During the seemingly near constant job search I’ve been on for the last few years to find my place in the world, I have not spent more time with a document than my resumé. Not since college have I labored over a page of text quite like this. And so, I thought I would impart some of my knowledge to those who are or will be trying to condense their life and body of work onto a single page for the judgement of a stranger. Grim phrasing, I know- but not untrue. The basics of writing a resumé are readily available through a simple google search. So I’m not going to go into too much detail about it. I am going to tell you what is mysteriously missing from all of the information out there. And the best part about this blog, is that you can share your experiences, what’s worked and not worked for you in the comments below. See also a special offer for past and present Kindle LITs at the very end.
For more thurough basic resumé writing information, I reccomend this book:
Writing Your Resume by: Simon Howard
Quickly, here are the parts of a resumé and general guidelines.
There are 5.
- Your name and contact information.
- Objective (What you are looking for, would like to ultimately end up doing, or learning.)
- Work Experience
There are some others that can be substituted or switched out depending on the jobs that you are applying for. I have a resume with a Volunteer section that I send to nonprofit organizations I am applying to. You may also want to have an Awards section if you are applying for a position in which awards are common (like copywriting, sales positions etc.) If you do not have anything to put in these sections, do not put them in your resume. Duh.
2. Little Rules and Expectations
- Don’t use the word “I” – You don’t need to- who else would your resumé be about?
- Correct Grammar and spelling
- Should not exceed more than one page
- Similar spacing and formatting as an essay ( size 10-12 font, spacing between sections, margins etc.)
- Consistency of tenses and syntax (using complete sentences or not, present or past tense in job descriptions etc.)
- List everything in reverse chronological order (most recent first- sometimes I break this for most relevant first)
- Use a variety of active adjectives in job descriptions to show ability and breadth of vocabulary.
- Keep descriptions short and to the point.
- List only current or relevant work experience.
- Do not undersell yourself. Job titles can lie about your actual experience at a particular job. List skills that you think you have even if your 10th grade teacher is the only one that ever told you were good at writing. If you like writing and do it of your own free will, list it as a skill.
- Do not lie about your experiences or skills. Not only will you not have the necessary skills for the job, you will be discovered as a liar. And employers do not want to hire liars.
Look at the Pretty Colors
Resumés are about organization and succinctness (saying the most with the fewest words). Employers are looking at 100+ resumés for every open job opening. I’ve even heard of stories about craigslist job listings that get 250+ responses in the first few hours of posting. So standing out is a trendy topic that is often written about in advice columns and articles about resumé writing.
What makes a resumé stand out? I have no idea. What makes a resumé good is subjective. Sure going to an Ivy League college, with lots of relevant experience is helpful. But that just isn’t reality for a lot of people. So, like a dude with a mohawk, sometimes you need to resort to other means of drawing attention. (Don’t give your resumé a mohawk.) Different employers will be asthetically drawn to different layouts or formats. There is nothing you can do about this. At the very least, you might as well enjoy looking at your own resumé since you will be doing it quite often.
A lot of information on resumés advise you to stay away from color because they don’t photocopy well. I have only ever emailed my resumé to be presumably seen on a computer screen before ultimately being printed (usually in color). So my advice is to selectively ignore this old adage. There is nothing wrong with color- it is another form of communication. If you are applying for a position in a creative field, it might even give you an edge. It communicates that you are bold, playful and at the very least, not afraid of color. Most employers won’t think that to themselves when they see purple on your resumé- but they will remember the purple.
Heed my warning. Too much color is bad- and looks juvenile. I’m not gonna say never- but be wary of bright colors. You want to use darker/grayer, more muted colors so they aren’t competing with the actual content of the resumé. I’m a big fan of dark teal and even soft purple. Try navy blues, maroons, or sage green. Color font is annoying to read. At most, have the position titles or the section headings be colored. Or you can create page dividers with color. If you are afraid of color, fear not. There are fun things you can do with grays and format design. Below are some examples, including different organization and formatting choices. Pay attention to what is included based on the intent of the resumé. (Personal information has been blacked out. But it’s where your address and contact information goes.)
Here are some templates (predesigned formats) that you can use to get started. They can be easily customized. The ones I am posting are for Microsoft Word. But if you use Pages, the templates already included in the application are great. (Go to File/new from templates- click resumés)
Skills That Kill
The skills section is one of the most difficult and often over analyzed of a resumé. Many will tell you to be honest and direct about your skills and strengths and to ‘just be yourself.’ All of it is trite and unhelpful. Relevant skills will depend on the position you are applying for. But personal strengths are difficult to be honest with ourselves about, let alone other people. It feels like bragging. When asked my strengths are in interviews, (and you will be asked) answering feels like a weird out-of-body experience.
Without sounding too much like Mr. Rodgers, everyone has something that makes them who they are. Usually it’s something you practiced without meaning to. For me it was leadership and communication. I fell into speech and debate by association and it shaped my formative years and made me who I am. Competing taught me discipline, drive and creativity. Coaching taught me patience, interpersonal communication and how to manage a group of people. Team sports teach us a variety of lessons, learning to play an instrument helps us to develop valuable strengths. You just have to verbalize what they are. Even playing video games help us to practice certain attributes like dedication, attention to detail and problem-solving. I just wouldn’t mention the origin of these traits… unless you’re applying for a position at a company that makes video games.
So it’s lookin’ sparse…
If you are worried that you do not have enough experience to fill the page- get some. Volunteer work is the easiest and best way to do this. The world is desperate for people that care and for your time. You will not find a nonprofit organization that doesn’t need your help. You can often find one that supports or is involved with something you care about. Everything from animal shelters to food banks, to children’s hospitals, after school programs, various advocacy groups, different disease walks (AIDS, breast cancer, autism, epilepsy etc.), to things like film festivals and Comic-con! If you are at a loss, let me know and I will help you find something that suits your interests.
I also find it important to include things like interests and hobbies. Interests I’ve included on my resumé are yoga, dogs, tea, movies, cooking and reading. Strategically, some peripheral skills of the position you are applying for not included in the original job description may get you a call for an interview. Say the employer likes to bring his dog to the office and is hoping to have the new hire walk her for a half hour. They help your potential employer build a more complete picture of who you are. This part of the resumé is where your humanity shines through.
It’s important to view your resumé as a tool to get something you want, and not a grown up homework assignment. If it becomes the latter, you’re not going to want to do it. Plain and simple. Moreover, when you ultimately do end up doing it- it won’t but what it could if you had the right mind set going in. A resumé feels like self-judgment on paper. And that’s because it is. Resumés by nature ask us to strip ourselves down to what we think will matter to other people. But I’m asking you to include what matters to you. If what you think is important about yourself isn’t important to your employer, chances are you won’t have been happy at that job. Don’t punish yourself for the things that you didn’t do, or haven’t done yet. Don’t be embarrassed by you put on that paper. People are not born with experience. And as you will learn, a resumé is only one of many methods to help you achieve what you want.
Special Offer for Past and Present Kindle Leaders-in-Training:
If you were an LIT at Camp Kindle, I will personally look over your resumé and give you individualized notes and comments for improvement. This offer will be continuous until I become overwhelmed and post that it is closed- which I will do here. For now, send away for free help! Send your resumé as an attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org