Your resume does not exist to showcase your skills. It is not there to mention promotions. It’s not there to talk about your responsibilities.
Your resume exists to get an interview. It is there to jump over the hurdles of HR, reviewers, and junior staffers. All of whom spend a mere six seconds to review your resume. Consider the average user forms an opinion about a webpage in 7 seconds and about a person in 12. Your resume has a lot of work to do.
A well-designed resume is helpful. So long as it doesn’t get cute. Most people aren’t that cute anyway. You don’t have time for cute. Neither do the resume reviewers.
Remember, the goal of the resume is to get you an interview. It’s to get you to the next step.
Your resume should be two pages, tops
If you have 10 years of experience or less in an industry, your resume is one page. If you have more than 10 years of experience, go with two. But don’t go more than two. The only people who should be going more than two pages are Senators and Judges.
Be careful with downloadable templates
Downloadable templates are great. The Internet is full of them and you should use the good ones. But almost none of them have good content placeholders. Meaning you should ignore all the words placed into them and the way it’s structured.
Use these free resume templates and do these things instead.
Here’s what to put in your summary/objective/goal
First, ignore everything your 8th grade careers teacher told you. No one cares about your objective or goal because your goal is the same as everyone else’s: get the job.
Call it “Professional Summary”. This summary is 2-3 lines and lists the kinds of job titles you’re after. Don’t get smart and say “CEO” unless you’re actually applying to be the chief executive.
The summary should also list 1-3 phrases lifted from the job description of the job you’re applying for. This will help get you past automated screeners.
Skilled carpenter and craftsman, plant foreman, staffing manager, and team lead. Competent in woodworking, steel working, forklift operations, engineering, and licensed electrician.
Notice there are no weasel words like “great manager” or wimpy words like “good leader”. Anything that’s obvious is obvious. Anything that sounds like bull probably is, too.
You can also include a brief description of past successes here. Either in the same paragraph or in a new one.
Top-producing sales lead, exceeded quota last year by 15%, expert at aged electrical and plumbing systems.
This whole section provides resume screeners with exactly what they need to see you in the right role.
Job history and how to format your career
If you started to think about what you learned about resume formatting in high school, forget it. After your summary comes your work history.
List your work history in chronological order with the most recent work at the top. Do not include anything that’s not relevant to the job you’re applying for. If you’re applying to be a sales manager or a plant foreman it doesn’t matter you made candied apples at the county fair one summer twenty years ago.
If you haven’t shifted companies often, list job titles from within that company.
The formula for this is simple:
- Your most recent job gets 8-10 bullet points
- Your next most recent job gets 6-8 bullet points.
- The last two jobs, assuming they were within the last 15 years, get 2-4 bullet points each.
- Forget everything else older than 15 years or not applicable to the next job.
- Each bullet point should be blunt and specific. The formula for each is also simple:
Verb + (Variable + Time)
Your most recent job should like this:
Shipping Department Foreman
Acme Shipping Indutries, Inc., Nov. 2009-Present
- Decreased shipment errors by 12% in 6 months
- Reduced labor costs by $7,000 a month
- Improved shipping speed by 12 minutes per package
- Grew customer satisifaction scores by 6 points in 3 years
- Produced 14 new LEAN work processes in 12 months
- Awarded Distinguished Leader honor twice in one year
- Added 5 more stations and routes for delivery service
- Solved 4 shipping issues in the last year that grew the company by an extra $1 million.
The verb choice should be limited to one of these words:
Focus your variables on specific dollar amounts, customers, risks, ratings, surveys, and results.
Some more examples include
- Produced highest satisfaction scores out of 30 competitors
- Introduced 2 new processes that led to a 14% increase in worker productivity
- Earned positive news coverage from two leading regional newspapers
Note that every item you list should be quantifiable. Most companies measure everything these days anyway. Use those measurements to your advantage. Avoid saying soft items like “Introduced new software” or “Upgraded tool systems”. Those may be great things, and can be quick fodder in an interview. But they are not quantifiable.
If you absolutely can’t include a measurement in every bullet point, work towards as many as possible. Be relentless in your approach.
Don’t include community service work. It may be useful for an interview, but it’s not helpful on resumes. This is common for junior positions where a high school or college student doesn’t have much else to list. In which case, list your volunteer experience.
Adults applying to more professional-level or labor-ready jobs do not need to. For one it’s hard to quantify the skills. Two, it’s hard to imagine how involved someone really is. Did you volunteer once? Do you have a board meeting four times a year? That’s not exactly hardcore.
If you’re applying for a nonprofit sector job, and you have room at the end of the second page, you can consider including volunteer work. But make sure it’s substantial and you can include quantifiable numbers.
Always include 3 references who are not family members or friends. Stick to supervisors where possible. Use coaches and teachers only if they’re renowned in a field or you were a college or pro athlete.
List their name, title, employer, phone number, and email. And let them know you’re using them as a reference. Otherwise someone may call them and catch them off-guard. You don’t want their response to be, “Who?”
For designers, art directors, publishers, and other creative class workers, be creative. But be direct. Don’t publish your resume on the side of a work boot or a goldfish bowl. Don’t make it hard to read, and don’t get fussy with the paper stock.
For everyone else, you should be unimaginably boring. White office paper with simple fonts and a straight-down-the-line list of bullet points. For some people that’s a painful approach. In which case you should consider if you’re applying for the right kinds of jobs or not.
For everyone else, you often have to get through an automated software screener, a resume reviewer, an HR person, and a Director or Manager. The software screener can’t “see” your design. The resume reviewer has a stack of a thousand pages. The HR person doesn’t really care that much. And the Director or Manager might be impressed, but it doesn’t matter if your resume never fights up the ladder.
Instead, use the simple resume for the automated parts. If you have a more attractive, well-designed resume, consider bringing copies to the interview. Which you should get because you followed these rules. Then you have actual human hands to place it in.