Resume writing strategy 101 – secrets to writing a great resume

On May 20, 2012 by Andy Bandy Man

I searched all over Google to find a good sample resume to share with you guys today, but it was IMPOSSIBLE. All I found were shitty resumes, and random lists like ”31 tips to spruce up your resume” or “47 ways to write a killer resume.”

So I went ahead and made one up. Yes that’s right – I spent my Thursday afternoon concocting an imaginary dude’s resume. HOPEFULLY this post will help at least a few people take their resumes to the next level, and maybe even land a job interview they weren’t expecting!  Let’s get started.

 

WARM-UP: A FEW GENERAL COMMENTS

  • Before you start typing your resume, please read our post Job interviewing strategy 101: What are your STORIES?  We outline some of the qualities that job recruiters look for in a candidate; you should keep these in mind as you write your resume
  • The meat of your resume should focus on only 4-5 key experiences. For each experience, focus on WHAT YOU ACTUALLY DID and WHAT THE IMPACT WAS. DO NOT simply list every single club you joined and every activity you participated in – that tells nothing about your skills or abilities
  • A 20-something person’s resume should NOT exceed one page. I don’t care how awesome you think you are, if you can’t fit it on one page then you don’t have good prioritization / writing skills (one exception: if you have 5+ years of highly technical work, then 2 pages is allowed)
  • Even if your resume is solid gold, you may not be getting responses simply because you aren’t contacting prospective employers through the right channels. Submitting your resume on a company website rarely leads anywhere - especially when there are 1000′s of applicants. Read our post Networking 101 to learn about building your network so you can get recommended into jobs – rather than applying cold
  • NOTE: The general principles outlined in this guide apply to almost all resume situations – the main exceptions are highly specialized fields (advanced research, the arts, etc.) where you may have to tweak some of the rules to match your field

 

ANALYZING THE SAMPLE RESUME OF MICHAEL McANALYST

Our sample resume is based on a job candidate named Michael McAnalyst, a hotshot recent grad from Berkeley. He has been working for about 2.5 years and is currently looking for a new job. I admit, there are prettier resume formats out there, but this one gets the job done (in fact, I have used it since 2004!)  Mr. McAnalyst has successfully managed to put a lot of useful information on the page without making it too overcrowded. However, we do NOT recommend making the font any smaller than this (size 10), or making the borders any narrower than this; a page completely covered in words does not leave a good first impression.
(To see a higher quality version, here is a PDF link: Michael McAnalyst sample resume)

 

SECTION 1: PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE
  • Michael has been working for 2.5 years, so the “Professional Experience” section should take up at LEAST half of the page – more if you have been working longer. Unless you are applying for an academic research position, employers care most about your work experience
  • We use the first 1-2 sentences to summarize Michael’s general role / job function and performance (“Received highest rating…”)
  • Since many job experiences (including Michael’s work at Platinum Consulting) involve several discrete projects, our approach is to use case studies in the following format:
    • WHAT WAS THE IMPACT?  The main bullet point shows the impact in as quantitative terms as possible (“Increase website traffic by 200%”)
    • WHAT DID YOU ACTUALLY DO?  The sub-bullet points describe the tasks and responsibilities Michael actually had to do, in as quantitative terms as possible. Notice we consistently use action phrases, like “Conducted 20+ interviews” or “Led 3-person team” or “Developed financial model”
  • We included Michael’s summer internship since it was a significant work experience. As before, the bullet points quantitatively show WHAT HE ACTUALLY DID, and WHAT THE IMPACT WAS
  • NOTE: If you are applying fresh out of college, I typically just call this section “Experience” and include both summer internship as well as my major extracurricular experiences. Again, this should be at LEAST half of the page, and only include your most significant experiences (no more than 4 to 5)

 

SECTION 2: EDUCATION

  • The University section should be relatively short and straightforward – no more than a few lines
    • If you majored in something useless (you know who you are, Ancient Roman History majors…) DEFINITELY include any quantitative, technical, or business courses you have taken
    • Please do NOT include a section for high school – NOBODY CARES!  (Note: if you built like a rocketship or something crazy awesome and really want to include it, use one or two lines in the “Honors and Awards” section)
  • Let’s spend a few minutes to talk about GPA, since this is a very common question:
    • If your GPA is under 3.0: you should not include it unless required to by the employer. As long as you are honest, it’s OK to make your numbers look better by showing “Major GPA” or “Junior / Senior Year GPA” (who can blame you if all you did freshman year was drink beer and eat pizza)
    • If your GPA is between 3.0 and 3.5: if you recently graduated, definitely include it – not having it just looks suspicious. If you’ve been out of college for more than a couple of years, take it out
    • If your GPA is above a 3.5: always include it – you earned the right to brag about it
  • Since Michael has work experience, we include his Extracurriculars in this section. However, only include extracurriculars where you had a significant achievement or leadership role; I don’t want to hear about “Quiz Bowl Club” if all you did was go to meetings once a week to eat free pizza. If you get asked about it and don’t have a good story to share, you’re in trouble. Big trouble.

 

SECTION 3: HONORS AND AWARDS

  • Go ahead and show off if you want to!
  • You are allowed to write ONE or TWO LINES maximum about high school – if you did something particularly impressive like got a National Merit Scholarship or got a 1500 / 2250 SAT score (or a good GRE), you can include it here
  • If you don’t have more than 1 or 2 things to include here, feel free to just merge into Section 4: Other Information.

 

SECTION 4: OTHER INFORMATION

  • This section gives you an opportunity to show your potential co-workers that YOU ARE A FUN, INTERESTING PERSON THAT WOULD BE A COOL PERSON TO GRAB A BEER WITH. Managers like to hire people that will actually show up to the work happy hour and pretend like they are having fun
  • This is also your chance to list any concrete SKILLS you have. Include a section on computer skills (e.g., programming languages, Microsoft Office, etc). If you are conversationally fluent or better at any foreign languages, definitely include that as well (do NOT exaggerate – your interviewer might actually be fluent at Swahili and want to test your skills if you claimed to have them)

 

That’s all for now, folks. Please make sure to check out some of the other posts on jobs, networking, interviewing, salary negotiation, etc. in the Career Tips section.

 

 

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