In the last eight years, I’ve seen over 410,000 resumes. No joke. I’ve hung onto less than 1% of them. Let’s go on a limb and say that I can tell the difference between a good one and a bad one—if for no other reason than anyone who sees that many will eventually “form an eye”. Toss in the fact that I see which ones my clients, the hiring companies, have migrated toward, and I now have, uh, two eyes.

While interviewing is an extremely important skill, you’ll often never get the chance without an enticing resume. This doesn’t mean printing it on neon paper or scenting it with rose perfume.

Write your own resume. It’s your career—you need to take responsibility! Nobody knows your accomplishments like you do. If you’re in an interview and the employer inquires about an item on your resume, you better be able to cite chapter and verse the way you can recite the alphabet.

Summarize and then re-summarize. The top portion of your resume should serve as an executive summary of who you are and what you’ve accomplished—NOT the position you are seeking. Think in terms of encapsulating yourself in a Career Profile & Career Highlights theme. You want the employer to first see what you offer, not what you want. Hello!?!? Anyone who tells you to put your Objective or the Position You’re Seeking at the top of the resume should be flogged. The remaining body of the resume should include a summary of your most important accomplishments, not a detailed itinerary of every day of your work life.

Include what’s relevant. Let me repeat that. Include what’s relevant. Make sure to include your most relevant accomplishments and their impact on the organization. Where possible, include metrics in any form that is appropriate for your position. For example, “improved sales figures” isn’t nearly as meaningful as “improved sales by 15% from $100K to $115K.” You’ve now provided the specifics, the impact, and also included context so the employer understands the magnitude of the contribution. (That is, “improved sales by 100%” means very little if you sold $2 vs. $1 as opposed to $200K vs. 100K.)

Make it chronological. Make sure you identify your previous employers in reverse chronological order (most recent first). Don’t—and I repeat don’t—try grouping functions or position types across companies. It’s confusing. The employer wants to get a sense of your evolution over time. It’s difficult to determine this if your resume looks like the Maze of Theseus. It also increases the chances the employer will think you’re hiding something (such as a gap in employment).

Show you’re a team player. The chronology of your resume is important—top to bottom it needs to look clean. The way the employer’s eyes scan from left to right is equally important. Make sure the left most information is your current and past employers as opposed to the position you held. Why? Because you send subliminal messages (or potentially cause the employer to misconstrue). If the first piece of information is your title or job function, the employer might feel you’re self-centered. Me first. Company Second. Maybe yes. Maybe no. Why take the chance when you’re not there to explain what a giver you are?

Place education and credentials where they belong. If you just graduated college, congratulations—you can put your education at the top. If you’re anyone else, it goes at the bottom. If you’re really proud of your MBA or PMP certification, I’ll cut you some slack and you can also put it next to your name like you were an MD, DDS, or some other individual who had to punish themselves before they started a real job. Just kidding…about the punishment, not the placement of the credentials.

Some additional tips:

  • Never, and I mean NEVER, use a template. It’s lazy. It’s obvious. It does nothing to set you apart.
  • Optimize the length. There is no one perfect rule-of-thumb. Generally speaking, whether you’ve worked 10 years or 40, I’m convinced you can encapsulate the germane points in two pages. As you evolve in years, simply further summarize and shrink your more distant jobs to fit to that length. If you graduated a year ago, there is no excuse to have a resume longer than one page.
  • Include only important extra-curricular activities and accomplishments. If you are a member of PRSSA, feel free to include it. Leave off your knitting accomplishments, unless you’re interviewing for a tapestry position.
  • Tailor your resume for the position you seek.
    If you are applying for a design position, it’s okay to be a bit more creative. If you are applying for a job at a law firm, stick to the simpler formats.

This is a good resume for design, but a law firm won’t be impressed. They’ll see it as childish.

  • Proof read. Proof read. Puleeeeze. A simple grammar error will get you eliminated faster than you can blink. If not, it plants a seed in the employer’s mind that you lack attention to detail.

Writing a resume is an important form of communication. Make sure yours says, “You can’t wait to hire me!”