Working to perfect your resume during your career is both an arduous and rewarding task. I’m guessing I’ve spent hundreds of hours over 35 years updating, modifying, and polishing my resume. At times I hated it, as it seemed like a never ending task. Most of the time, however, I felt proud as I gained experience which I then added to my career accomplishments.
There are two venues where it’s acceptable to be a braggart – on your resume and during an interview. After all, you’re trying to sell yourself, your skills, experience, and accomplishments. If you don’t take it seriously and invest some time in the process, and then struggle to get noticed, get interviews, get considered for roles, don’t be surprised.
I want to help. I bet I’ve looked at several hundred resumes during my career. I’m going to provide some practical guidance from the perspective of a hiring manager for the last 35 years.
Here are the three basic types. There may be more, but I’ll let the experts tell you about those. This includes HR experts, recruiters, and resume writing professionals, who certainly look at more resumes than anyone since they have to screen literally thousands of applicants as a matter of routine.
This is the most commonly used. It is just what it says – a chronological history of your employment, from most recent going back to a certain time period. The experts will tell you that you don’t have to go back typically more than 10-15 years. I’ve actually summarized my employment at my first two companies encompassing my first 20 years of work, supporting this principle. Your experience and professional employment should then be supported and supplemented with your educational background, special skills, volunteer activities, industry involvement and Board roles.
Employers and hiring managers typically want to see some kind of progression over time. They don’t want to see significant gaps in time from one job to the next, and this format lends itself to not hiding or concealing gaps in employment. The reality is that there are gaps in employment, especially with our current COVID situation. As long as you can show that you worked productively during that time volunteering, job hunting, homeschooling, etc., then you have a much more plausible story that employers will understand.
This could be useful for specific roles and industries, but generally, I wouldn’t recommend it. The functional format groups your professional experience into specific skills and functions that you’ve performed. Online guidance will tell you that you should consider using it in the following situations.
- if you’re a recent graduate with little to no formal work experience.
- if you’re concerned about job-hopping in your work history.
- if you’ve been out of the workforce for a while.
- if your work experience matches your target position, not your current job.
It doesn’t have all the advantages of the chronological format. You can more easily hide gaps in employment, and can’t show clear growth in responsibility and promotion. For these reasons, I suggest you move to the chronological format earlier than you might if you have experience that’s relevant for work you’re seeking. Now having said that, I still like this next format the best.
This is sometimes called the combination format. I like this format the best – even for recent graduates. I’ve helped a few new grads out recently and convinced them to use this format. It’s a hybrid of the chronological format highlighted with a profile or summary statement of who you are and what you’ve done, along with the major accomplishments of your career. Why do I think this is the best? Because in a minute or less, a recruiter or hiring manager can get a good feel for you by reading a summary and your accomplishments, and won’t have to pour over your chronological format of work experience to decipher what it is your good at and what you’ve accomplished.
So, what if you are a recent graduate? Most high school and college students have some kind of volunteer and work experience under their belt already, which is fantastic. Imagine putting all of that in a short summary paragraph as the lead-in to your resume.
For example, “I’m a graduate engineer with volunteer experience during high school, having interned at a few major corporations during my college summers, and here are the skills I learned and the experience I gained that I can bring to your company right now.” Fill in some of the details of course. Wow! I will tell you as a hiring manager, I love this.
So, how long should your resume be? As long as it needs to be. If you can put it on one page, great. If it takes you two or three pages, so be it. Mine is four pages. Why? Well, largely because I worked for four companies over 35 years, which means I need some description of each of those companies and have a bit more of a story to tell. I have a summary profile, a list of accomplishments, all of which consumes most of the first page. It is then followed by a chronological listing of my experience and closes with my Board and industry association experience along with my educational background.
If you’re a recent graduate, your resume can most likely fit on one page, even with the hybrid format, as you may only need a brief profile statement upfront, followed by your education, skills, and any internship experience you may have.
If you’ve been out in industry for a few years or have worked for a couple of companies already, then you will undoubtedly need two pages. If you’ve been out in industry for a few decades like me and worked for a few companies, then you may need three or four. I know some recruiters will say to almost never exceed three pages, but I can tell you that most recruiters that I’ve worked with over the years have never told me my resume was too long.
Your “Do” List
Start with a profile or summary
I love a profile or summary. I think it’s one of the best advances in resumes. I would also recommend it for recent graduates that have work and/or volunteer experience to share as I mentioned earlier. Why wouldn’t you want to provide an overall picture of yourself as a candidate to prospective hiring managers in about 30 seconds?
Highlight key accomplishments
As part of building your resume, you should conduct an inventory of your best accomplishments, your greatest achievements, and highlight them in the second section of your resume right after the profile or summary. This is another fantastic addition to resumes over the last several years. In about a minute or two, the hiring manager will be able to determine the level and significance of your accomplishments across a wide variety of metrics or topics. These truly need to be the biggest and best things you’ve been able to achieve in a professional work environment.
Ensure accomplishments are quantifiable
I can’t tell you how many times I peruse resumes in desperate search of quantifiable accomplishments. And when I have to search that hard, I realize that either there aren’t any, or that the candidate never really received proper coaching and guidance on this key principle of resume writing. Always quantify. Show improvement or reduction percentages. Share absolute $ or numbers where appropriate. Even when your work is primarily project work and doesn’t move an industry-wide metric, quantify the work you and your team did by indicating completion percentages, % within budget, cumulative savings, etc.
Know your resume like the back of your hand
When I interview candidates, I read their resume in advance and I highlight specific experiences and make notes. I ask the candidate about that experience during the interview, even if it’s a simple – “tell me more about this experience.” Sometimes the candidate knows it well, and sometimes they struggle to either recall or are short on details, which tells me they embellished quite a bit. Bottom line – your resume is YOU. Know “you” like the back of your hand.
Use consistent formatting throughout your resume.
If you’re going to use action verbs in a bulleted list of accomplishments, which I highly recommend, then use varying action verbs for all of them – directed, led, achieved, oversaw, improved, reduced – and utilize a consistent format. Under your professional work experience use a consistent format of company information, responsibilities, and accomplishments. Keep it consistent for all jobs and all companies.
Your “Don’t” List
This is the worst thing you can do. This speaks to your integrity. When you lie, you don’t have any. You can embellish, but don’t fabricate results. When you take too many liberties and over-embellish so to speak, you’ll be perceived as disingenuous. If you’re truthful, you always have your integrity. If you’re truthful and don’t necessarily like your best accomplishments, then do something about it. Go out and be more aggressive, take on a riskier role. Remember, no risk, no reward. Don’t cry about not getting the big job if you’re experience doesn’t warrant it.
Don’t list references
This is old hat. References in the past were listed by name typically in the last section of the resume. This is totally unnecessary. Have a list of references available as a separate document ready to be sent when and if asked for it. I just interviewed for a role and as a last step in the decision-making process, I was asked for references. In a few hours I refreshed my list to be consistent with what the recruiter asked me for. And by the way, this speaks to networking. Keep your relationships strong and ongoing. Don’t expect a former colleague that you haven’t spoken to in ten years to all of a sudden support you as a reference.
Don’t use a career objective
This is also old hat. Now some will say that for recent graduates, this is still fine to use, but I don’t think you need to do it anymore. By using the profile or summary paragraph at the outset of your resume, you can not only incorporate your career desires or aspirations, but also couple it with a summary of your academic career and professional experience.
Don’t provide a detailed description of the companies you worked for
Keep it simple – name of the company, location, and a sentence or two about who they are, what service they provide, and maybe some data on sales revenue, size of the company or business rankings. You can use sales revenue, # of employees, geographic reach, and rank within an industry. Save space for a sentence or two highlighting your responsibilities, but most of all, for your quantifiable accomplishments.
Don’t be repetitive
I made this mistake for a few years. I tried to justify in my mind that although I had some of the same accomplishments at a few different companies, I needed to show that I could actually repeat this performance at multiple companies. There may be a similar accomplishment at multiple companies, and if there is, try to minimize the redundancy and call out a different aspect of the same accomplishment if you can, such as using a different method to achieve the result.
Last but not least
Always perform a spell check, grammar check, and punctuation check – and not just the automatic function on Word. A word could be spelled correctly, but have the wrong verb tense. If you have spelling errors or others, that means you may not pay attention to detail very much. It can happen easily, inadvertently, and to any of us.
Spend a couple of hours doing research online. You will find excellent examples of each kind of resume. Check in with experienced colleagues that can offer advice. Hire someone if you must. Remember, it’s the most important document that exists about YOU. A few hundred dollars or more to get some professional advice will be well worth it.
It’s September, the economy is starting to open back up again, and hopefully that means companies have started to bring back employees and/or re-hire. Ensure you put your best self forward with a refreshed “you”. Upgrade your resume and get noticed now! As always, if you need help, you can find my contact details here: http://www.gregkiraly.com.
Additionally, I’ve attached my resume here as a sample for you to peruse at your leisure. It incorporates the principles and learnings that I’ve shared in this blog. If you can glean an idea, concept, or practice that works for you, then I’ve accomplished a big part of my mission which is to help you in your professional career. Click here to view my resume.