Creating a Modern, Practical Résumé
I was recently asked to review a résumé, which gave me a chance to think about the purpose and use of résumés today versus decades ago.
Let me be clear from the start: I'm not an HR professional, so I'm offering only a view of a slice of hiring. Still, as an "old man," I'm fascinated by how such a simple item has changed. Here's most of what I wrote as advice to the person who asked.
I think the purpose of a résumé has changed over the last couple of decades. It used to be the introduction of a person to an organization. But this is far less true today. When applying for a job, you'll be asked to upload your résumé, or enter the information into an online form. Your employment and education will probably be verified by a third party. A résumé is still, though, a useful way to document and present your qualifications.
Your résumé is a way to learn about yourself. It's for discovery as well as presentation.
Let's look at résumés in terms of these desired outcomes:
- Everything about the résumé makes it easy for employers to find what they need to know
- Easy to contact
- Education and employment histories are clear and verifiable
- Relevant skills receive focus
- Can be easily imported into a database
Don't get caught up in formatting at first, it'll just distract from the content. As noted elsewhere, the primary concern for formatting is not how the résumé looks, but how easy it is to convert to electronic data.
Consider a throw-away draft where you really focus on information and not style. I suggest using a plain-text editor such as Microsoft Notepad with these sections.
Contact Information Professional Mission Skills Experience Education
Within these, just fill in all the info. Figure out how to style the document later. In fact, your résumé should be perfectly readable in plain text.
Keep all contact information together, in a simple format such as this:
Email Phone Address [Your web site] [LinkedIn profile]
If you include your (professional) web site, be sure it's what you want an employer to see. If you include LinkedIn, make sure that profile is up-to-date.
This is a key discovery area. What you write here probably won't make it into your résumé directly, but it will influence what you include, how you write your cover letters, where you apply, and how you present yourself at an interview.
This isn't what job you want in the near term, but what your larger desires are. What matters to you? What kind of person do you imagine being in five years? Twenty years? What kind of organization do you want to end up in? What kind of culture?
You can easily spend hours—heck, years—on this, and it'll change over time. Once you've taken a deep dive, summarize your professional mission as "what" and "when." For example, "Within five years, I want to be teaching national courses on academic preparation and success." The more specific, the better.
But what do you include on the résumé? Arguably, nothing. The potential employer assumes you're interested in the position you've applied for. Don't include an Objective for the sake of it. Still, including a brief statement can be valuable. If you do, make it a summary of you. For example:
Experienced college-level tutor in English and Creative Writing, dedicated to helping high school and college students succeed in their learning objectives.
Think of your skills more specifically in terms of the job(s) you're applying for. You may be tweaking the Skills section depending on the job requirements. Be specific, brief, and use industry language. This area should honestly match up with the job description.
Skills * Strong interpersonal techniques, including open-ended questions, active listening. * Apply various learning theories: VARK model, Transfer, Gestalt * Create subject-specific and student-specific study guides
Contrast this to the skills you'd highlight if you were applying to an education tech writing job. They'd be different. So, yes, you may be creating different résumés for different places.
Be sure that whatever your write here, you're telling the truth. In an interview, you will be asked about them.
(By the way, the VARK learning model is baloney. Don't use it. The Myth of Learning Styles - Atlantic Monthly )
All experience should be verifiable. That means someone can be called. So, make it easy for the verifier. Include the organization or individual's phone number. Experience should start with the most recent, and include:
- From – To using month and year
- Phone Number
- What you did
Experience Colorado State University-Pueblo 123-555-1234 4/2017 – 7/2017 * Organized and ran weekly tutoring sessions for fellow students * Created and distributed. . . .
Be careful of being wordy. Don't pad. Be concrete and specific. Think of the person reading the résumé: she just wants the facts to decide whether to interview you.
You don't need to include a phone number, but do use a "most to least" format. School > Degree > Graduation Date
Education University of Colorado Denver Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, 9/2018
This is where people used to really differentiate, and still try to. They get hung up on how the résumé looks, what paper they use, etc. What's important is clarity and—in my opinion—the ability to import. Manually styling makes it hard to do the latter. To make it easy for the machine, use consistent header styles. Styles also let you easily change the look of your résumé.
If you don't know how to work with styles in your word processer, look it up! Here's an article to get you started.
- Give each section (contact, skills, etc) a Heading 2 styles.
- Put school/business names on separate lines.
- Format dates consistently.
- Use bullet points consistently.
Beyond the above, be judicious and consistent with how you use bold weight. Are you drawing attention to what matters? (And remember online submission probably won't allow bold, italic, etc.)
Think about this, too: when you need to copy/paste information into an online form, how easy will it be?
I'm not finding a service that lets you check if your résumé is easily parse-able, but you'll know as soon as you apply somewhere that lets you upload your résumé.
I worked for a background check company for several years, so my advice is based on that experience. HR departments outsource their verifications and use third party software to import all résumé information into a database. They don't keep file folders of applications and résumés.
If you check online, you'll find businesses that can produce beautiful résumés. But why bother? Employers are looking at your data. Make it easy to get them that data. (You should still have a nice-looking résumé, though.)
So, what's a person to do when looking for a job and building a career? I'm certainly no expert, but here's what I think.
- Learn what your strengths are, what you love to do, and find work that lets you do that. The science of well-being shows the job won't make you happy. Using your strengths will.
- Target the places you want to be. Research them. Make it clear to yourself that you don't just want a job, you want to work here.
- Walk into an interview prepared to start working immediately. You won't be asked to do that, but it'll affect how you dress and behave.
- Take two or more copies of your résumé with you. One for you, one for the interviewer if she doesn't have one.
- Be prepared to ask questions. Take notes during the interview. Your goal is the same as theirs. Do you want to work here?
- Finally, I think fundamentally a good organization cares about these questions
- Can the person do the job
- Will the person do the job
- Does the person fit.