Tips for Building a Great Resume

Create Your Personal Brand

So you have decided to update your resume to help you get that new job or promotion. Great. Here is a step by step process for creating a great resume.

The first thing to understand is that a resume needs to reflect your personal brand. What does that mean? Well, it refers to the marketing process of being recognized for your unique value proposition. In other words, why should this company hire you instead of someone else?

Keep in mind that applying for a job is quite often a competitive process - there are lots of other people who are also being considered for the role you want. Developing and using your personal brand gives you the opportunity to:

  • Stand out from the rest of the pack
  • Answer interview questions clearly and consistently
  • Be remembered from the interview process
  • Have the interviewers identify you with specific things they are looking for

Ask Others

So how do you know what your personal brand is? Well a great place to start is to ask someone to help you with this because often we are so close to the things we are really good at that we don't see them as special or unique. Asking someone what you do really well can highlight these things for you. I recommend using a freind for this and you can offer them the same deal in return. Here is why this is important.

People tend to see us in a certain way, for example: "He's athletic" or "She's a social butterfly". Now I am not suggesting that you put "jock" or "talker" as key attributes on your resume but just think about how these attributes might translate into a workplace. "He's athletic" can quickly become, "highly energized, competitive and focused" for example. And, "She's a social butterfly", can quickly become - she is a powerful net-worker with excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to influence the thinking of others. Sound compelling? Darn right.

So - start with your success buddy and then ask your friends, family, co-workers and anyone else that knows you those key questions. You might be surprised at what they say. They will likely highlight areas of your personality, various skills and talents that you have taken for granted. Trust me on this - if they are noticing them - they are important.

Debrief Yourself

Now how other people see you is important, but how you see yourself is equally so. Here is the next step in this process. Once you have asked your success buddy and your other friends and family how they see you, your next step is to sit down and write down as much as you can about yourself in the following areas:

  • Skills (things you have learned to do)
  • Talents (things you do naturally well)
  • Interests (things you love to do)
  • Values (things that guide your decision making)

Skills can be things such as writing, welding, selling etc. Examples of talents can be: organizing, coordinating, inspiring others, creativity etc. Interests are those things that you like to do and values are those core elements that guide our decision making process, such as: responsible, punctual, honest, strong work ethic, fairness, etc.

Rank Your Lists

Once you have a decent list in each of these four areas, rate each of them based on how strongly you feel about them or how "right" they are. You need to believe in these strengths and characteristics if you are going to present them in a credible way.

Look For Opposites

Another thing to look for in defining your brand or unique value proposition are things that might be opposites. For example if you are really out going and like meeting people but you also consider yourself to be thoughtful and reflective - then this might be a unique value offering because it is an uncommon paring of behaviors or attributes.

Similarly, you may be very creative and imaginative while at the same time be very organized and pragmatic. This is another unique value combination that may catch people's eye.

Find Three or Four Things

Ideally, once you have gone through this process, (and feel free to revisit it again and again to refine it), you should end up with three or four things about yourself that you feel really positive about. These three or four things will become your "brand".

Don't worry if your brand is "perfect" or if it will be seen as being of "value to others". For now we are only interested in creating a compelling story of you.

Now before we get into the actual writing of the resume, here is a key point where I differ in my approach from many other people in the business.

Tailoring Your
Resume To The Job

I think the most important thing about writing a resume is to make sure that it accurately reflects who you are. It is essentially the wrapping paper for the gift that is you! So it needs to be compelling so that the person reading it will want to "open the gift".

Many people make the mistake of attempting to tailor their resume to match a job posting or to mimic what they "think" the hiring company wants. I recommend against this. Firstly, it is unlikely that you will actually know what the organization is looking for and secondly, the minute you try to "sell" yourself in a way that isn't natural for you, you will become more anxious, less articulate and generally less compelling. Who needs that, especially during an interview process?

So my belief is that:

Your resume should be about you and not about what someone else wants.

I know that in this age of mass marketing appeal, this may seem at odds but trust me on this. You really don't want a job or a role where you have to behave like someone you are not. It will be stressful for you and at the end of the day; you will not do well in the role. The key to getting a job that you want is to be yourself. This will allow you to be calm, confident and compelling.


Step by Step Resume Building

Format

There are a number of different ways of formatting your resume and the one that I find works very well for most people is accomplishments based. This is different than the usual chronological work history in that it focuses more on you than your positions. I like the accomplishments based approach because I don't believe that your past defines your future and I think smart organizations hire for potential rather than experience.

So in an accomplishments oriented resume, there are six sections. I will describe each of these sections and you.

Indentification

The first section in your resume is your identification. Here is where you tell people your name and how to get in touch with you. If you have a commonly used name, it is also a great idea to put that in brackets behind your given name so the interviewer will know what to call you.

If you have a designation, degree, license or accreditation that will be recognized, I recommend putting those initials behind your last name. Some usual ones might be: P.E. or P.Eng. if you are a Professional Engineer or you might want to put MBA if you have a Master of Business Administration degree. Do not put any designations that will diminish your credibility, e.g. IADW for the International Association of Dog Walkers. I would also limit any designations to no more than two otherwise it begins to look a bit - well - odd.

Also in this section, you are going to want to provide your full address, your phone number (with area code!)and an email address. I recommend putting your cell number down if you carry a cell phone with you AND it has voice mail. If you don't have voice mail on your cell phone, then use your home phone number and buy a cheap answering machine. Seriously - you do not want to miss these calls!

Email addresses should look professional as well. "HotChick@hotmail.com" is not going to represent you as well as say: "Bob@gmail.com. Google email addresses are some of the most highly respected free email addresses available.

Personal Summary

Arguably the most important section on your resume, your Personal or Professional Summary is a key hook to get people read more about you in the rest of the resume. This is where your unique brand comes into play. It is your opportunity to tell prospective employers who you are and what it is about you that is so attractive.

This should be no more than three or four sentences and be sure to us it to describe who you are not what you have done. That part comes later.

I also like highlighting a few key things that I want the reader to take away from my resume. There is something about leaving nothing to chance. In other words, don't assume that they will piece together what you want them to know. Tell them!

One way of doing this is to have a second mini-section in the Personal Profile section called: Acknowledged Strengths or Specific Skills or words to that effect. This is just going to be a few key things about you that you want the reader to know.

Accomplishments

Now we are getting into the meat of the resume. This section is a bullet pointed list of things that you are really proud of. These are accomplishments where you really felt you were at your best. Keep in mind that these do not have to be only work related accomplishments. Sometimes we indicate our true potential doing work we volunteer to do outside our place of work. So if you were proud of volunteering at the Olympics and were recognized for excellent customer service - well put that in...it is a great accomplishment.

Accomplishments mean a lot more to people if they are specific for example, "As a result of my sales campaign, sales revenue increased 20% over the previous year." This sounds so much better than just: "I increased sales". Ideally each accomplishment will include both what you did and what the results were. If you can also state why the result was important - that is an additional benefit.

Work History

Once you have bedazzled them with 8 to 10 powerful accomplishments, it is now time to speak to your work history. This is usually a chronological listing of the places you worked and the positions you held.

I prefer to see the dates of employment first, followed by your role or title and then by the name of the organization and its location. Some people tend to highlight the company first but in keeping with my theory that a resume is about you - I think the position or role you held while at the company is more important.

Right below the data on when, what, who for and where you worked, there is an opportunity for one or two lines highlighting the nature of the role you held. For example, titles can be highly variable so the "Director of Development" for one company can be an independent contributor role with a small budget and yet for another organization it can be a role with 20 direct reports and a budget in the millions. So - use one or two lines to highlight the scope, span of influence or nature of the work you did while in the position. A huge list of your responsibilities etc., is usually pretty boring reading.

Education and Personal Development

The section on education and personal development is aimed at two things. One to provide "credibility" based on the education you have, even if it is just a high school leaving certificate. Whatever your level of education, put it in. Some of my clients have been reluctant to put the fact that they only have a high school education in their resume until I point out that if they don't the assumption will be that they didn't graduate at all. Please put it in.

The second thing this section tells employers is that you believe in keeping current in your chosen career and that you are a continuous learner. So in addition to putting in your education, use this section to highlight some of your other courses, seminars, workshops or conferences that you have attended complete with when you attended, where it was and who put it on. I would normally suggest you limit this to four or five such things that you feel are most relevant to what it is you want to do. A whole list of every course you have ever taken is overkill here.

Again, keep in mind - this is about providing you with the credibility afforded you by your education and secondly with the message that you are a life long learned interested in staying on top of your game.

Other Interests and Activities

The last section on the resume is to provide some interest hooks for the interview to bring you to the top of the pile. This is a great place to put your awards, your scholarships, your volunteer work etc. as well as your interests. Keep in mind someone that lists "reading" as an interest is not going to get the same amount of attention as someone who lists "wine making" or "adventure travel" as an interest. The latter two examples may cause the interviewer to be curious and sometimes that is enough to get you the interview over someone else.

Watch Out For...

Here are some additional things to be careful about when preparing your resume.

Length

Your resume should be bikini like - large enough to cover the essentials, small enough to attract interest. Please format your resume to be no more than two pages in length. If you have a lot more than that - start trimming out the stuff that doesn't align well with your brand. Long resumes are boring and if you have a list of publications or something else you want to include - well bring the list to the interview and leave it with the interviewer. Remember, unless you are a University Professor or delegate to the United Nations, TWO PAGES MAX!

References

I rarely recommend including references on your resume and even the usual, "references available on request" line just takes up space. Most people will want references but they will ask for them in the interview. Bring your references' contact info with you to the interview. It will show that you are well prepared and understand the process.

The only exception to this rule is if you have a reference that is well known and highly regarded - like say the President or Pope for example. If you have some internationally recognized individual as a personal reference, well then you will likely get some benefit from including it. Otherwise, I recommend leaving them off.

Font and Style

Keep your font and text style very simple and classy. A lot of resumes are fed into a computer these days and the computer scrapes the information off them into a database. If you have done your resume in script or some unique font - the computer may not recognize it and all you work will come out as gibberish.

Similarly, I have seen people format their resumes will all sorts of pictures, weird formatting, blocks, tables and other things. I think this is risky and I recommend against it. Stick to the basics and you will be fine. It is the content that matter the most.


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