.  Don’t use any more words than you need to — but put into this resume more detailed descriptions of your work history, accomplishments and personal strengths.

The “door-opener” resume is something you can hand out at job fairs and when meeting someone for the first time.  You don’t overwhelm them with data, but provide them with an overview of your qualifications.  (The short resume can even include a simple link to your detailed resume posted online somewhere.)  The long-form resume provides much more data, and is especially useful when you may not have a chance to talk to whoever will be reading it.

Always remember:

The purpose of your resume is not to list your skills and experience.

The purpose of your resume is to help the reader find your skills and experience that may be relevant to their needs.

If you follow this simple guideline, you’ll be able to create a resume that works well.

Focus

Before you start to write (or rewrite) your resume, stop and think about the kind of company or project where you most want to work.  Then make sure that your resume highlights your most relevant experience and accomplishments.

Remember that your resume is primarily a snapshot of your qualifications.  Keep everything that you say relevant.

Resume Style

We believe that the traditional resume still works best.  Most employers still expect to see a simple straightforward presentation with no frills or surprises.

List your employments in reverse chronological order.  Avoid the “Functional Resume” suggested by some people.  The lack of dates and job-specific details usually annoys the reader more than it engages his curiosity and it fails to place your experience and accomplishments into the context of a specific project or position.

We provide step-by-step tips for this type of resume below.

Refer to our Resume Example to see these tips in action.

Location, Location, Location

An old newspaper term has now become relevant to webpages.  “Above the fold” describes the most visible and valuable part of a newspaper page or website.  It is the space that the reader sees without unfolding the newspaper or scrolling down on the web page.

Think of the top half of the first page of your resume as being above the fold

You must provide the reader with the basic outline of your strengths and experience in that small space.  You can provide additional important material on the rest of the front page – but the top half of the first page must contain a powerful summary of what you can offer an employer or project.

Keep that in mind as you put your resume together.  And remember that most people spend just a few seconds scanning a resume.  That means that you have to tell your story very quickly, and in a way that will not be missed by someone trying to process huge amounts of data in a very brief time.

This section – and our Resume Example – show how we think you can most effectively design your resume.  Here’s the information that should appear above the fold.  At a minimum that should include:

  • Your name
  • Your phone number and email address
  • A brief, clear and easily read summary of your experience, accomplishments and training
  • A table or list of your technical and/or management competencies

Only after these sections – which as you’ll see allow you to summarize your strengths – should you begin the more detailed descriptions of each of your employments or projects.

Formatting

Our advice here is simple.  Use Microsoft Word or Rich Text format.  Again, this is what our clients expect, and this kind of document can be accurately scanned by both the client’s computers and our own PMP database.

Avoid Acrobat or other formats.

You can help to ensure that your scanned resume is clear and easy to read by following some of these guidelines:

  • Use minimal formatting
  • Employ one basic font like Arial or Times Roman.  Avoid complex fonts which may not be installed on scanning systems or other people’s computers
  • Do not use a font smaller than 10 – and 12 is better
  • Avoid custom spacing between lines
    • Keep the entire document single-spaced
    • Don’t set additional spacing between paragraphs, etc.
  • Do not attempt to control how each page will appear to a reader
    • Different systems, monitors and font sets make it virtually impossible for you to be sure your resume will look perfect on every computer.
    • Even page breaks can result in formatting problems on other systems.
    • Instead, just write your resume line-by-line and let each section break wherever it’s going to break – since it will be different on many systems.
  • Avoid punctuation marks right next to your name or contact information (they confuse the document readers)
  • Avoid long sentences and paragraphs
    • They’re hard to read and can conceal what you’re trying to say
    • How well would you be able to read all of this if it were in a paragraph?
  • Use bulleted lists
    • They make each comment more visible and readable
    • Keep your bulleted comments short
    • One line is almost always better than two or three.
    • With practice, you can make things fit
  • For your bulleted lists, use only plain bullets, asterisks or hyphens
    • Fancier symbols like arrows, etc. will be lost when your document is scanned, and replaced by distracting question marks or random symbols
  • Avoid tables or other special formatting (although they’re helpful for the Competencies section)
    • Data in tables may need to be edited or cleaned up after scanning
  • Be as specific as possible
    • Avoid generalizations like “many” or “a number of people”, etc
  • Use metrics:
    • Specific dollar amounts
    • Project budget
    • Number of people in a team
    • Specific project accomplishments
    • Improvements in efficiency
    • Lines of code written or debugged
    • Amount of money saved, etc
  • Show how these accomplishments benefited the organization
  • Use action verbs like “created” or “developed”
  • Avoid the passive tense
  • Describe what you did – not your assigned responsibilities
  • Save space by omitting articles like “a,” “an,” “the” etc
  • Refrain from using “I”
    • As with articles, this pronoun can usually simply be omitted.
  • Leave some white space
    • Don’t use narrow margins in an effort to make your resume appear shorter
    • Make your side margins at least one inch wide
    • Leave a couple of lines of space between each employment or project
    • Follow our suggestions below regarding job title, etc. for each position.  Those will also provide some welcome spacing between entries

Test your work, just as you would on the job.  When your resume is complete, Select All, Copy and then Paste it into Notepad.  How does it look?  If the result is clear and easy to read, then your resume should scan well into almost any system.

What not to do

  • Do not write your resume in the third person.  We all know who really wrote it
  • Omit an Objective section
    • You want a job; the reader knows that
    • In place of the objective provide a summary that highlights your strengths
  • Don’t fudge dates, especially for jobs in recent years
  • Catch 22:
    • Don’t leave gaps in dates, either
    • This isn’t such a red flag for contractors, however
    • If unsure how to handle this, discuss it with your recruiter
  • Do not lie about where you worked, or what your title was
  • Don’t inflate your job titles – but it’s fine to make them as descriptive as possible
  • Don’t say anything negative about yourself, or be defensive about why you left a job
  • Do not lie or mislead about where you went to school, or about your degree or major
  • If you’ve been in the workforce more than a year or two, omit your grade point average
  • Don’t mention salary or rate expectations
  • There’s no reason to include your age or date of birth on your resume
  • Your marital status, college activities, Scouting experience, health, social security number, hobbies and favorite films have no place on your resume
  • DO NOT exaggerate or lie about anything on your resume

The Content of Your Resume

Again, refer to our Resume Example to see how our recommendations look in practice.

Don’t hide your name!  Many people place name and contact information in headers or footers.  Electronic scanners may not be able read this data.  It can be lost.  The result will be a resume with no name, and no way of contacting the owner.

Start your resume with your name, phone number and email address.  For some reason people often fail to include all of these on their resumes.

Next, provide a short executive summary of your qualifications and experience.  Hit a few carefully selected highlights.  These might include:

  • Years of experience
  • A few words about your relevant personality traits
  • Significant accomplishments
  • Awards
  • Finish up with a final line or two briefly noting degrees and certifications

Format this section so that each entry stands alone and jumps out at the reader.  Take a look at the Resume Example and see if this works for you.

Next consider a list or table that highlights a number of your specific skills and strengths.  These might be technical, analytical or managerial, and might also include specific domains and specialized training.

For both the Introduction and the Skills or Competencies table:  Be sure that anything you list is also referenced in detail in your employment or project sections.  Too often we see a skill or technology listed at the top of a resume – and then it never appears in the body of the resume.  Your employment history must support the claims you make at the top of your resume.

The main body of your resume comes next, with positions listed in reverse chronological order.

Start each job or project section with your position title, where you worked, and the dates.  Your job title or function is generally more important to a reader than where you did the work, so always place this first.

Put all of this data in bold for each entry.  Make it easy for a reader to find and understand what you did on each job.  Here’s an example:

Project Manager
California Department of Something or Other (CDSO)
11/06 – 12/11

Keep your formatting – including titles of companies and the way you write dates – consistent from one job to another.

Speaking of which:  People often cut and paste entries or information.  Imagine what a resume looks like when you then fail to go through it and make sure that everything is in the same font.  Not a good way to impress a recruiter or prospective employer.

Avoid any substantial inconsistencies in dates (missing months, etc.).  If this presents a problem, discuss the matter with your recruiter.

For each position, use as many key industry terms and descriptive phrases as possible, as long as they’re accurate and appropriate to the work you did.  Help electronic scanners find out what they need to know about you.  For each position you’re interested in, you should also mine the job description and other materials for terms and skills relevant to that job – and use them in your resume wherever accurate.

Consider what this means:  We urge you not to simply send a stock resume in response to an ad for a job you really want.  Take a few minutes to add keywords from the job description, and make sure that your resume does the best job possible of mapping your background to the requirements of the position.

Never assume that a reader will somehow deduce that you have additional relevant experience that you have not listed on your resume.

The employment section should include substantial details for each job you’ve had for at least the last 15 years.  Beyond that you can begin to provide increasingly fewer details.  The exception, however, as we’ve stated elsewhere, is that any “old” experience you have that is relevant to a position you’re seeking now should appear in  your resume.

After you’ve listed your projects and employments, finish up your resume with a section that covers education, certifications and other information.

You’ve already provided very brief reference to your education in the top summary section.  You can provide additional information at the end of your resume, where space is not at such a premium.  In this final section you can include:

  • Degrees, universities, major fields of study
  • Additional professional training
  • Certifications
  • Positions in professional organizations
  • Military service
  • Secret clearances and other relevant information
  • Visa or citizenship status

When Your Resume is Completed . . .

. . . It’s not.

Again, do what you’d do in the workplace.  Test.

Let your resume simmer on the computer overnight.  The next day, read it again, slowly, character by character, and make any technical corrections.  (And there will be some.)

Use Spell Check.  Every day we receive documents where the writer has failed to use Spell Check.  That decision communicates a lot about the writer.

Now read your resume again for meaning.  Make sure that what you wrote will make complete sense to a stranger who’s reading your resume for the first time.

Ideally, you should again walk away, and let a day or so go by.

Now print off your resume and go through the above steps again.  It’s amazing how many small errors sneak into a document like this as you write it.

Since the prospective employer will also be looking for errors doesn’t it make sense to get rid of those before anyone but you sees your work?

Print your final resume on good letter-size white bond paper.  Avoid colors and unusual sizes.

The Bottom Line

Ask yourself this question:  Why would an employer want to request an interview with you instead of meeting with any of the hundreds of other applicants for the position?

Your resume has to help you stand out from this crowd, and position you as the logical choice for the job.

If the employer has to choose between interviewing two candidates of equal ability they will almost always decide to meet with the one with the best resume.

Highlight your strengths above the fold, and then support that summary with a comprehensive and easily-read resume that provides all of the details necessary to help the reader map your skills and experience to the specific requirements of the position.

Serious candidates will invest the time and effort to create a resume that will present them to the best advantage – and that will help us at Project Management Plus make a successful presentation to our clients.

Writing a great resume is laborious, time-consuming and just plain annoying.  But if you follow the steps we’ve laid out, you’ll be proud of the resume you’ve created – and you will be helping us to represent you most effectively.