Resume writing has a rich history. In fact, it is Leonardo Da Vinci, himself, who is credited with writing the first resume, in the form of a letter, soliciting employment from a potential employer named Ludovico Sfroza. The word resume comes from the French word resume which means summary. However, a resume can no longer be a boilerplate one-size-fits-all summary of past work experience. In reality, a resume should convey that you are a perfect fit for the particular position to which you are applying. As any hiring manager will attest to, not all resumes are created and executed equally. Nowadays, the average time a hiring manager gives a resume a look to see if they are going to continue to read one is a scant six seconds. Add in the fact that often resumes are initially screened by a computer, before they even make it to the hiring manager’s attention, and it’s easy to see the importance of one’s resume standing out. We’re going to look at the methods and creativity in resume writing that will do just that.
The ultimate goal of the resume is to market yourself. Specifically, marketing yourself for potential positions in an organization, whether it be government, a non-government organization (NGO) or for the private sector. Some organizations, such as government agencies and NGOs, are going to require a bit more detail than the private sector. And, while the private sector resume will generally be shorter and more targeted, the guidelines of writing a great resume remains much the same for them all.
While you may develop a master resume framework from which to work, you will find tailoring each resume to target the specific job and company you are applying for is key to getting noticed and reaching the ultimate goal of achieving an interview for the position.
Content and formatting
There are two main aspects to effective resume writing and composition. Those are content and formatting. Effective content matches the job you are applying for, showcases accomplishments that support your ability to do that job, and highlights the impact you made that speaks to how you could transfer this success and value to your target organization. The Formatting aspect of the resume is the presentation of these factors. Effective formatting makes your resume easy to read and understand. In our modern era, it should also be easy for computers to interpret so one can make it through the digital screening and into the hands of the hiring manager. You should start with re-writing your content to demonstrate your ability to do the tasks listed for the job. Then work on the formatting. If you only focus on making your resume look nice with all the right computer generated words added, it may not market you well once the employer reviews it.
Find your desired job
The first step in writing your dream resume is to find the specific job posting or a job description you are interested in. Hopefully if you are reading this blog, you have already done some online research and networking to learn more about the careers and organizations you want to target. Understanding what the job you are targeting involves, helps you to choose which of your past experiences to focus on in building your resume. You will be in a better position to highlight the compatible transferable skills and capabilities needed in the new job and demonstrate to the employer why you are the best candidate.
Avoid the “laundry list approach”
In general, it’s a good practice not to include detailed descriptions of work or experiences that are unrelated to a job post. If you describe every job you ever had in your resume,(we call it the “laundry list approach”) it makes all of your experiences appear to carry the same weight and it does not guide your reader toward the experiences they most want to see. If you want to show employment continuity on your resume, it’s best to create a section entitled, “Additional” or “Other Experience” near the bottom of your resume and put these experiences together there as brief one line listings. This means simply listing each company’s name, the position title, and the dates of employment. That’s it. By doing this, you are saving space at the top and middle of your resume to go into detail on the experiences you’ve had that most clearly match your desired job. The more masterfully you accomplish this, the more likely you are to land the interview.
Make your experience and accomplishments transferrable
Your position/experience sections at the top of your resume should not be a laundry list of everything you ever did in those positions either. Instead, start by creating sections with titles that use the language of capabilities that are outlined in the job description. For example, titles such as, “Organizational Experience,” or “Social Impact Experience” will grab the employer’s attention and could easily fit in the keywords their computer scanners are searching for. Then, you will want to think through EVERYTHING you have done in that experience that best demonstrates the skills and abilities the employer is searching for. That is what you will write about to describe the experience. It is important to note here that relevant experience can include paid or unpaid experience. This is particularly true if you are trying to transition into a new career or field. The devil is in the details when it comes to this particular stage of composition. For instance, if you were a program manager in a company, but you want to transition into a social services field, think about both the experiences you had in your job as well as other aspects of your life outside of work that would demonstrate your interest in helping others. You then list each of these experiences in the same section in reverse chronological order.
The S.O.A.R. Method
There is an effective method that provides a framework to work through for each position you hold, developed by Career Strategist Ronda Ansted ofBe the Change Career Consulting. S.O.A.R. is an acronym for evaluating each position you have held by looking at the following:
Situation: What were things like when you walked into a particular job? For instance, if you were a sales manager where were the sales numbers when you began?
Obstacle: What were the challenges you faced in order to do your job? For example, if you were a program manager what was the infrastructure like?
Action: What were the specific things you did to address the organization’s challenges? For instance, if you were an IT employee did you facilitate updating the technology?
Result: What happened as a result of your actions. For example, if you were a controller how did you streamline the processes by a given percent, and how did that save the organization’s budget by a specific percent?
Whenever possible, quantify your results
It’s important in the resulting job description to quantify your contribution to improvements made with numbers as much as possible. Numbers stand out in a resume. For instance, as a sales manager you increased sales by 25% resulting in an increase in revenue of $250,000. Another example that is less straightforward numbers-wise, but equally important, is you were a field operative in the Peace Corps and you helped train thirty boys who went on to acquire jobs that increased their family’s income and facilitated community building for a village of 300 people.
Your content should highlight how your job input made an impact in the organizational policies, procedures and, if applicable, how you helped change lives. This is an opportunity to show you know what you were doing and how it made a difference.
Use action verbs and bullet points to improve your descriptions
Translate your relevant accomplishments into bullet points that start with action verbs like: led, developed, directed, managed, or coordinated versus passive words like “responsible for” such and such. You will find that if you use action verbs, it breaks your story down into bite sized pieces and increases the precision of which transferable skills you are trying to demonstrate. An example of effective bullet points that show the specific transferable skills of an ability to raise money and effectively design programs might be:
Received a $15,000 grant for programming and job training for 150 teen girls.
Designed two new programs that reached 500 households and pulled 150 families out of extreme poverty.
Make your resume easy to read and understand
Now that we’ve covered the ways to create eye-catching high impact content, let’s move on to formatting. The goal with formatting is to make it easy to understand and skim your resume. Computers often get the first scan of the resume and they are programmed to look for the key words found in the job description. Some computers only scan the first page of a resume so it’s important to place those keywords front and center.
As noted above, pay close attention to the first experience section of your resume on your first page. All key qualifications need to be located here. Write your resume for a hiring manager that is a generalist, staying away from too many unknown acronyms or too much industry jargon. Make it easy to see your qualified keywords from the section headers and job description in your resume. Again, quantify with numbers wherever possible, as they really pop on a resume.
Use bullet points, rather than narrative. Use margins that are no less than .75 all the way around and only use two different font sizes throughout your resume to create consistency. Put keywords and information on the left and put less important information like location and dates of employment to the right.
Bringing it all together:
Your name should go at the top of the resume followed by your address, phone number and email address so they can contact you. The first section after your header should list your key jobs and experiences (in reverse chronological order) with customized bulleted descriptions for each. The next section or two that follows should include supporting experiences and near the bottom a listing of other non-relevant experiences that are simply there to fill in any time gaps. Again, use action verbs and quantify wherever possible when describing your work in the top sections.
When writing your resume keep the following questions in mind:
What is most important to my future boss?
What changed from Situation to Resolution?
How did I make things better?
What ultimate impact or intended impact did your past work have?
How can I quantify the impact I made to demonstrate effectiveness?
Now you have the tools to write a masterpiece resume. This process makes your experience, intention and accomplishments exciting, interesting and relevant. Those are the things that make your resume standout and lead to the interview you desire. And, upon completion, you have something in common with the original Renaissance man, Leonardo Da Vinci, himself.