Sunday, June 21, 2009

What's a resume anyway?

A lot of people ask me for advice on resumes, especially with the current job market being so difficult. It's made me think, what exactly is a resume and what makes a "good one".

Here is what Wikipedia has to say: "A resume is a document that contains a summary or listing of relevant job experience and education. The resume or CV is typically the first item that a potential employer encounters regarding the job seeker and is typically used to screen applicants, often followed by an interview, when seeking employment."

So, really a resume is just the first step in the process of getting a're first impression if you will. If you think about it then, the goal of the resume is NOT to get you a job! Your interview performance will determine if you get the job or not. The resume gets you in the door, that's it, nothing more. A great resume gets you the interview...a bad one gets you "filed". Making sense? So this is easy right? Any resume that gets you an interview is a good one. If you are looking to write a great resume here are a few tips/tricks to help you build that perfect resume:

1) Focus on your strengths - Go to Harvard? Working at a top company? Received a Rhodes scholarship? Put it near the top of your resume! Most recruiters have about a minute to review your resume but make the decision if you're resume is "good" in about 15 seconds. Based on that, why put your "best" experience at the bottom of your resume! If you have great experience or education, don't bury it beneath a bunch of useless information. If the goal of this document is to get you the interview, show people you have the experience and show them early. Don't wait until the end of the resume to tell people you went to Harvard or might be too late.

2) Customize It - Use the same resume for every job application but can't figure out why no one calls you back? Is your resume the job search equivalent of spam? If you don't customize your resume for each situation, you are selling yourself short. Every job is different, so every application and resume should be customized for that unique opportunity. This requires a lot of work but it will pay off. Read the job description and then develop your resume to show the employer that you are worth an interview.

3) Details, Details and More Details - I read a ton of resumes that have no detail and are filled with keywords. Conventional wisdom says recruiters and HR professionals only look at keywords. Not true. When I read a resume I'm looking for reasons to interview the candidate. Leaving out details is the biggest mistake I see when reading resumes.

Who would you want to interview if you read these two sentences?
- Developed application to help track customer satisfaction
- Wrote 12,000 lines of Java on a Linux platform to develop web application to track customer satisfaction., if something is worth mentioning on your resume than it's probably worth adding a few details and making sure that when someone reads it they think, "Hey, I want to interview this person". That is after all, the goal.

4) Keep it short and sweet - Make sure your resume isn't a novel. No one and I repeat no one wants to read a 15 page resume. I've seen them, and can tell you by the end of page two my eyes are glazed over. You want your resume to be somewhere between a page and maybe three pages maximum. Lots of people will tell you that if you are fresh out of school you should have a one page resume - I disagree. If you have a bunch of internships or great experience, write a two page resume! At these same time, if you have ten years of experience don't write a ten page resume. Make your resume crisp and to the point. Use this document to tell your potential employer you're worth an interview. If you have to add a "Previous Experience" section to keep it short, do it! Most recruiters and HR people only care about your last few jobs and most recent one cares that you were a hall monitor in High me.

5) Email Only Please - It's 2009 people, I know you'll hear that sending in a paper copy makes you unique. Not really. Most companies use some sort of applicant tracking software, sending in a hard paper copy of your resumes means someone will have to scan it and then manually enter that into the system. Now, if the goal here is to get an interview than making more work for the gatekeeper is about the worst thing you could do! So, don't listen to people who tell you to mail in a resume - email it. If you want to impress someone with your eagerness, than figure out the email and send it to them directly. It's much more personal than applying online and is way more effective than killing a tree.

That's it, just a few random thoughts on doing a great resume. But remember, the resume is about getting you in a door. Make your resume relevant and readable because like they say you can only make a first impressing once!

Let me know if you want some tips on making your resume "Great!"


  1. Very informative article thanks! Quick note: shouldn't "One recruiters humble attempt" be "One recruiter's humble attempt"? Just an example of my [sometimes anal] attention to detail. When reviewing resumes, how much weight do you give spelling/grammar?
    Is there a job for me at google (NY) with a skill like that -- along with a BS in Computer Science?

  2. Thanks for the tip! Got a resume? is my email!

  3. Hi Jeff-

    I just wanted to thank you. This blog has been tremendously helpful for my job search at Google as well as job searching / applying in general. I really appreciate it. And yes, I would like to know what you think makes for a great resume!

    Thanks again,

  4. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for this insightful article and awesome blog. It's enlightening to see things from a recruiters perspective.