Here’s a follow-up to my earlier post on avoiding two big resume pitfalls. Now that you know what to do, how do you actually get there? I’ll share my process, which some might find useful and others aggravating. I find it a practical approach. (Note that this process is for applying to US jobs…jobs in foreign countries tend to have requirements not covered here.)
Step 1: Read and re-read the job description. I look particularly in the job description for keywords on qualities they’re looking for, like comfort working in an environment of uncertainty and change, self-directed approach to working, etc. and highlight them with a marker. If the job requires technical or foreign language skills, I highlight those.
I find I tend to address most of the information under “job requirements”, like education and work experience in my cover letter, but sometimes there are specific skills they’re looking for under this section, too. I’ll usually also take the time to research the company I’m applying to and the industry (if I’m not familiar with it already) to see what sorts of people or skills they look for. But mainly, I focus on what’s written for the job itself.
Step 2: Review your work history. This takes a while to do, so set aside some time, a mug of coffee, and find a bright and quiet place. The good thing about it is that it’s the most time-consuming the first time you do it and easier with each subsequent iteration. Believe it or not, it can also be a somewhat therapeutic and fulfilling exercise as you take a jaunt down memory lane (assuming not all of your work experience has been miserable).
I loosely keep in mind the qualities and skills stated in the job I want. But in this step, I mostly focus on recalling what I did in each previous job, writing down a general description of the major projects or responsibilities I had. Then I draw lines from each one and describe using action verbs all the possible skills that I used on the project (you could also do this in a separate column).
You probably didn’t do just one thing on each project, so your experience can be written several ways depending on what you want to emphasize. For example, you could have led a team (leadership), worked closely with a cross-functional team (teamwork, cross-functionality), or convinced your team to do something (persuasion). And yes, I go through each previous work experience and subject each project I had to the same sort of scrutiny.
As annoying as it may sound to do, I find this process has produced lots of benefits: it helps you write your resume, yes, but it’s also good preparation for the interview. You’ll be able to respond to all those “Give me an example where you…” questions with specific examples that might not have appeared in your resume, or give additional details about one that did.
Moreover, by forcing myself on the rare occasion to actually sit down for a while and look at what I’ve done so far, I’ve learned about what sorts of jobs I enjoy and which ones I don’t, as well as where I want to go in the future. My previous work experience has largely been with technology companies, in technical roles, but the first time I did this exercise, I realized I really enjoyed my job in customer service more than when I was just a straight programmer. This made me seek out positions that had a customer-oriented focus, which I realized I found much more rewarding. Being able to see where I was and where I want to head also helps me identify skills I need to build as well as plan out a career trajectory instead of just hopping from position to position with little direction. Remember, taking the time to be honest with yourself while working on this process pays dividends in more ways than one.
Step 3: From the list you’ve made, circle the examples that you want to include in your resume. You want to showcase an example of each skill required by the job, and multiple instances where you used it if possible. Keep all the work you did (it’ll come in handy in the future when you do this again), but choose the ones that will be best suited for this particular job. Remember, you only have one page, and the idea is not to cram as many words into each bullet point as possible. Be choosy and specific, and showcase the other required skills in a bullet point for a different previous job.
Step 4: Start laying out your resume Remembering the keywords from Step 1 above, I start matching the bullet points I’ve selected and using the keywords and their synonyms where appropriate. My work experience is laid out in reverse order, with dates on the left, name of company and job in the center, and location on the right. And as a young professional, my educational history still appears at the top of my resume, in reverse order, starting with the MBA. Finally, toward the bottom, I have an “Additional” section where any foreign language or technical skills required in the job that I have are mentioned (Perl, SPSS, Unix, etc.).
Step 5: Refine your wording Here’s where I go back and do the CAR method (stands for Context, Action, Results, see my previous post on resumes for details) on each bullet point. Honestly, this step takes me a long time to do because I’m picky about wording. (Just imagine how long it takes me to write on this site.)
Some other “mistakes” to look for:
- Use bullet points, not paragraphs
- Use action verbs. Here’s a nice list to choose from. None of this “responsible for…” or “I was…” nonsense
- Verbs should be consistently written in past tense throughout the page
- Articles (a, an, the) should be excised from the resume, except perhaps when “a” is used to quantify a number, as in “a 20% increase in…”
- No pronouns
These changes give your resume more impact, and saves on valuable real estate. In school, we were told that degrees should be spelled out, as well as majors or minors. I also include any graduation distinctions and scholarships. Personally, I leave all GPA information out. If they’re really that interested, they can ask me later. (If you apply to a consulting or i-banking position, be prepared to give all your GPA and standardized test information back to SATs though!)
As usual, if anyone has anything to contribute or comment, fire away below!