Saturday, January 31, 2015

Your resume is not a story

Along with your cover letter, your resume is the thing that will make or break your job hunt in Washington, D.C. -- or any other city. Your connections, skills,background, and enthusiasm aren't going to mean a thing if your resume obscures them behind a smokescreen of banality.
Somewhere along the line, a great lie was disseminated to the job-seeking American public. That lie, pervasive and pernicious, has infected an entire generation, and it has seeped into their perception of the job-hunting process.
The first step in building a great resume is to confront and destroy the lie that your resume is your story of self.
Your resume is a timeline, not a story. A story has a beginning, a conflict, an end, and a hero. You're probably the hero of your resume, and your resume definitely has a beginning. But without an end and a conflict, it's not a story.

Your friendly hiring manager worries when he sees objectives, overviews, hobbies, or activities on a resume

Let's destroy that lie by keeping your resume focused on what matters: Your experience and accomplishments. Do not include an "objective" or an "overview." Do not list your hobbies or activities, unless they are relevant to the job in question. And here's why:

Don't include an objective

If your objective says anything other than, "I want to get this job," then the hiring manager knows you're a liar.

Don't include an overview or a profile

Your professional profile is your cover letter. It does not belong on your resume (which, if you're reading this, should be one page long. You get a second page after your fortieth birthday).

Don't include your activities or hobbies

If you volunteer in a relevant field, list that volunteer experience. If your coursework or extracurricular activities qualify you for the job, list those as well. But do not fall into the space-wasting trap of believing that this section can portray you as a well-rounded individual. You probably are well-rounded. Don't reduce your personality to bullet points. Wait for the interview to dazzle your prospective employer.
Stay focused on your experience
This is the substance of your resume. Every second a hiring manger spends reading about your raquetball game is a second she isn't spending looking at your accomplishments. 
When you're building your resume, start with work experience. And when you're writing about your work experience, start with things you achieved or learned. 
  • Use bullet points. They help people skim, and they give you an excuse to put a verb at the beginning of every line. Don't be afraid to use bold to draw your reader's attention to key phrases. 
  • Describe three accomplishments per position. Don't just say that you managed the email program; say that you used targeted acquisitions and list swaps to increase list size by 15% in one year.
  • Be specific. You don't have to cover everything you did in each job, but if you're going to mention something, make sure that the hiring manager has a clear picture of what you're saying.
(Kind of like that.)
I'll say more about picking accomplishments and how to describe them in a future post. For now, please just keep in mind that if a hiring manager is looking at your resume, she has already decided to give you a chance to impress her. And the thing that will impress her more than anything is the work you've already done.