If you ask 26 resume
experts on how to write the perfect resume, you will get 26 different
answers. Why should my answer be any better? I contend that my
answer isn't better, but it is just as good.
I have hired nearly
100 people in the last 15 years. I have conducted nearly a thousand
interviews, and have reviewed several thousand resumes. During
a previous period of unemployment, I volunteered my services to
a friend who ran a placement service. I reviewed resumes for her,
helped her clients revise them, and conducted mock interviews.
You are an impressive
person - your paperwork should reflect this.
TYPES OF RESUMES
There are two basic
types of resumes: historical (traditional) and functional. The
type you use depends on what kind of position for which you are
The traditional resume
is one where your jobs are listed in inverse chronological order.
The advantage of this kind of resume is that it is relatively
easy to put together, and it is the one that most employers are
used to seeing. Also, I have yet to find an internet site that
will let you build a resume in any other format.
The functional resume
groups your work experience into areas of expertise. The advantage
of this type of resume is that you do the "reading between
the lines" for the person who has to review the resume. They
don't have to pick out your talents which may be scattered across
Some people use a hybrid
resume that contains elements of both types. I'll concentrate
on the traditional resume in this discussion and reserve comment
about functional resumes until the end.
Forget half of what
they taught you in school about resumes. Your resume does not
have to be limited to one page. In fact for someone with decades
of experience, and who is applying for a professional position,
the resume should have multiple pages. What is important, however,
is that no matter how long the resume is, you must make the sale
on the first page. Like good novel, the resume has to grab the
reader's attention, and make him want to read more.
I have seen resumes
as long as 9 pages (not recommended). Most resumes I deal with
are two or three pages in length. I guess the rule of thumb is
1 page per decade of experience :-). However, keep in mind that
anything beyond the first half of page one is supplemental or
supporting material. If you haven't grabbed them by that time,
they won't be reading the rest.
I am usually an advocate
of substance over form, but not when it comes to original impressions
made by the resume. Pick up an 8 ½ x 11 inch document and
hold it at arm's length. Chances are your eyes jump to the upper
third middle of the page. I call this section "prime real
estate." My study of human factors design tells me that this
is where a reader's eyes first rest when they pick up a piece
of paper. Put your flashiest material there.
Let's work on getting
that annoying contact information out of the way. If the company
is interested in you, they will be willing to search your resume
to find the contact information. Too often this information encroaches
on the prime real estate.
One technique I like
to use is to push this information up and into the corners like
|DANIEL J. FLAK
XXXX Street Address
Greensboro, NC 27455
H: (336) 555-1234
C: (336) 555-9999
For one thing, this
organizes your contact information more cleanly.
When selling a product
or service, what would you tell someone who came up to you and
asked, "My company has a problem. How can you help me fix
it?" One thing I learned about marketing in one of my previous
jobs is that people don't want to know what your product does;
they want to know how they can use your product to solve their
problems. Don't start with "How would you like to buy a vacuum
cleaner?" Instead start with, "How would you like to
cut the time you spend cleaning house in half?"
You don't send them
the technical manual or specification immediately. You have a
sales brochure to help make the presentation. If it's a first
call, you don't drag out the 100-slide power point. You have an
opening sales pitch that takes about three to five minutes to
Your resume is your
sales brochure. It's going to be read by very busy people who
have hundreds or perhaps even thousands of other sales brochures
to read that day.
Your sales pitch is
your "elevator speech;" it's what you tell people when
they ask, "So, what do you do?" If you have an easy
to describe job description, this speech is relatively easy to
develop. If your job descriptions are non-descriptive or very
general in nature, as mine have been, then you will have to work
on it more. My speech is:
I work in IT management.
I build and develop technical teams, set up processes, and establish
metrics. In short, I like to make order out of chaos and I specialize
in making entrepreneurial companies profitable, and in revitalizing
departments in older companies.
I save the "Born
in a humble log cabin in Brooklyn, New York
for after I get hired.
You have to boil this
elevator speech into a drive-by version for your resume. This
section is called the objective.
I used to give little
attention to the objective portion of the resume. Now I think
it's important to have one. However, I disagree with experts who
say that you tell them "I want" in this section. I prefer
to say, "This is what I do" in this section. This is
your opening shot. Remember, this section leads off in "prime
real estate." Hit them in their most vital area. "I
want" is reactive; "I do" is proactive. Be prepared
to change this on each resume you send out. You want your "I
do" to be their "I need."
Here is my 15-second
Provide senior leadership
in IT management based on my 15+ years' experience in strategic
planning, technical team building, and product life cycle development.
Notice I said 15+ years.
This is lesson #1 in combating age discrimination. Few jobs ask
for more than 5 years experience, even fewer ask for more than
10! 15+ gives them the impression that you are well seasoned without
having to admit to being a geriatric case.
ORGANIZING WORK EXPERIENCE
Your resume has to
have good content, you have to present it in an eye-catching fashion,
and you have to make it easy for them to get to the details without
bogging them down in volumes of detail.
There are no hard and
fast rules for resumes. It should be presented in a logical and
consistent sequence. The ultimate test of formatting is the hold
the paper at arm's length and seeing if it looks right. Personally,
I like to see a lot of "white space." Like most people,
I read in chunks. Give me chunks I can swallow whole.
Lesson #2 in combating
age discrimination: list only the last 15 years' experience. You
can mention experience prior to that if it's really relevant.
The way I would handle it is put the date down as "pre-1987"
or simply list it as "Other Experience" with no date
My personal preference
is to start out with a one or two line sentence followed by bullets.
Pick your best 3-8 bullets and go with them. It's OK to leave
some stuff unsaid. You will find yourself pulling bullets and
and adding others to customize your resume for particular jobs.
Normally I suggest
a format that looks like:
I figure that what
you did was more important than who you did it for or when you
did it. Both of these items are important, after you impress them
with the job description. Your job descriptions look eye-catching
Here is an example
of what a typical work experience block would look like:
date 1 - date 2
Blue Shield Healthcare
- Managed the accounts
for over 400 companies ranging in size from 3 employees to 200.
- Recruited new business.
- Advised employers
on employee benefits.
- Reviewed contract
and calculated comparisons
- Served on benefit
You will have to be
accurate when you put your job titles on the employment application
for whatever company with which you interview. However, on a resume
some poetic license is allowed. Use a job title that is descriptive
of what you actually did rather than one assigned by the company.
"Researcher - Level 2" probably doesn't mean much to
people outside XYZ company. "Lead Developer, Database"
probably makes more sense to the outside world.
Experiment with various
fonts (within reason) and with left and right justified paragraphs.
On a traditional resume, I like to put in two lines that indicate
what I did, when I did it, and for whom. Then under that, and
slightly indented, is the supporting text and bullet points. This
technique gives me a lot of white space, and still leaves a lot
of space in which to write.
Lead with verbs.
If you have to, you
can lead with weak verbs such as "possess" and "performed."
Try to use "action" verbs such as "reduced,"
"improved," "developed," "led" or
You can say that you
serviced several markets or you can say that you serviced "30
of the top 50 markets in the United States." You can say
you reduced turn around time on a report or you could say "Reduced
report production time from 6 weeks to 6 days." In each case,
the later statement is stronger.
Use cause and effect.
The most impressive
thing you can do with a resume is to present it as cause and effect.
In other words, put things in terms of "I did this, and this
is the positive result for the company." For example:
(Cause) Revised processes
and automated reporting resulting in (effect) increased usage
of the in-house product by 600%. (effect) Decreased time for senior
management report release from 6 weeks to 6 days.
(Cause) Used metrics
to identify problem areas in third level support. (Effect) reduced
standing third level defects from an average of 40 to an average
of 5. Reduced defect turn around from and average of 15 working
days to and average of 5. Reduced level two calls escalated from
50% to 25%.
Notice that I use Arabic
numbers. I know that your teachers taught you to spell out numbers
less than ten in the third grade. Although good grammar is important
in a resume, it isn't a literary piece. Use Arabic numbers; they
are easier to read.
Don't just report a
job description. Tell them what you did with that job that made
a difference to the company.
WRAPPING IT UP
After work experience,
list education. Don't limit yourself to just degrees either.
|MS Engineering Management; Western NE College, Springfield,
BSEE Manhattan College, NY
Tip number 3 on age
discrimination. Don't put the date of your degree. People can
do the math.
- Leadership is a Choice (Dr. Steven Covey)
- Service Excellence Training (James Barksdale
- Principle-Centered Leadership Seminar (Steven Covey
- Applying Demming's Methods to Service Organizations
(George Washington University)
- Principles of Leadership, Team Building and Hoshin Planning
for Organizations Instituting Total Quality Management
(George Washington University)
- Re-engineering the Organization Training Seminar (Dr.
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Training
Seminar (Dr. Steven Covey)
- Communications Skills for Presenters (McCaw Cellular
- Facilitator's Training Course
Use a skills summary
to put buzz words into your resume.
TECHNICAL SKILLS SUMMARY
- Programmed in Fortran, Cobol, C, Unix Shell, PERL on
various Unix platforms.
- Expert in the complete suite of Microsoft Office, especially
Word, Excel, Visio, and Project.
- Supervised teams programming in C++, HTML, Java, Java
Script, PHP, ASP/JSP, Visual Basic, RPG on Windows 9x,
Windows NT/2000, AS/400
The sad fact is that
many resumes are scanned by silicon or carbon-based optical devices.
They are either scanned into a computer file and rated for how
many "hits" they have on key words, or they are handed
to a minimum-wage temporary with the instructions, "Look
for these words in the resume."
If they don't ask for
them, don't list them. Do have people lined up. Do ask people
that you would like to use them as a reference. The purpose behind
not providing references, is multiple:
- You can keep the
- They will probably
need no more than three references. Pick the ones best suited
for that particular position.
- They will have to
call you to get the references. The call will key you to the
fact that they are very interested.
- You can contact
the references to put them on alert.
- You can brief the
references on the position so they can target their responses.
Experiment with fonts,
but don't get too carried away with fancy fonts. Some companies
scan their resumes to get an electronic copy. Some scanners can
only "see" Currier, Times New Roman, and Ariel. Also,
if you are emailing the resume to an employer and they do not
have that font on their word processor, they will see garbage.
Stick with fonts you are reasonably sure are in the MS Office
basic set. When in doubt, use Times New Roman. Even then, you
are still free to play with font size, bolding, use of italics,
small caps and underlining.
Save the resume in
a format that is readable by as large an audience as possible.
In most cases this is Microsoft Word. Any HR department or recruiter
worth its salt will have the latest version. But be prepared to
go one version down from the latest release. Use the "Save
As" option to save it as Word 97-2000 & 6.0/95 RTF (assuming
you are using Word 2000). This will assure that the person reading
the resume will be able to open it in Word 97 or whatever they
Some companies (and
web sites) will not allow you to attach a word document into their
forms or emails. They want you to include it in the body of the
forms and email. If you cut and paste from word into email, the
resume will look funny and require a lot of re-editing. See my
essay "Posting Plain Text
Resumes" if you need to do this.
Bullets are good, they
get right to the point. However, too many consecutive bullets
is boring. I also use a short introductory sentence before the
Make sure your name
is on each page of the resume. Have page numbers on the second
and succeeding pages.
J. Flak Page 2
Keep it small and unobtrusive.
Note that I reduced the type font to 8 points. I don't want this
information competing with anything else on the page, but I do
want it there in case somebody drops the stack of papers she is
a job description part. Keep entire blocks together. In other
words, don't have the first two bullets of a job description on
one page, and the last two on the next. You may have to get creative
with editing, and you can play with the margins a little.
The final test is to
look at the resume. Hold it out at arm's length and view it on
the screen. If it looks funny, rework it. If it looks pleasing,
go with it.
For more on formating
resumes and a template, click here.
After all is said and
done, the resume is nothing more than a foot in the door. It's
an attention getting device. It is probably 10% - 15% of the job
search effort. The best resume in the world is not going to get
you a job unless it gets in front of the right person. On the
other hand, a poor resume might be overlooked by the right person.
I tell you this so you can put resumes into their proper perspective.
Functional vs. Traditional
I use my functional
resume for situations where my leadership and management talents
are important - they are too spread out in my historical resume
to be picked up quickly. If I want to sell myself as an electrical
engineer, I use this resume. I do have experience in this area,
but it is old, and it is buried on page two of a traditional resume.
I use the traditional
resume when I apply for project management jobs. My most recent
experience is in this area, and I want it up front.
Some people use a hybrid
resume that has a brief summary of talents up front followed by
work history. This type of resume is sometimes effective for jobs
in the computer industry. Computer people tend to be very myopic
- they are very interested in what languages you speak and what
hardware you have worked on.
Both versions of my
resume are posted on this site. You can look at them as an example.
For the traditional resume, click here.
For the functional resume, click here.
A FINAL AHA!
It's very difficult
to limit a resume to the preferred two pages. You've done so many
good things in your career; you just have to mention them all.
Yes, you do a million things well, but your new potential employer
only cares about a thousand of them. So how do you deal with this?
There is an old joke:
Q: How do
you make a statue of an elephant?
A: Start with a big block of granite and chip away everything
that does not look like an elephant.
There is wisdom here
for resumes. Write your life history in resume format and don't
be concerned with how many pages it takes. Then when a job posting
comes along, take this "block of granite" and chip away
everything that does not support the job description.
To download a WINZIP
Word Version of this document click here.