Resumes are Self-Marketing.
Make it count.
Imagine you are a recruiter. It is part of your everyday job to look at dozen's of resumes. Studies show that you most likely spend around six seconds on the average resume. If it caught your attention, six seconds can become two minutes but not much more. As if you would not have better things to do with your time... You are bored and tired of reading through too many long life stories which seem to be the outcome of a wild copy & paste spree. You look at your watch... just 2 pm, dammit! Still three hours and endless resumes to go.
What sounds like a depressing story of an average recruiter is actually the most common mistake people do when crafting their resume. They do so through their own eyes and not those of the recipient. With this article I would like to provide you guidance and support in creating an impressive resume that will make it to two minutes and will be your entry ticket to an interview. Follow this 12-point guide and make sure you will not be overseen anymore.
This guide helps you to create a resume that follows the requirements for the US-American market. The rules and guides for resumes vary from country to country. In case you apply internationally or at big organizations sticking to the US-American rules is the best option in my opinion.
1. Be position and sector-centric
Put yourself in the position of the recruiter. He/she most likely has never seen you or heard about you. Your resume and optional cover letter or picture are most likely the only information the recruiter has about you. So we have to be cautious about how we bring our explanation to paper that we are a good fit for the vacancy. Your resume is like an elevator pitch in pen and paper edition. We have a very limited time window to convince the listener respectively reader that we are worth their time. So what does this mean in practice?
1. Imagine you would be the recruiter yourself. What would you like to see on paper? What helps you to identify suitable candidates for this position? What is not of interest to you?
2. Create a unique resume for each application. Each sector, each company and each position is different. One-resume-fits-it all is a dangerous illusion. The job description contains a lot of signal words that characterize the skills needed for the job. Make sure to incorporate those signal words. This helps also in case that the resume will be scanned by an artificial intelligence before any human being has a actual look at it.
3. Be precise and sharp in your wording. Your resume should be as short as possible and as long as necessary. Every single word counts and should have a reason to be in the resume. No fillers. Your goal is to keep the 'noise' as low as possible. With 'noise' I am referring to any non-substantial content that distracts from the main message - your achievements, skills and experience for the specific job you are applying for. Working long night shifts in the gas station might have a huge significance for you and your development (hard earned money!) but does it say anything for your qualifications to be a good R&D engineer?
4. Keep the room for interpretation as small as possible. Recruiters staff people for all kind of departments - from accounting over finance and audit till engineering. They are not necessarily familiar with the terminology that you know from the inside out. Pay special attention to your wording. Avoid unclear expressions and words/sentences which do not convey a clear message about your achievements, skills and experience that is relevant for the specific job you are applying for.
5. Know the resume requirements for the sector you are applying for. In general are the rules for vacancies that require a good portion of creativity (e.g. marketing, design, writing) more flexible that those for very traditional roles (e.g. accounting, finance or legal). Additionally, some sectors have very particular requirements for application documents. Think about management consulting at the big 4 companies. The use of actions words, quantified results and ROA formatting (see points 7-9 below) are of uttermost importance. It also makes sense to look at specific terminology used in the sector of interest and incorporate it in your resume. This is similar to the approach of using signal from the job description as explained in point 2.
Resumes that do not comply with the sector-specific requirements will most likely put aside in even less than six seconds. The top management consulting company McKinsey rejects 99% of the 200,000 yearly applicants. And most of them are coming from top schools. But without the perfect resume even those people stand no chance.
Never Change a Running System - Use What Works
It sometimes may cross your mind do just to your own resume styling to stand out. While standing out in a positive is actually your goal it is most beneficial doing so within the requirement framework for resumes. This signals that you have taken your time to understand the industry-specfic requirements and that you can accept and follow rules and respect authority - an important trait in big organizations. Within this framework you still have enough options to add a little bit of your own flavor to it.
6.Put important things first. For resumes this means putting the most important segments first. List them in chronological order with the most recent ones at the top of each section. As a general rule we can have the following order:
Work experience (this also includes internships/co-ops if you are still in the early stages of your career).
If you do not have any experience you can list 'practical experience' which can include university projects with practical components or alike.
This comprises all extra-curricular activities, clubs, community work and alike
(optional) Awards and honors
If applicable they can be pointed out in a separate section or sometimes it makes sense to include those in the other sections
Leisure time activities (if you do not have enough space I would 'sacrifice' this section first)
7. Use action words at the beginning of each bullet point instead of nouns. Action verbs describe the achievements, results, skills and responsibilities on your resume. Their usage also prevents that every bullet points starts with 'I did this... and that..., 'I was responsible for...'. Have a look at the two sentences below:
I designed a managed a team that improved the energy efficiency of a heat recovery system.
Lead a team of five engineers that improved the energy efficiency of a heat recovery system by 20% through planning and execution of experiments, system analysis, design and implementation.
Which one sounds better? Right, the second one. In the second sentence the emphasis is on the leadership responsibilities that led to the outcome of successful teamwork. In case you want to focus on the engineering part you could simple change the order of the sentence as following (most important aspects at the beginning):
Improved the energy efficiency of a heat recovery system by 20% by leading a team of five engineers through planning and execution of experiments, system analysis, design and implementation.
8. Quantify your results as much as possible. Example: On-boarded three lead customers, streamlined their supply chain processes and achieved food traceability with the employment of digital solutions.
9. Structure your bullet points in a ROA format: Results, Object, Action format.
Results: What have you achieved? If possible, quantify.
Object: What did you do? Offer one or two key facts.
Action format: With which means did you achieve it?
It is not always possible to include action words, quantification and ROA format at the same time in all bullet points. Try to incorporate as many of these aspects without sacrificing the significance of the sentence. Precise, sharp and on point!
See below three examples that combine the last three points:
10. Keep your resume short. In general you can orientate yourself at the following general advice:
<10 years of work experience: 1 page resume
>10 years of work experience: 1 - 2 pages. Only extend to two pages if it serves the purpose of laying out why you are a good fit for that position. Resist the temptation to bloat up your resume with insignificant fillers that show you are a cool person and high achiever in general. The resume should only include the points that underline your ability to get the job done.
In academia the resumes (or curriculum vitae, short CV as they are called there) tend to be a bit longer as they often contain one's publications.
11. No picture. No gender. No ethnicity. No details about your parents. A picture might underline your personality and as research suggests it really does make a difference - especially if you are good looking. That is also one of reasons why a photo should never be part of a resume that is following US-American guidelines. It violates anti-discrimination laws. Even in countries where pictures traditionally have been part of a resume things are changing towards 'clean resumes'. A good way of approaching this is looking at the typical resume structure in the country you are applying for. In case you apply for a position in an international organization or you send your application to the headquarter, sticking with the US-Amercian guidelines is the safest bet. If recruiters want to see your face they will just do a quick Google search and land on your LinkedIn profile within seconds. And please... no details about your parents. Nobody cares what you parents are doing. This is about you and your fit for the position and company.
12. Be creative. As explained before it is a good think to emphasize your personality and individuality within the limits for the framework of a professional resume. Especially when you combine your resume with a cover letter you can add some more interesting things to it. For example you could hand over the application in person, which - if done properly - will definitively a good impression. Or you could attach a short video message. In a 30 - 60 seconds clip you could introduce yourself and explain why you are the right candidate for the job. There are plenty of options. Doing such unusual measures might feel a bit 'off' in the beginning but being a bit bold is often the key to success.
To make things easier for you I created a resume template that follows the guidelines for the US-American market. When applying for international companies this formatting is also the preferred way.
What you can expect:
'Worry-free' resume template
Complying with the standard resume requirements from international companies (following US guidelines)
Save time with a 'ready to go' formatting
Orientate yourself directly in the template: Summary of most important resume aspects directly in the template (quantifiction of results, action words, ROA structure - results, object, action format)
Including 'real life' tried and tested examples