The Importance of a Good Resume

13, Sep 2012


Now that I am looking at other people's resumes as possible candidates for positions, I'm seeing the difference between good and bad resumes in the wild. Below are some of my thoughts on how to make a good resume, both by pointing out some things that I've seen people do that are bad, and by giving some advice on improvements that could be made.

Most of this information is generic enough that it will work for everyone, but some of it is somewhat field specific.

What a Resume Should be:

A resume should be many things. The first impressions I get when I pick up a resume make a huge impact on all other opinions I have of the person. By making sure these points are followed, you're increasing the odds of a favorable reception. Here are a few of the things that I think are most important.

A Resume Should be Short

A resume should not be an essay about yourself. Yes, I know you're awesome and have done a whole lot of relevant things that you want to brag about to impress the reader. However, if an 8 page resume lands on my desk, my first inclination is going to be 'No'. I don't want to read a short story about someone. Your goal should be to make it as easy as possible for me to say 'Yes' to hiring you. Do this by presenting me with at most a two page (front and back if printed - I don't want two pages that may get separated and lost) resume.

I've recently received a set of resumes from three different people that were between 6-8 pages long. Before reading a single word of what they had to say, I've already dismissed them as good candidates.

A Resume Should be Easy to Read

Once you've trimmed down your resume to a reasonable length, it's time to format it. Your resume should not be a novel. The reader should not be reading full paragraphs about your work. Again, make it simple to say 'Yes'. Do this by using bullet points to create short one to two sentence bits of information about your work and experience. When you're writing the actual content of your resume, beware of using Buzz Words. Mixing some of the current buzz words into your resume is good, as it shows knowledge of current trends and popular topics. However, it's very easy to go overboard with buzz words, acronyms and technical terms.

One of the resumes I got recently used bullet points without line breaks. The whole purpose of bullet points is to visually separate content in to manageable chunks. By not doing so, very large paragraphs are created, and it becomes much harder to scan through the resume.

A Resume Should Look Good

In addition to the bullet points, make sure to use headers and spacing to separate out different sections, companies, positions, and/or projects in your resume. By creating large headers you're changing a large block of information into quickly understandable and scan-able sections.

When you're creating your headings and sections, you now have an opportunity to make some design decisions. Here's a couple things that you don't want to do:

A Resume Should be Written in a Consistent Style

As a general rule when writing a resume, don't use the word 'I'. Just drop it out. 'I designed a product' simply becomes 'Designed a product'. When you're talking about your current job, use present tense 'Design products'; use past tense for previous jobs that you've held. Make sure that you hold to a style throughout your resume. Using so called 'action words' such as designed, developed, managed, resolved, etc. are better than their passive equivalents.

Don't Forget To:

Once you're done writing your resume here's some final things to be aware of.

Check Your Spelling

Always make sure to proofread and spell check your resume. This is going to be your potential bosses' first impression of you most likely. You want it to be a good one. If you make spelling mistakes, or have grammar errors that confuse the document, it will not be looked upon favorably.

Put Your Name at the Top

Make sure that your name is at the very top of the document, large and noticeable. You also probably want to center it in the page. This is where you put your contact information. If you're going to put an email address or your web site, make sure to actually make it a click-able link. Also, if you put your email address on the resume, make sure it is at least a somewhat professional and serious email address. Putting your phone number on your resume is a personal choice. If you're willing to get contacts by phone from recruiters, then feel free to do so. I would not recommend putting your address - no one is ever going to mail you anything after looking at your resume.

Link Your Projects

If at all possible, make sure to include the URL to any public facing web sites/projects that you worked on - and make sure that it is a link (and that it works. Worse than no link is a link to a broken site). More often than not these days, resumes are passed around on the computer, and making click-able links to your projects means that the reader is able to easily get a better idea of what this project you worked on looks like and feels like. If you can't give a link out to it, consider taking screen-shots, posting them in your portfolio, and linking to that. Any way that you can give pictures about the project is great.

Use a PDF

Always send your resume out as a PDF - not a word document. By exporting as a PDF you're making it so that you don't have worry about compatibility issues between different versions of Microsoft Word, or any other word processing suites. Also, you're removing any potentially embarrassing information that is included in a Word document's properties and tracked changes. Additionally, it just looks better when you open it up - none of the interface of Word to distract from the content of the resume.

Do Some Research

This may really be the most important thing here. What I've talked about here is a pale comparison to what I haven't talked about. Do research, look at examples, ask your friends to look at your resume before you send it off to your dream company. If you have a bad resume, you likely won't make the first cutting of people being considered for an opening.

Things That Are Okay to Do

Here are some common things that people will do on resumes that I hold no strong opinions about.

Finally, Be Proud of Your Resume

Your resume is your gateway to bigger and brighter things. Make it shine for you. A resume is your introduction to everyone who may be interested in working with you. I will read and make a decision to bring you in for an interview solely on your resume; it's your job write a resume that makes me say 'Yes!'.


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