This is part of a continuing series of posts on improving your writing and on getting published.
My thoughts this morning turned to the subject of writing résumés for a few different reasons. One of my employers sent out a call for adjunct faculty members to submit an updated curriculum vitae last week, and then sent out a pointed reminder that educational résumés ought to focus on one's experience in education, and not on marketing or sales.
I also spent the first part of the morning reading articles about the subprime mortgage debacle, including this CNN article on the rapid decline in careers in the subprime industry. I thus thought that a post on ways to improve the quality of one's résumé might make a timely and practical addition to my earlier posts on improving writing.
I bring to the discussion of résumé writing what I believe to be a unique blend of life experiences that lend themselves well to this post. As a former business owner, the regular perusal of the incoming résumés was a necessary element of finding and hiring talented managers. In addition, I have worked in a wide variety of fields, ranging from large corporations to journalism to academia, and I have prepared dozens of different CVs and résumés for my own benefit. Finally, as a writing tutor I have helped countless people improve their résumés, and I know what works.
Heck, after re-reading the last paragraph, I thought to myself that I should be writing a book on the topic and making some money on this. Note to self: send out a query letter.
Anyways, read on, and feel free to post in the comments section any additional thoughts you have on résumé writing, along with humorous examples of poorly-written résumés you have encountered or stellar résumés you have read.
1. Know your résumé's audience. As referenced above, make sure that your résumé highlights the strengths you possess for the specific job to which you are applying. For example, avoid telling the sales manager of a car dealership about your extensive experience as a daycare owner when you want to sell cars.
2. Proofread, proofread, proofread. I have personally scoffed when someone submitted to me a résumé loaded with grammatical errors, and you can bet that those résumés found their way into the circular file can. Get at least two extra sets of eyes to look over your résumé before you send it off, and choose proofreaders who have some basic grasp of language skills. Try to also include as a proofreader someone who is knowledgeable about the industry, and who can help you fine-tune your résumé to that field.
3. Avoid gimmickry the creation of your résumé. Do not clutter your professional résumé with images, word art, or fancy graphics. Use a standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, and avoid the temptation to use one of those old-fashioned fonts like English Gothic or Anglican. Keep boldface to a minimum, such as in subsection headers. Use an eye-catching design, but fight the urge to turn résumés into an art project. That being said, I pefer to use a high-quality paper, and use a color like antique white to make my résumés stand out from the pack.
4. Never lie, never overstate your qualifications, and avoid creating impressive-sounding titles for entry-level jobs. If you lie on a résumé, chances are that you will get caught in the future. The same is true for claiming experience or competence in an area in which you are unskilled. Finally, no one falls for the ruse of "sanitation engineer" when all you did was clean toilets in a bar. Be honest - you would be surprised how refreshing that can be to an interviewer who has to sort through résumé fraud.
5. Avoid listing jobs in which your performance was poor. True, one might argue that this is lying by omission, but there is no law that requires you to disclose on a résumé every job you ever worked. If you must list an employer in which you left on less-than-favorable terms, avoid listing those references who would be most likely to torpedo you in a background check. However, if you really screwed up at a previous job, and there is no way around disclosing this, you can acknowledge your past failures and discuss during the interview the fact that you have grown and improved as a person. The interviewer might not buy it, but you will have a clean conscience.
6. Keep it simple. I have received résumés in my corporate experiences that were 15-page novellas, and most business professionals do not have the time to waste on overloaded résumés. Academia is the only field in which a résumé is typically a bulky document (which might be why we ivory tower wonks prefer the elitist term curriculum vitae), and I recommend that résumés for the corporate world stay in the 1-2 page range. Save the minutiae for the interview, should you be graced with one.
7. Get your résumé in the hands of the decision makers. True, some companies require that all résumés get forwarded to a human resource department, but that does not mean you cannot send unsolicited résumés to key people in an organization. CEOs of major corporations are usually far too busy to deal with your résumé, but you can target regional managers and division vice-presidents for individualized delivery. And - most important - properly spell the names of your recipients, unless you think that offending a potential employer is a desirable strategy. I cannot tell you the number of times that job applicants misspelled a simple name like "Michael Brooks," which is a sure way to get me to crumple your résumé.