How to Write an Effective Resume
by Boolean Black Belt
In the summer of 2008 I noticed a question on
LinkedIn where a job seeker had asked, "What is the best way to create a successful
resume?" I decided to respond because as a recruiting and staffing professional with over a
decade of experience, I've searched for, reviewed, and worked with well over one hundred
thousand resumes. I've also had the opportunity to work with hiring managers at 100's of
companies, gaining significant insight into what they respond to, so I felt I could offer
valuable resume writing advice to job seekers.
You can read the original question and answer(s) here on LinkedIn: "What is the best way
to create a successful resume?"
The employment market has changed drastically in the 9 months since I answered that
question on Linkedin, and with an historic number of people who are now finding
themselves looking for jobs, I feel it is especially important to get this effective resume
writing advice to as many people as possible.
First I want to want to point out that I find that most HR, recruiting and staffing
professionals, as well as hiring managers, often fail to recognize the simple fact that job
seekers are not professional resume writers. Yet they want them to be. How realistic of an
expectation is this?
Should an accountant, software engineer, project manager, etc., with 10 years of experience
really be expected to produce a fantastic resume? I'm not so sure - they have 10 years of
experience performing accounting functions, developing software, managing projects…they
don't have 10 years of experience writing resumes.
If a job seeker has had 2 jobs in 10 years - take a guess at how many times they have likely
written their resume. Does writing 2, or even 10 resumes make you especially proficient at
writing resumes? If you played golf a total of 10 times in your life, how good of a golfer
would you be?
If you are a job seeker - be aware that recruiters and managers have very high expectations
of you when it comes to resume writing. It is critical to prepare a resume that is a strong
and effective representation of you, your skills, your experience, and your
accomplishments. It can literally mean the difference between getting or not getting the
chance to interview for the job(s) you want.
NO BASIS OF COMPARISON
As I was preparing to respond to the job seeker's question on LinkedIn, it dawned on me
that while HR, recruiting and staffing professionals get to see and evaluate resumes all day
long - job seekers rarely have the opportunity to see resumes of other people with
experience similar to theirs.
Sure, there are tons of resume writing books on the market, and perhaps even more
resume writing sites on the Internet, but I don't find many of the samples I've seen to be
particularly impressive, and there aren't samples for EVERY job or role in the world. Most
are "canned" samples of common roles - and I wouldn't say they are a fair representation of
"real" or effective resumes in most cases (sorry undisclosed authors!).
Plus, job seekers need to realize resume writing books and websites exist to make money
for the people who created them. That doesn't necessarily mean they all offer good or
bad advice - it just means they are trying to sell something and you should be conscious of
the fact. Everyone knows that writing an effective resume is very challenging - so there is
no shortage of people trying to capitalize on this need by selling advice.
HOW TO CREATE AN EFFECTIVE RESUME
Now I am going to share with you a modified version of my full response to the job seeker
on Linkedin - he was interested in RF Engineering Manager positions - I am going to
attempt to make my advice universal for any job seeker of any profession.
LOOK AT OTHER RESUMES
You can and should search the Internet for real resumes of other professionals who are in
your industry and have similar experience to you. This will enable you to effectively
perform a comparative and competitive analysis, and you will likely get many excellent
content and format ideas on how to best represent your experience (and certainly some
ideas on how NOT to!). It can be especially helpful to see real examples of the types of
resumes your resume may be compared to, and it can provide you with a competitive
advantage over other candidates. Knowledge is power.
There are many ways of finding resumes on the Internet – here is an example of a generic
search string you can enter into Google, filling in appropriate titles and skills.
(intitle:resume OR inurl:resume) ("Job Title1″ OR "Job Title2″) Skill1 Skill2 -job -jobs -
If you are a software engineer, here is what your search string could look like:
(intitle:resume OR inurl:resume) ("developer" OR "engineer" OR "architect") Java Oracle
Weblogic -job -jobs -example -sample
Click here to see the results
If you are a tax accountant, here is what your search string could look like:
(intitle:resume OR inurl:resume) accountant tax -~job -~jobs -example -sample
Click here to see the results
After you run your search - spend some time reviewing the resumes to compare your
resume to others of people who have similar experience to yours and to get ideas.
ANALYZE JOB POSTINGS
I believe it is an excellent idea to review job postings for your target role as some of them
are highly detailed, specific, and very well written. Reviewing job postings can help remind
you of experience you do actually have but forgot to mention in your resume or perhaps
only briefly mentioned and will allow you to expand on it effectively.
When reviewing job postings to get ideas for resume writing, I suggest viewing a larger
sample of jobs than you would normally. Go beyond local positions and search for jobs
nationally. Why limit yourself to one location when all you are doing is looking for meaty,
well-detailed job descriptions? Any of the large job boards
(Monster,Careerbuilder, Hotjobs, Dice…) or job search aggregators such
as Indeed or SimplyHired can serve as a resource for you.
Searching the entire nation is a good way to see a larger sample of jobs thus increasing the
statistical probability of you finding very well written and highly detailed job descriptions
that may help you more effectively and accurately represent your experience.
GENERIC VS. CUSTOM RESUMES
Unlike the past, when people used typewriters to craft their resumes individually for each
job opening they were applying for, in today's day and age a large number of people create
only one resume (what I will call a "generic" resume) that is essentially used as a "one size
fits all" representation of their experience. If executed properly, a "generic" resume can be
effective, however, every position you will be applying for will be with a different company
and will be its own unique opportunity. As such, I strongly suggest customizing your
resume to specifically expand and highlight any experience you have that is highly relevant
to the job opportunity you are applying to.
ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS
How much/How large/How many?
It can be critical to mention size, scale, and scope in relation to your experience because it
may enable the reader to instantly grasp the level and extent of your experience. For
example, if you were responsible for a network deployment, you should mention how many
sites you were responsible for. There is a big difference between 5, 500, and 5000 sites -
and it may be able to set you apart from other candidates applying to the same position.
Quantify anything relevant to your experience. Other examples: Number of accounts
reconciled every month? Number/size of clients serviced? Size of budget? Number of direct
reports? Number of vacancies filled? National or global? How many servers? Lines of code?
Size of data warehouse? Number of users supported? Number of requirements taken?
Of course, if your experience isn't that impressive in terms of size (i.e., 5 sites), you may not
want to draw attention to it in your resume. However, it will likely come out on an
interview anyway, so be prepared to speak about the quality of your experience instead.
What was the environment?
Always be careful to remember to include as much detail about the environments you have
worked in, including the type of environment (HQ, field, operations center, etc.) and all
software, hardware and other tools and technologies you worked with. This can enable the
reader to quickly assess how closely your experience matches with their environment -
recruiters and hiring managers unfortunately won't often give you the benefit of the doubt
and assume you have experience with anything. If it's not explicitly mentioned in the
resume, it's more likely to be assumed you haven't done it or haven't used it.
What was it for/What did it do?
It is helpful to explicitly explain the purpose behind what you did in your jobs, if not readily
apparent. For example, was it a migration or upgrade? What was the purpose of the
migration or upgrade? Who used the product? Was it a redesign project? What was the end
result? Who benefitted? Did it help your company or customers? How? This detail can help
reviewers assess how applicable your experience is to what their company is trying to
What did you do specifically?
It is critical to clearly represent your role and responsibilities beyond your title and to be
very specific. Be sure to mention your major responsibilities as well as your level of
responsibility in comparison to others on your team or in your group.
For example, if you performed RF network design, where you the only one responsible for
it or were you part of a team of others and you shared the responsibility? Were you the go-
to person/expert for propagation analysis? It can be a critical point for a potential
employer scanning your resume to determine if you are qualified for their position.
Can it be measured?
If you saved your company 5 million dollars, or you completed all of your projects 80%
faster than expected, or you reduced the site deployment process from 8 weeks to 3 weeks,
you should say so because it is a quantitative way of representing your experience and the
impact you had for previous employers. Most resume writing books suggest this – and
Who did you work for/support? The CEO? A 4 star general? The lead architect?
Attorneys? Senior Engineers? The Director of Tax? 5000 end users of an application? Who
you have specifically worked for and/or who you have supported in your previous roles
can be a good representation of what you are capable of doing and and the level of work
you have performed.
LENGTH OF RESUME
I personally don't feel that a shorter resume is better. If your well written resume is already
1-2 pages, then great. If your well written resume is 3-4 pages long and you feel pressue to
try and artificially limit your experience to 1 or 2 pages, this can work against you. If you
have to remove valuable information from your resume to shorten it, how can a reader
evaluate experience you don't mention? However, I do recommend avoiding excessively
long resumes (over 5 pages). If your resume is over 5 pages, you can probably benefit from
being more concise in your writing, no matter how much experience you have (although I
have seen resumes over 10 pages that did not prevent the people from getting jobs).
Be aware that at some point, your resume is going to make it into a database – whether you
post it on a job board, or it gets parsed into a company's database because you responded
to their job posting, or a potential employer scanned your paper resume into their system.
As such, your resume will then be retrieved (or not!) by someone running a Boolean
search for keywords related to the opportunity they're hiring for.
If you have experience with a particular software, skill, or technology and fail to mention it
explicitly in your resume, and the person searching through their database is actually
searching using that specific term – they won't find you. In fact, they CAN'T -
because they're looking for a word that doesn't exist on your resume. What's especially
challenging for most job seekers is that some of the specific things you do and use every
day in your job are often the ones you easily forget to mention, simply because they are so
familiar to you.
SCANNING VS. READING
It is critical that you are aware that very few people "read" resumes. The reality is that
most recruiters and managers scan resumes – sometimes as quickly as 20 seconds (or
less!). When someone has to review a large number of resumes in consideration for an
opportunity, they typically scan each resume quickly – focusing (in my experience) mostly
on the actual experience and not as much time (if any) on the summary, objective, or
skills/technology summary. If they don't see what they're looking for in 15-30 seconds,
they can pass over you and move on to the next resume. It's your job to not let them do
If you take a moment to think about the way most people process resumes, you will realize
that what they are trying to determine quickly is how many years of applicable experience
you have and what you have specifically done that is highly relevant to the position they
are reviewing you for. That means many people skip immediately to your employment to
analyze your years of experience at each employer while trying to quickly gauge exactly
how deep your experience is.
There are many acceptable ways of representing experience, but I personally favor bullets
as opposed to paragraphs. They enable you to represent experience in easily and quickly
absorbed "power statements" that lend themselves to scanning. It is important to note that
many people will scan down first to your most recent employer, take note of the time you
spent there, and then scan your experience there from the top down – which means that
your first 3 to 4 bullets (or sentences) are perhaps the most critical.
If you can convey your experience effectively and concisely in the first 3-4 bullets or
sentences, most people will not read the remainder of your experience at that employer
and will skip to the next employment and repeat the process. A well written resume can
enable the reviewer to accurately assess a candidate in 15-30 seconds (or less!).
An example of a solid "power statement:" Responsible for managing the site survey, design,
and deployment of a 315 site EVDO and WiMAX network spanning 6 states involving 37
engineers and completed ahead of schedule in under 14 months. Short and concise - in one
sentence it mentions responsibility, what they did and with what, how many, and how fast.
CHRONOLOGICAL VS. FUNCTIONAL RESUMES
My opinion is that "functional" resumes are of little value – for the simple reason that I
cannot tell exactly how much experience (in years) you have with any particular skill,
responsibility, or technology, and perhaps even more importantly, I cannot tell how current
your experience is with any particular skill, responsibility, or technology. I strongly suggest
reverse chronological formatting.
While some people take the time to read cover letters you should know that in my
experience, a surprisingly large percentage of people skip them altogether and go straight
to the resume, where they (I assume) feel the "real" information is.
However, I do think it would be foolish to not prepare a cover letter which briefly states a
high level overview of your experience as well as your specific interest in the company
and/or opportunity you are applying to, with a concise explanation of how you are
specifically qualified for the position/firm.
I could not possibly cover every single aspect of effective resume writing in a single blog
post, however, I've tried to cover what I think are the most important points to consider
when writing an effective resume.
If you found this resume writing advice helpful - please share this post with others or link
to it so that they may benefit from it. With unemployment at a 26 year high, job
seekers need all the help they can get in setting themselves apart.