Friday, November 22, 2013

Structuring a Resume


Here are some of the notes from the breakout/work group session that I led at last night's Utah Java User Group meeting.  It was pretty well attended and built on the concepts that I posted in my last blog dealing with the "Psychology of Resume Writing".

Since the last session was focused more on identifying the various audiences for your resume and what their particular needs are....I wanted to focus this session on more of the nitty-gritty actual content and "words" that go into a written resume - rather than just dealing with conepts.

For the reader - keep in mind - this is focused on resume writing specifically for the Technology industry.  Though many of the concepts and applications will carry over to any industry...I do have a significant and current level of experience in Tech - and thus, dealing with hundreds of technical resumes and hiring managers/audiences.

Again - please also remember that there is absolutely no such thing as a "Silver bullet" when it comes to writing resumes.  Every company and every manager within a company may have a different idea of what the "right resume" looks my focus is more on a universal and easy to adapt resume that is "good" for most companies and audiences.  

So - with all of those are some of the concepts and real-life scenarios that we discussed as important to structuring a good resume in the Technology Industry today.

#1 - Is your resume EASY to look at?  Aesthetically pleasing resumes are always going to have a better chance of arriving to the correct audience...plain and simple.  Here are some things to consider when structuring a resume:
  • Font - make it easy to read and nothing "funk" is not the time to be creative with fonts.
  • Bold, italics - Use it judiciously and consistently.  DO NOT bold every key word or just ends up looking like BOLD-Vomit on the page.  Bold and italicize things like company name or your title...use it to differentiate, not overpower the content.
  • Indentations, spacing - again, most importantly, be consistent.  White space is good, but don't have more white space than content.
  • Bullet points - always, always use bullets - it is so much easier to scan than paragraph form.
#2 - Career Summaries and Technology Key-word Lists/Tables - NO.  These typically turn out to be space wasters.  Summaries have a tendency to no longer be summaries...but take half or an entire page.  As for Tech buzz!!!  Every technology that you use should be in the content or responsibility section of where you are describing what you did, how you did it, why you did it, and what your specific role was with each company.  There is no need to pull all the technologies out into a table or list that should be in your content anyway.  Managers know buzzwords...they don't want to see a list of them...they want to see what you did and how you used those tools.

#3 - Work History.  Always include name of company, your title(s), and most importantly..dates of employment (months and years).  If you choose to leave off any of this information, it typically will do more damage than good.  Your audience will wonder why you didn't include specific dates, titles, and former employers...and unfortunately might assume the worst.  Don't let them assume...make it clear where, what role, and when you were contributing with your skills.  I do get the question occasionally, "what about confidentiality on current or past employers?".  I don't know of any recruiters or companies that will hire you without knowing where you currently are working - many need to know for verifications and to make sure that they aren't breaching any non-solicitation or other agreements with companies that they may partner with.

#4 - Gaps.  In your work history, this is why dates are imperative for a hiring manager.  Remember...a resume isn't written for's written for someone trying to hire you.  Fulfill there needs...don't try to cover things up.  Most managers view a 3 month or less gap between roles as "no big deal".  If you have something more - or significantly more - address it.  It is much better to address gaps professionally rather than letting them make their own false assumptions.  Be concise, and save the intricate details for the interview...but don't leave them wondering. And don't think that they won't notice.....they ALWAYS notice.

#5 - Description of roles/responsibilities.  This might be the single most important section of any resume.  Remember your audience again.  Describe how you will help their organization...don't just give you old job description.  Focus on accomplishments! Here are some quick tips:
  • Words/Phrases to avoid:  "involved in....", "participated in....", "part of a team that....".  These phrases are so generic.  Companies don't want to know what your team did...they aren't hiring your team.  Tell them your specific role and what you did.  Don't make them guess if you were 90% involved or assume that you were 5% involved/participated in...or just showed up for a few general meetings.  Show them YOUR value to their company/team.
  • OARs:  When you are up a need an OAR!  
    • O - Opportunity.  What was the situation, problem, or opportunity you are solving?
    • A - Action.  What action did YOU take, what tools did you use and why?
    • R - Result. What did you accomplish? How did you save the company time or money...or make the company money?  How did you help the bottom line???
#6 - Contract vs Perm.  Again - there is too little time and too many other candidates to let you potential employer make assumptions.  A 3 - 6 month stint as a completed contract looks much different to an employer than a 3 - 6 month stop at a company as a perm employee.  Don't let them guess.  Tell them which of your roles were perm and which were contract/consulting.  They don't want to hire you and then have to replace you in 12 months.

#7 - Education - what should I include?  Most companies will now not only do a criminal background and drug test, they will also verify employment dates and educational achievements (degrees mainly).  Why? Because it's cheap to hire someone to do it...and nobody wants to hire a liar or deceiver...bad for business.  Here is what I recommend you include:
  • Dates of completion - on all degrees and certifications
  • Name of Institution and location
  • Area of Study - specifically on the type of degree you earned
  • Classes? - typically I advise against this unless something is extremely relevant to a company or industry or role...or you are fresh out of school and need to demonstrate some additional experience.
  • GPA - again...I advise against it...especially if it is not SUPER high (like 3.8 or better)...even then, I rarely have a company ask about a GPA - unless again the candidate is new and has little to no experience professionally.
 #8 - Length.  Let the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth begin.  I can spend an hour or more justifying my opinion (and am happy to do so....give me a call sometime).  But for keeping this blog post Technology, no more than 4 pages and no less than 2 pages is my general rule.  Are there exceptions you ask?  Sure....but they are VERY rare.  If your resume is one page because someone told you it has to be...EVOLVE.  If you have more than 2 years of experience, I'd better see more than one page.  If you give me more than 4 pages...I probably won't read it at all.  Most managers I work with share this's not that we're lazy...but let's be realistic about things.  Nobody makes money reading resumes at work.

#9 - Spell Check, proof read, then have someone else proof read for you.  'nuf'd be surprised at some of the stuff I see on a daily basis with resumes.

There it is folks, for more details or discussion points, hit me up.  We had a great round-table discussion that brought up many questions and topics that just can't be covered in a blog forum like this.  I'm always happy to discuss and help (and hear other opinions and ideas).