Jobseeker, Resumes

Resume Writing is Not a Natural Act

You’re forgiven if the idea of updating your resume is about as welcome as a root canal.  Trying to distill a lifetime of experience onto a couple of pages sounds dreadful. Impossible even.

This sentiment is almost universally shared, and yet the resume prevails as the central (even if dreaded) necessity in our conventional systems of hiring.  If you’re at all like me, not knowing where to begin is usually the root of my procrastination. So below I’ve shared some ideas that will help you bring your resume into the information age.

Let’s start by understanding what a resume is…and what it isn’t.  Then we’ll get into how to create one that will get you noticed.

Your Resume is Marketing Document

Marketing materials use imagery and simplistic communications (think soundbites) to convey ideas and evoke feelings.  These feelings are designed to compel the audience to take action; buy, vote, donate, join, seek help, affect change.  The “big picture idea” being that the future will be better once you take this action.

Your resume is no different.  It conveys a “big picture” concept of the specific and unique value that you (and only you) bring to the table.

We call this your Value Proposition.

Your resume substantiates this Value Proposition with a summary of your experiences and select accomplishments that “prove” your assertion about the value you claim to bring.  The action you’re trying to compel, is having the reader pick up the phone or reach out to make a connection.

Therein lies the daunting misinterpretation of what a resume is designed to achieve.  I see resumes that are written as if I’m going to offer this person a job based on this document alone. They proactively list every. Single. Task. They’ve EVER done as if anticipating, and perhaps preventing, follow up questions. 

But that’s not how the hiring process works. You’d probably question the sanity of someone who responded to your resume with a (paid) job offer.  

So this brings us to what your resume isn’t…
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Your Resume is NOT a chronology of jobs or comprehensive list of tasks

Too often, I see resumes that are so cluttered with irrelevant tasks, duties, jobs, etc. that it becomes a lot of work to sift through the superfluous information to extract what’s relevant from what’s just noise.

While I profess to give a little more attention to individual resumes than the average reader, I admit that when I’m looking at 200+ resumes in a sitting, it means that if I can’t see something worth spending time on in a very short window, I move on.

Don’t get me wrong; does your resume convey your career progression? Yes. Does it include functions of those past jobs? Also yes.
But again, those are designed to substantiate your Value Proposition, not serve as an historical account of your past listing every feature (or skill) that you’ve ever acquired.

For the sake of example, let’s imagine a magazine ad for Oxiclean.  Oxiclean boasts 27+ uses on their website that go well beyond laundry.  Would you interrupt an engaging article you were reading to comb through a full page spread of small text that listed each and every one of these 27 uses? Probably not.

And yet this is the antiquated model that many people are still using for their resume.

Company – Title – Dates – Duties

You’re asking your reader to infer your suitability for this job from a deluge of information, or more simply, you’re making them work harder. As a species we are very anti-energy-expenditure.  Trust me, making people work harder is not the way to curry favour. Just think about how you feel toward me, reading the work that is required to write a stellar resume!!
How to Write a Stellar Resume: Content First
In the last decade, Infographics have replaced text as the simplest, quickest way to convey ideas and key points to an audience. While I don’t recommend doing a resume in infographic form, there are some lessons to be had from this style of information delivery.

Big picture concepts first:
What is your specific value proposition?  Are you a super specialist in one particular area or a jack-of-all trades?  Are you a business person with technical aptitude or perhaps a technical person with a business acumen? Are you an engineer with creativity, innovating products, or are you excellent in defining operational process efficiencies that you have implemented to tighten up your team’s output?

Oftentimes you can look at the beginning of a job description to see what the company is REALLY looking for. This is like a secret message that represents their particular pain.  If you can demonstrate your ability to remedy this pain, you will most likely get the job.  So call upon your past experience for examples where you have fit that particular need.

An important note is that we are complex, multi-dimensional people.  We can wear multiple hats and adapt to the needs of the business.  But it’s the people who convey that they have done the exact thing that the job description is asking for that receive callbacks.

Represent this information in a succinct Summary or Profile near the top of your resume. Think 2 or three lines max.

Supporting Evidence:
Here’s where your job history enters the fold.  You’ve made some pretty bold statements above about what you bring to the table, now it’s time to prove it.  For each job you’ve had, select one or two specific examples where you have directly, or indirectly, demonstrated these skills, or any others that you see on the job description.
The key here is being specific. People tend to overuse sweeping generalizations, which sound grandiose and impersonal.  Instead try the PAR framework for each of your specific examples;

P - Problem: what was the problem that you invented or solved for the business? I say invented because many creative and innovation roles require you to invent a problem before you can fix it.
A – Action: What was your part in the solution for the business? Use verbs such as developed, created, automated, ideated, solved, served, and minimize the use of verbs like managed, maintained, and oversaw which are general and convey a more passive role.
R – Result: what was the business impact of your actions? Metrics further substantiate your claims.  Reduced deployment to X days, achieved uptime deliverable of Y%, cost savings of $Z.

Notice how all of these describe your contribution to the business? Imagine that every employer is asking “what’s in it for me?”  Results that are less impactful to your future employer are; received an award or got a promotion or raise. Instead, put an Awards and Recognition section toward the end or as a highlight in the Summary at the beginning). Showing career progression is wonderful, but it’s more important to demonstrate that you were promoted for making a meaningful contribution to the business and not just because of tenure.

Now here comes the difficult part. For each of your PAR examples; reduce it to a soundbite (oftentimes inverting the Action and Problem for the sake of brevity). 

Example: Automated test suite using frameworks such as Java/Selenium and Perfecto to ensure testing capabilities across multiple channels such as desktop, web, and mobile reducing testing cycle by 40%.

Finally, for each job, it is helpful to contextualize the environment or technology with a brief summary under the company.
Example: Company XYZ is a medical technologies firm boasting a suite of products designed to integrate and automate patient information across networks and providers.
How to Get Your Resume Read: Visuals

Whitespace matters.  There are some incredible free resume templates online that utilize columns and sections with headers to clearly roadmap the information available on the resume (similar to an infographic). Sections to consider using;
  • Summary or Profile
  • Technical Skills
  • Key Accomplishments
  • Professional Experience
  • Languages
  • Recognition and Awards
  • Education and Professional Development
  • Independent Projects
  • Volunteer Work and Community Engagement
Remove antiquated sections such as Objectives and Hobbies or Interests (unless you can see that there is relevance to the specific job poster).This style of resume is especially pleasing to read because reduces eye strain and makes the information easy to navigate.  
Some final thoughts and tips:
  1. The first eyes on your resume are often a machine using a keyword matrix. While your soft skills will get you the job, your technical skills are what show up in keyword searches (never once have I searched the term “communication” even if that is the major component of the job).  Utilize Sections such as “Technical Skills” or add an “Environment” subheading to the bottom of each job to increase the occurrences of those keywords in multiple areas and bump up your placement in the search results.
  2. Similarly, if you are putting a technology in your skills section, demonstrate where you used it in each job. If a lot of your recent work is independent projects, make a section for those projects and don’t forget to link your GitHub portfolio.
  3. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Show the job poster that you can remedy their specific pain and you’ll increase your chances of a callback. This might mean that you change your profile or summary at the top of each application; that’s okay, just make sure your examples support your positioning.
  4.  On the same note, if you’re not getting callbacks, it’s probably not you…it’s the resume. Change it up! Add more keywords, provide more examples, consider how you’ve positioned yourself. The resume is a living document, expect it to change.
  5. Be able to substantiate EVERYTHING on your resume in a background check. I’ve seen candidates fail backchecks for silly things that ultimately would not have impacted their offer.
  6. Remember that resumes get you interviews, interviews get you the job.  I will be creating a similar post with tips to ace the interview soon.



Shannon Roach

Shannon has spent the last decade working to restore human connection to the forefront of hiring. She writes about the realities, humour, and heartbreak of engaging talent and standing out in this age of soundbites. Playing different roles as businesswoman, wife, mother, and advocate, Shannon hopes the future leaves room for us to be our whole selves, our best selves, at work.