Nearly 10 years of reading, writing and reviewing resumes has made me somewhat of a guru on the subject, I like to think. And while some of the old standards of resume writing are no longer valid, a few key components remain the same when it comes to creating a truly stellar resume that effectively brands and markets you well enough to get you in the door for the interview.
Writing a resume can be extremely difficult for the untrained eye, and I certainly sympathize. But with a decent eye for good formatting, readability, and a little “how-to” from someone who knows the game, it’s not that difficult. Allow me to simply and concisely walk you through the steps in answering the question I get asked more than anything else: “How do I write an effective resume [without crying or punching things]?”
Keep in mind that what’s appropriate for your individual resume will vary slightly depending upon the professional culture of your industry. Your typical, well-constructed resume should include these sections:
Summary or Objective Statement: Who are you, what do you do well, and what kinds of great skills and experience are you bringing to the table that will leave me dying to have you as part of my team? “Innovative multimedia designer with 5+ years experience creating compelling interfaces for web and mobile applications, with keen attention to usability and architecture…”
Skills & Core Competencies: You mentioned what you do well in your summary, now tell me everything else you do that’s related to the job. Your strengths might be designing stellar apps with keen attention to usability, but you also know a little bit of PHP. That goes here. Creative Suite whiz? Check. Inside sales? check. Final Cut Pro? Check, and check.
Professional Experience: What have you done, where and for whom, and what specific examples of projects can you give me that clearly illustrate where you’ve used the skills and strengths you listed above? Bullet points or paragraph format are both fine, but keep it consistent so that each of the positions listed follows the same format.
Key Accomplishments: This is a sub-section within your Professional Experience section that you may want to utilize to highlight any particular examples of accomplishments, key projects, or situations where you made a contribution or received the recognition that was outside of your day to day tasks. You can have Key Accomplishments for your most recent role and not the others, and even then keep the list to no more than 2 or 3.
Additional Experience: You’ve done some other relevant work in addition to your primary occupation or job, and you want to highlight why and how it was relevant. There is usually a connection here between the work you were doing, and the skills you listed above. Perfect examples are volunteer work, internships, freelance or consulting gigs, or anything else that wasn’t your primary occupation, but was relevant. Not relevant to what you’re targeting? Leave it out, otherwise you risk confusing your reader.
Education: So you went to Boston University too for art school? Great! I don’t care what your GPA was, or that you graduated Suma Cum Laude. I might like to hear about any awards you received. But really, education does not belong at the top of your resume UNLESS your degree is a direct pre-requisite for the job you’re targeting. And in the creative world, that’s almost never the case. Remember: most relevant, pertinent selling points should come first. So in most cases, leave the “Education” section beneath the “Additional Experience” section.
Memberships & Affiliations: This is more of a nice to have, than a need to have, as far as the hiring manager’s list of priorities go. Relevance, again, is key – while I will always appreciate any philanthropic work you’re involved in, I’m not necessarily interested in the fact that you’re part of a community softball team. Unless you’re Derek Jeter. Just sayin’.
There is a reason I prefer to keep the sections in that order, and that is because they flow well into one another as you tell your “story” about your personal brand. You start strong by introducing who you are and what you kick butt at in 4-6 lines (Summary). Then you tell them what else you can do in addition to your core strengths, i.e. other skills you bring to the table that might be useful (Skills). Then you give examples of work you’ve done that exemplifies those skills (Professional Experience). Once you’ve highlighted your core professional experience, you tell them about additional relevant work you’ve done that paints you in a good light (Additional Experience). Then you tell them about your training that lead you to this career path (Education), and about your extracurricular involvement in outside trade or networking organizations (Memberships & Affiliations). Voila – the story of your brand in one concise piece.
So now that I’ve given my two cents, let me tell you what advice out there you can ignore because there’s plenty of it.
- Your resume has to be one page. Not true, as long as all the information is relevant. Try to keep it to no more than two pages.
- Your education should be at the top. Not unless your degree is required for the role you’re going after. You want the info with the highest value at the top, and that’s your skills and experience.
- Listing freelance or contract jobs makes you look like a job hopper. Not in this economy, and certainly not in the creative industry- it’s very common to do so, and it’s no longer a red flag. There are ways around this. Ask me about it.
- “References Available Upon Request.” Don’t waste precious real estate by writing this. It’s a given.
- Include your website or blog on your resume. Only if it’s relevant to your industry or target role. And even then, only if it’s written in a professional voice.
If you’re scratching your head on where to get started, utilize this hybrid-style resume template as an outline, and my Resume Summary Worksheet to help you craft a great opening branding statement that will get you noticed. Good luck!