Sunday, February 28, 2010

How to Write a Resumé

With the coming closure of my former place of employment, a lot of people are looking for work. I have had the honour of providing references for several of my former team members. Another former coworker also asked me to take a look at his resumé recently. I provided him with this feedback and thought it might be worth sharing with that small segment of humanity who reads my blog.

I currently volunteer on the board at the independent school my kids attend, and in that capacity I've had the chance to review probably 100 different resumés for various positions within the school. I've gained a fair bit of perspective on what hiring managers & committees think when they're looking at a resume (or at a stack of resumes). I've also seen the things that everybody does on resumés. It is with that perspective that I offer these comments.

In general, your resumé's purpose is to attract a person's interest. Nothing else. It should be one page in length: no more, no less. Instead of giving all the gritty detail on your past career experience, summarize it to no more than 10 words describing your duties within each job. I know it can be difficult; this can be years of your life we're talking about and I'm asking you to sum it up in 10 words. Remember: the hiring manager is looking through probably dozens of resumés. He or she is not going to want to spend 10 minutes reading each one. Make it very simple and concise. Rest assured, you will be contacted if they want more details. Same goes for the references; instead of listing them, say "References available upon request."

The last thing you want a hiring manager to do is look at the first sentence of your cover letter and think, "OK, pretty standard stuff here." There has to be something about it that grabs the attention of the reader in that crucial 30 second overview. It's tempting to spend a lot of time composing and refining that text, but for the most part, it will be ignored, so why waste the effort? If nobody else in the stack jumps out, maybe you'll get looked at a second time. Maybe. You just need to find a way to make sure you're the one who makes the hiring manager ignore all the other boring resumés.

Create a WHAM opening paragraph to your cover letter. Here's one example of one I used for an internal application for a job in management:

Our corporate system, structured around serving our clients’ needs, only works if our front-line employees are satisfied, productive, and reliable. The challenges involved in developing that model employee demand from the manager a very specific combination of empathy, availability, and diligence. In the past two years I have learned to develop these characteristics through observation of positive & negative examples, and through the applied practice of performing the myriad duties of the Team Leader when called upon. I have thrust myself into new and unfamiliar territory many times over the last several months and have found myself amazed at how well I’ve performed – and now I ask for the chance to amaze you as well.

I got the job.

Some other tips:
  • Add a modest splash of colour.
  • Print it on a heavier weight of paper; invest in some fancy stationery.
  • Make the resume and cover letter yours.
  • Don't email it to them: mail, courier, or hand-deliver it. This way you get to choose the media on which it's read, and that tactile reality has a huge impact.
Follow these tips, and subconsciously - or maybe even consciously - the hiring manager will think, "This person not only has the talent I want in our organization, but also knows how to communicate effectively."

A lot of advice is out there saying to keep one's cover letter neutral and professional. Let everybody else follow that advice. Stand out. Be different. Get noticed. In my own experience, I only ever attracted interest from my cover letters when I injected my personality into it. I applied multiple times to be considered for an internal position at my last workplace, but my successful application came the one time that I began my cover letter with an almost poetic preamble about my ability to grasp how complicated systems operate. Same thing for the next step up the ladder I made there - it only worked when I ignored the standard advice and decided to own my resume.

So in a nutshell:
  • View your resumé from the hiring manager's perspective
  • One page cover letter
  • One page resumé
Good hunting all!

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