Sunday, April 11, 2010

11 steps to writing a resume

It stands to reason that someone who loves writing and dreams of making a career of it would be able to sit down and knock out a resume in a few short hours, right?
Wrong! No matter who you are, or how kick-ass you believe yourself to be, writing about your achievements is incredibly hard. Self-doubt creeps in: "I think I was completely awesome in that situation but what if that is normal for other people?" And even when it doesn't it's often difficult to put into words exactly what it was that you did that was so damn good.
And then there's the issue of brevity. How much does an employer actually want to read? How can I make the good stuff stand out? What if I leave out some important detail? What information should I put in my CV and what can I leave for my cover letter?
And what about visual layout and design. Is plain and simple good enough or do I need to jazz it up somehow? My husband works in mapping and he just produced what I consider to be a radical CV. It was more like an essay illustrated with brightly coloured pictures of various maps he'd produced. I'm more of a conformist and just want to get the job done.
Some even question whether a resume is necessary in the first place. A compelling and insightful blog is enough, they say. (Well, that's me sorted then.) Others disagree. A blog can only enhance a resume but can't replace it. So long as the resume is well written, that is.
So here I am rewriting my CV for the first time in over six years. Yes, that's how long I've been with my employer doing what I do. Even I'm surprised. It's the longest I've worked anywhere. Apart from school. Another 4 ½ years and I'm eligible for long service leave.
I've kept my resume up to date during that time by going to the top section once a year and adding my latest projects. There is now a lot of useless information on there. Projects that I worked on twelve years ago on outdated technologies doing things that bear no relevance to what I want to do next. Sure, six years ago they seemed important. They were valuable experiences that contributed to my skill level. But I've done enough in the last six years to be able to reduce these older achievements to one line summaries.
So, here is my guide to writing a great resume, based upon the research I am currently doing and the feedback that I'm getting from reviewers and industry contacts.
  1. Tailor your CV for the work you want to do.
    This is an obvious one but it's so easy to leave irrelevant stuff in there. Or to fail to see the relevance. For example, I don't feel it particularly necessary to say much about my experience programming a bank security system in C on a Vax VMS platform back in 1997. But it probably is important that I mention the change management, release procedure and screen design practices that were used there and that I learnt how they contribute to a good development process.
  2. Don't delete anything.
    Yes, I am totally contradicting the last point but you don't have to delete the information altogether in order to remove it from your resume. It's a good idea to always have a full, detailed copy of your resume. A master resume, if you wish. Then, you can tailor the CV that you submit for a particular industry, employer or project. If they want to see more detailed information on past projects that you have skimmed over then you can quickly and easily whip out your full copy.
  3. Have multiple versions.
    Tying in with the previous two points, keep multiple versions of your resume. For example, I might use my master copy to write a CV tailored to web development, focusing on all of the technical aspects of my career. I might also have a version of my resume which highlights my writing and communication skills and how I have applied these throughout my career. Or, I might have one which looks at aspects of both skill sets. I can then submit whichever one is most relevant to the position I am applying for. This is not deception or dishonesty. It's just filtering out the irrelevant stuff on behalf of that poor person who has to sift through hundreds of resumes.
  4. Don't procrastinate. Just do it.
    Again, an obvious one but advice I find very difficult to follow. I seem to be spending more time researching resume advice online, writing this post, or wondering how I can improve my LinkedIn profile than I am actually editing my CV.
  5. Say what you mean.
    Use plain language. Don't dumb down technical jargon if you are applying for a position with an employer who will understand that jargon. Likewise, don't use long sparsely-used words where short common ones will do. Don't use two words where one will suffice. My husband has very generously been providing useful comment on my resume but there was one point he made that I'm not sure I would agree with. I said that I "wrote the User Guide for the Blackboard Community System, and distributed it to IT Services and Administration areas throughout the organisation." He suggested that I "Authored, Published and Distributed the ‘User Guide’...etc." I don't think Authored, Published and Distributed warrant capitals (they're not names) and I'm not entirely sure why I would benefit by saying all of that over "I wrote". It feels like I'm just using big words out of context to make me sound clever.
  6. Don't be bland. Be bold. or Ditch the buzzwords and be unique
    You won't stand out if you write the same mindless babble that everyone else writes. So, you're "highly motivated"? Would you tell a potential employer if you weren't? Pick an example that demonstrates your motivation and use that instead. Tell stories and make it personal.
  7. Focus on achievements.
    Don't talk about responsibilities. Talk about achievements. Everyone has responsibilities. That's the point of a job. They're outlined in your position description for all to see. What matters is what you do to fulfil your responsibilities. If you're going to mention skills, give examples of when you used them and what you achieved with them. Enhance your achievements with results: what were the measurable benefits for your organisation? Consider emphasising results by stating them before explaining what actions you took to achieve them.
  8. Be brief and add summaries
    According to The Careerhub Guide to Resume Writing, the average manager spends less than 30 seconds reviewing a resume. They will spend most of this time looking at the top third of the first page of your document. As such, it's a good idea to add a couple of summaries to draw attention to your core areas of expertise. Add a career profile, and a skills/experience summary. Create a brand using keywords in a byline (e.g. web developer, client-focused, standards-driven, usability, accessibility); or a list of high-profile employers, or even different kinds of working environments (e.g. small start-up, technology enterprise, large multinational, public sector, higher education, software house, financial institution). Add testimonials if you have them (trawl through old emails and performance reviews).
  9. Send it early and send it often
    Your resume is useless if you don't send it to a potential employer. This is courtesy of my husband. I suspect it's his way of saying "stop writing your blog, Lindsey and send off your resume."
  10. Seek feedback.
    Another of my husband's. Once you have sent your resume off, seek feedback. If the person you have sent it to isn't interested then find out why. Could you have written or styled your resume differently in order to get the position?
  11. Add a photograph
    It may be true that not everyone would benefit from the addition of a photograph. But if you're reasonably young, or look it (or use an old photograph) and fairly pleasant looking then this can only be a benefit. It adds a human element to a boring old pile of words. And it's harder to say "no" to a face than a disembodied name.
Resources
Careerhub Guide to Resume Writing (PDF)
Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist: Resumes
My husband

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