Thursday, August 7, 2008

Advice for resume writing

I've avoided giving open advice like this, up to now, but today I cannot resist. I see dozens, sometimes over a hundred, resumes a day and see a number of trends or assumptions I'd like to share my perspective on.

1. Don't write an objective. Most employers or agency recruiters will tell you what the objective is (I'm only being 1/2 sarcastic, here!). At best - well thought out and written - it could limit you from opportunities outside the target you've cited. At worst - and this is rampant, folks - it is meaningless drivel that says nothing and is an 80%+ match to all the other resume 'objectives' out there.
Friends don't let friends write an objective.

2. Suppress the urge to draft a lengthy summary or list of qualifications at or near the top of page one. A small handful of short bullet points may be acceptable, but mind the real estate it takes. If your items resemble 'punctual,' 'honest,' 'hardworking,' or 'works well independently or in groups' then please don't bother. Make them relevant to your accomplishments or skip it all together.

3. Despite the trend towards "marketing brochure" style resumes, most recruiters and employers I know still expect or prefer a traditional resume. That means in reverse chronology (starting with the present), list employers, titles and tenures in a single heading, under which responsibilities and accomplishments are documented. Use common language rather than industry jargon and avoid acronyms, unless universal.

4. Talk about your hobbies to your mom, a prospective mate or your neighbour, NOT a potential employer. A heading of 'interests' or 'community involvement' may be appropriate, but treat the description of these items as if they were part of your employment history.

5. Size matters. Shorter is better and has a better chance of being read in full. 10+ pages is never OK - no one reads it all, especially today where, prior to 2nd or 3rd round interviews, all resume reading is done electronically (i.e. not printed out on paper). Gone is the 'round file' or 'B pile' of yore, but the delete key or 'next' button is just as nasty, if not more so due to its ease of use. Two to three pages is the target for mid to senior level people; one or two for folks with under 8 years' experience. Writing about how great you are is easy [there's that sarcasm again]; the labour, the science, indeed the art is in the EDITING and paring down.
Ask someone you trust to proofread a printed version and arm them with a red pen. Tell them you'll buy/give them one drink for every word they remove that objectively doesn't need to be there. Be prepared to call them a taxi home.

6. When your masterpiece is done, share it. Whether you are, at that moment, looking for a new opportunity or not, get it out to people you trust to both look out for your interests and preserve your confidentiality/discretion. Get to know a good recruiter or two and have an updated resume on file with them for potential matches to your ideal. Give a copy to your brother, former colleague, parent on your kid's soccer team, anyone you trust, together with a brief, specific wish list of what your dream position looks like, and allow them to share it with people they trust. An astounding number of opportunities come from personal referrals (much more than from responses to online or newspaper ads). Do this before you need a job; do it when you are happy with your current situation, but conscious of wanting something different or something more.

There might be a #7, but my taxi is outside.

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