Practical tips for a strong resume


In the recruiting business, our stock and trade is resumes. Thousands come into a typical office every month. With that kind of volume, no recruiter has time to read every single word of every resume that passes in front of them.

As a candidate, you need to get to the point quickly so the short attention span recruiter can put your resume in the “keep” pile. If you’re just not qualified, it’s not going to make it in any case, but if you are, you want to make sure it doesn’t get tossed because it was so dense that it was unreadable.

Some resumes that come in are more like autobiographies — it almost guarantees that the salient points are buried so deep in the text that they never get read.

Here are some practical tips for a strong resume:


K. I. S. S., or “Keep It Simple, Stupid” is an adage that’s been around forever, but that too many people seem to have forgotten. Keep your resume uncluttered, bulletized instead of in long prose, and think about the typical short attention span of the recruiter reading it and trying to decide whether to keep or toss it.

It shouldn’t be a list of every gold star you got in your career, but rather where you made significant contributions. State clearly what the contribution was and why it mattered. Remember: it’s a resume, not your molecular structure. Get your point across succinctly and you’ll have much better luck getting in the door — which is the point of having a resume in the first place.

Focus on your skills

Remember that recruiters work for the client, not the candidate. We are almost always looking for candidates who have demonstrated that they can address certain situations. Therefore, highlighting your skills is much more useful to us than listing out your responsibilities. For example, if you have exit experience, your resume should explain how you took a company through an exit.

Put the names into context

Give a brief (one or two sentence) description of each employer listed on your resume. Even the most experienced recruiter can’t claim to know every single company in a given industry, let alone those outside his or her given area of expertise.

When you list a company, provide some context: xyloPhlegm, Inc., Evansville IN, is a public biotech company with $25M in annual revenues in 2006 and a market cap of $127M. Key products include xyLoxin for male pattern baldness and xyTox for sepsis. Name, location, public/private, industry, how big it is, and products. Not the annual report, but just enough for your reader to get a general sense of the organization.

You may think that everyone has heard of your company. Indeed, perhaps they should have, but don’t think that just because your company is “…the world’s largest provider of blue widgets to the defense industry,” that someone from outside that world will know anything about it.

In an increasingly technologically driven world, recruiters often need to hire out of a mature industry for a position in a bleeding edge one, because there simply are no experienced managers in the new industry. It helps if you can tell us what your present company is doing to amuse itself.

Say no to fancy formating

Stay away from fancy formatting. Tables are a disaster, indents don’t usually work, fancy bullets are a nightmare, headers and footers wreak havoc, and forget about photos. The reality is that the vast majority of recruiting is done electronically. Many firms don’t re-format what they receive from candidates.

Remember that if you’re putting all those things in your resume, you greatly increase the likelihood that something won’t import correctly.

They all look nice on paper (in your software, on your printer…), but usually don’t do so well when transmitted over the Internet. Remember that your resume will be entered into some kind of database, so you don’t want to make it hard to read in an application with comparatively rudimentary formatting capabilities.

Resist the urge to summarize

Many people have a summary statement at the beginning of their resume stating what their strengths are and what type of position they are seeking.

The dark secret is that recruiters rarely read them. Again, it’s a volume question. When you’re dealing with a defined position description and a client who is keen on several key elements in a candidate’s background, you need to scan resumes quickly to see if the elements you’re looking for are there.

The summaries don’t have that level of detail.