Someone once said that a “first impression is a lasting impression”. Even if you don’t completely agree with this, you have to concede that once you’ve got off on the wrong foot it’s going to be an uphill task to turn things around. In that context a good resume can smoothen things out for you or a bad one can make things pretty difficult.
A hiring manager/recruiter will get tens & hundreds of resumes in response to an opening – be it from job sites, recruiters or referrals. The hirer/recruiter has very little time to spend on each resume. A badly written, ill-presented resume has little chance of making the cut.
A resume is a personal and creative document and therefore everyone will and must have a unique one, it’s difficult to offer “one size fits all” advice. However after years of being an interviewee, interviewer and now a head-hunter I do have my take on writing a “good” resume which I share below.
Some of these I consider rules and the others just guidelines.
So pick-up your resume and pass it through these filters.
The Rules First: Presentation is Very Very Important
- First & Foremost – no spelling, tense or grammatical errors please.
- Never use acronyms unless they are widely known like SEO, UN, WHO, etc
- “New age” spellings like txt or gr8 or whtevr will only brand you as frivolous or worse delinquent!
- Keep consistent fonts, formatting, style, etc.
- There is no rule about the length of a resume although many people will tell you there is. If the content is compelling, long copy will sell (with apologies to David Ogilvy)
- But don’t repeat the same things under different headings.
- Learn to ‘really’ use Word or whatever other word-processor you like.
- Leave the fancy business school jargon to the “resume factories”. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid!) is still the best principle.
- Corollary to the above, you probably don’t want to get your resume made at a “resume factory” – remember you want a “unique”, “personal” & “creative” resume.
However much you’re experienced or the type of role you’re applying for, a bad resume is a bad resume. Whatever the temptation don’t lie or stretch the truth. These things have a way of catching up with you eventually. Print out your resume and make sure it looks as good on paper as it does on the screen I have reviewed hundreds of resumes and you’ll be surprised how many people screw up the basics. I have seen exceptional fresher resumes and horrendous CxO resumes. So get a few people (friends, parents, professional acquaintances, the guy next door, etc) to read your resume to make sure it is readable, understandable and free of errors.
Guideline I: Probably more of a Rule!
- Nobody is interested in your gender.
- Don’t add nationality, marital status, date of birth etc.
- The name of your parents or your family history is absolutely irrelevant.
- You might have a passport and be ready to fly at the drop of a hat but you don’t need to give the number and the details in your resume!
- Please do not mention any compensation details. Companies may screen you out if you are paid too less (yes, this is true!) or too high.
- And worse never add what compensation you expect in the future.
- Some of this sounds crazy, but I have actually seen resumes with many of these ‘pearls’!
If the recruiter wants this information they’ll probably give you a form to fill anyway (gathering such information is illegal in many countries). Most of this information may actually prejudice the reviewer so best to leave it out.
Guideline II: Opening Content & Relevance
- Your contact details must be really handy; at the top of the first page below/besides your name is the best position.
- It might be a good idea to put a small paragraph at the beginning which states what you are ‘professionally interested in doing’. Something like “I am keen on a sales position” or “I am keen on a technical analyst role”.
- Try to include why you have this interest & how it is relevant to the company your sending it to.
If you are making a generic resume leave this out. Companies may screen you out if your objectives are a complete mismatch with the job on offer. A corollary to this is – always tweak your resume for the specific company & job you’re applying for.
Guideline III: Middle Meat
A summary of some key strengths/achievements, etc might be a good option as bullets but remember KISS. The key word is “summary” – therefore be brief!! For example:
- Have always been in the top 5 of my class
- Quick study, am able to pick-up technical subjects easily
- Excellent analytical skills which I have used successfully in making money on the stock market
- Great organizer & have used this skill to organize events such as …..
- Keen sports person, have played for my college team in Basketball
- Very good speaker & presenter. Have won several debating competitions
- Comprehensive knowledge of Java & ASP which I have used to develop a web portal
- Worked closely with “Helpage India” to help collect funds to the tune of Rs.xxx from corporate sponsors
- Make this “your” list & be ready to defend what you have written. Avoid the “resume factory” lists!
You should tone down the adjectives to the actual level you feel you are at and will be able to support. Excellent in “C++” doesn’t mean I used to do some programming in class 10th and have forgotten all about it!
Guideline IV: For the Fresher/Academically Focused
Personally, I prefer a resume without “tables” but this is up to you. Since you may not have much job experience highlighting some of the special things you did in college will be nice.
- Like – ‘Stood first in class’ or ‘Secretary Cultural Club’ or ‘Captain of College volleyball team’ or – ‘Did a project to identify the boiling point of water which was selected for the National Science forum’; ‘Keen interest in dramatics’, etc.
- Leave out the stuff about JEE, CAT, GMAT ranks etc. Unless your rank was truly outstanding like top 10 or top 100. Or if your rank gave you some special privilege/recognition. The fact that you were 851st is not worth mentioning.
- Focus on any special projects, summer trainings, etc you did. If you had some real impact don’t forget to mention that.
- You can safely leave out that you were offered a job by “Acme Inc” in 1990 which you did not accept. Unless you actually worked there this is of little relevance. However, if you want to use this as an opening it might be ok – “Although I was offered a job at Acme Inc after my engineering as a programmer, I decided to pursue a degree in management since I was keen on a sales position with a software development outsourcing company” – or something to that effect.
Guideline V: For the Professional Part
- Professional experience, list it out chronologically. Current one first.
- It’s nice to give the month & year when you started and ended your employment and also the total years spent at a company (it’s a pain trying to calculate this for every job). A summary of this at the start of this section would be appreciated.
- Where did you work, what did the company do & what you did there is all important.
- Mention career progression – ‘joined as trainee became a manager in 2 years due to my diligence’
- Forget generalities, the more specific you are the better.
- Add special achievements – ‘met my annual sales quota 3 years in a row’; ‘employee of the quarter for Q2 FY 04’; ‘reduced expenses by 30%’, etc. Again be factual & be ready to defend what you write.
- Unless you are applying for a hardcore technical job please don’t mention every technical software project you have done till now & the excruciating details of which exact tools you used! I would rather present it as a business solution in the body of the resume like – “was a member of the team which helped reduce congestion at Heathrow Airport by developing an advanced ATC system” and list all the projects in an addendum at the end if really needed.
Guideline VI: The Ending
- References are best provided based on relevance once the company asks for them.
- Please leave out the declaration “I hereby declare that all the information provided by me in this application is factual & correct to the best of my knowledge & belief – Date: – Signature:” This sort of thing went out with the clerical job at “Scrooge’s accountancy” in 1807! If a company thinks you’re going to fib on your resume then you’re in trouble in spite of your declaration; go back & read the rules above!!
If you have some tips or other ideas to give your resume a makeover, do add your comments.