There are a lot of different ideas, questions, and discussions going around about resumes and cover letters, so I thought I’d jump in the mix. I’ve seen literally tens of thousands of resumes in my day, some terrible, some great. But all are different. My brother in-law is a recent college graduate, so I’ve been trying to help him put together a marketable resume, and I’ve also seen some of the feedback he’s been getting from others. Some of the feedback has been good, other feedback has made me downright angry because it was so bad and the people giving the advice have no clue and/or background to do so.
There’s not one correct way to put together a resume in my opinion, but there are plenty of incorrect ways. And as far as cover letters are concerned, I haven’t received nor seen one for 7 years, I think that closes that topic. I’m going to put together some visual examples and reasons for the ideas I suggest, but remember all resumes can be different visually, it’s the content that matters. Keep in mind, these principles and ideas can be incorporated into any specific profession or industry, not just IT. So here goes…..
The Summary. I believe the summary is the single most important part of the resume, so I think the most time should be spent on it. You want the summary to be your sales pitch, and ultimately it’s the first thing hiring managers should see when they look at your resume. It should be a 4-8 sentence blurb about your strengths, experience, and personality traits. In the old days, we’d see resumes with an objective. Please please don’t use an objective. I don’t care if your objective is to be a Sr. Software Engineer at a progressive, forward thinking company. I care about what you’ve done in your career, the things you’re good at, and why I should hire you. Please tell me in your summary why you’re better than the other 10 resumes I’m looking at for the same position. An example technical summary is below.
Technical Skills. The Technical Skills section should be a laundry list of applications, languages, databases, methodologies, or whatever other tools you use or have used to do your job effectively. This can be applied to Accounting, Finance, Engineering and many other professions. If you’ve touched on a particular tool/software/language, put it in here. If you’re not an expert with it, that’s OK. If you’re really good with one particular skill, it should be mentioned in your summary as well as your professional experience multiple times. An example of the technical skills section is below.
Professional Experience. Obviously the Professional Experience section of your resume is important. You need to be able to paint a clear picture of what you did, but also what you accomplished. I think a lot of people forget about the accomplishment piece, and just explain their daily tasks. But, adding accomplishments will tell the hiring manager you deliver. Mention that you were on a critical project that built an application that ultimately saved the business 10k per month. Mention that you were selected by your manager/peers for outstanding performance (or whatever). Now there’s always exceptions to this rule. If you played a fairly insignificant role and were purely a taskmaster, well then it’ll be tough to explain accomplishments. Also, if you’re a technologist, make it technical. It always sucks when I get a resume that has all these fancy bullet points but no specific technical detail in it. An example would be “Worked on a team do develop a large scale accounting system.” That’s great and all, but it should read “Worked as a developer on a team of 10 building a large scale accounting system using Spring, Hibernate, JPA, Maven, blah blah (you get the picture). You should also have the last bullet point be a list of the types of tools/technologies you worked with. In conclusion, for each position, use 4-8 bullets of your daily detailed tasks, but also 2-4 of your accomplishments. Example below.
Education, Certifications, Training, etc.. In a technical resume, I prefer Education and the like at the bottom of the resume. The exception is if you’re fresh out of college or fairly new to the industry. Then putting the Education under the Summary at the top is more useful. I always tell newbies out of college to list relevant courses to whatever position they’re applying for. So if you’re applying for a Software Engineer position that requires C# experience, you better mention the CIS class you took that was called “Building Web apps with C#”. Again, you get the picture. I also always recommend any marketable education (which should be easy to know) be included somewhere in your summary at the top as well. If you have a Masters in Software Engineering from the U of M, a Scrum Master certification, or you’re a CPA, put those in a bullet point at the top of your resume in the summary. Again, examples below.
Font and Formatting. I’ve heard a lot of people talk in detail about formatting and where the dates should be, how and where your name and address should be, what font and size to use, etc. These things are minor, I personally think very little time should be spent on this topic. If you’re asking me these questions, I’ll tell you what I do (Times New Roman 11 font)….but it’s the last thing that should be discussed when putting together a marketable resume. I also don’t agree with the notion a resume shouldn’t be over a page, or two pages, or whatever. Your resume should be as long as it needs to be. If you’re on page 4, yes maybe you should think about taking some details out of the position/s you had 5 years ago. But if you have a ton of experience and it’s recent and relevant, well than that’s the way it has to be. Just make sure to tailor and customize your resume to each position you’re applying for, take the irrelevant crap out.
I know as well as anyone, resumes are a pain mainly because everyone tells you something different and it’s tough remembering all the things you’ve done at times. The main point is that if you’re not getting interviews, well then maybe it’s time to take a closer look at your resume. Otherwise, if you’re not having issues getting in front of the hiring manager, I highly doubt there’s much you need to change.