Most worthwhile career sites tell you that your résumé’s main purposes are to make you stand out from the crowd and to get you an interview. Those purposes are of course linked, and fortunately, résumé writing skills and interviewing skills are linked, too.
If you master self-presentation on the résumé, you’ll have gone a long way towards being the best interviewer you can be. So, spend some time with these top résumé sites. Get lost in their discussions and links, do some brainstorming based on their advice, and crank out a few of your own new, improved, and employer-specific résumés. The deeper you delve into the task of writing a great résumé, the more you’ll find yourself becoming a better job candidate overall.
The goal of Rockport Institute’s “How To Write a Masterpiece of a Résumé” is to demystify the résumé’s role in the job-hunting process while teaching you to sell yourself better through that all-important document. In a five-part instructional guide that’s certain to get you crafting better résumés, Rockport tells you straight up that when you’re writing a good résumé, you’re writing advertising copy. You’re not cataloguing your past or pinging an employer with a self-interested objective statement to see if there’s a match. You’re selling yourself, and when you write your résumé with that in mind, the process can be quite empowering.
Work Coach Café, written as a series of blog posts, is a more informal discussion with the same objective of empowering the reader to better sell himself or herself. It really is a discussion: check out the comments after the posts by organizational consultant Ronnie Ann, which frequently turn into informative Q and A forums with readers and the author. The best place to start on Work Coach Cafe is Ronnie’s post from November 2008, “10 Things I Look for When I Screen Résumés and Cover Letters.” The title alone should drive home the point that your résumé is a performance, directed at a specific reader from whom you want a certain response: an interview request!
Thinking of yourself as a product you’re selling potential employers is the most effective way to approach the job hunting process, and inextricable with this approach is the question of audience. “It is a mistake,” Rockport claims, “to think of your résumé as a history of your past, as a personal statement or as some sort of self expression.” Advertising yourself in résumé form needn’t seem like a dehumanizing effect of job hunting, though: the approach actually provides you with direction while giving you plenty of agency to write your “copy” and to choose how you present yourself. Like Don Draper, you’ll consider the needs of your audience and anticipate what they want to read when they pull up your résumé from the mass of submissions. Rockport recommends that you begin each employer-specific résumé with a brainstorm that asks, “What would make someone the perfect candidate for the position in question?” Write one answer per page, prioritize the pages, and then elaborate on your answers as much as possible. “The whole idea,” Rockport says, “is to loosen up your thinking enough so that you will be able to see some new connections between what you have done and what the employer is looking for.”
You should consider the time constraints of your résumé reader, too. Rockport says one interview is granted for every 200 résumés received by the average employer, and a résumé only has ten to 20 seconds to persuade an employer to read further. The connection to effective advertising couldn’t be clearer: you must pull your reader in, immediately! As such, the opening lines of your résumé are key. In what some would argue is dated advice, Rockport suggests opening with an Objective section. In truth, the objective is only bad form if it ignores the employer’s needs and states the applicant’s own career goals. Also note that it can be redundant, but not necessarily harmful, if it restates what’s already in a cover letter.
- Design is perhaps even more important than words in making that crucial first impression with your résumé. Purdue University’s invaluable Online Writing Lab (OWL) has a great résumé component that includes a page on résumé design. It lays out a few guidelines for ensuring your document is visually pleasing, some of which border on common sense (e.g., use columns to format your document and do not capitalize, italicize, bold, and underline the same piece of text), but others that delve deeply into the effects your formatting choices have on the reader’s scanning pace and grasp of emphasis (e.g., the quadrant test and using serif vs. sans-serif fonts). Once you’ve done your layout, perform OWL’s recommended “20 second test” with a friend to check your work.
Beyond formatting help, OWL offers a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to résumé writing that’s largely geared towards those about to graduate from college who will be entering the job market for the first time. It contains a Résumé Workshop tab that walks you through résumé construction section by section. The workshop begins by touching on content that should by now be familiar from Rockport Institute’s site: “Research has shown that it takes an average of ten interviews to receive one job offer, so your résumé needs to be persuasive and perfect. Given this, your résumé must be user-centered and persuasive.” Elsewhere on OWL, you can find a whole section on audience analysis that’s suggested reading for résumé writers. OWL’s résumé site is easier to navigate and considerably less didactic than most sites that contain résumé advice. It doesn’t share Work Force Café’s or Rockport Institute’s “insider knowledge” tone, but that’s okay. This is a foundational résumé site whose rules need to be mastered before you can start breaking them.
And break them you shall! Many articles linked to from Monster’s expansive résumé site are devoted to ways of doing that in the interest of making your résumé pop for your reader. A résumé writing tips section links to a set of advice articles that cover a variety of résumé concerns, from faux pas to help with writing that relocation résumé. If you’ve read the websites already discussed, you should be in the clear when it comes to the “Four Things That Can Send Your Résumé Into the Trash” discussed by Senior Editor Charles Purdy, but you may not know his “10 Words and Terms That Ruin a Résumé.” Fortunately, Purdy’s articles don’t end with the negative advice; his discussions get you thinking of less worn phrasings and ways to go beyond mere regurgitation of the requirements of the jobs to which you’re applying. The site’s salary wizard can be alternately hope inspiring or crushing depending on your search, but is impossible to not explore. There’s a link to a résumé writing service, which you hopefully won’t have to resort to after the present article, and amusing links to popular and often clueless Yahoo user questions that should have you feeling better after any salary wizard results you regret finding (e.g., someone asks “Whats (sic) an easy but high paying job?”).
The final site is the most straightforward tool for the résumé writer, in the sense that this website can be used to generate content approximating text that can go directly on résumés. Please note the use of the word approximating, because O*NET Online could easily be misused for plagiarism. To use the site, plug in a job title and prepare to be amazed. A wealth of useful information will appear about the job, including its tasks, tools and technologies, types of knowledge required, skills, and work values. If you’re having trouble “dressing up” a former job for résumé purposes, check out this site and you’ll be encouraged. You’ll see skills you used and responsibilities you had that you may not have considered talking about, or you’ll at least learn some professional-sounding ways of mentioning them. O*NET is useful in part because it offers that distanced, objective look at job responsibilities that people who actually had certain jobs can find difficult to conjure. The site is also great for writing cover letters, since it provides information about job functions that a potential employer might not have listed on their posting.
So there you have it, five great sites that will tell you more than you could ever want to know about how to write a résumé that avoids clichés while satisfying certain expectations. You need to make yourself stand out from the crowd, but you must do so with a fairly prescribed format and set of section headings. You need to gear your résumé for a specific audience, yet offer something uniquely “you.” These challenges are tough, but the above websites make them easier. Now, go get those interviewing outfits ready!