CXO

Learn to write a resume that will get you noticed

Your resume could be hurting your chances of landing a new job. Columnist Jeff Davis shares some advice for making sure your resume is one that hiring managers will read.


Have you checked your resume recently to make sure it's easy to read? Does it make you feel good about yourself to read it? Are you getting as many responses to your resume as you'd like?

If the answer to any of those questions is no, listen up. Your resume could be killing your chances of getting that new job. This week, I'll tell you about some of the resumes I've recently rewritten and reformatted for some IT pros whose positions were eliminated for business reasons. I'll give you my advice for making your resume a document that the recruiter or hiring manager puts in the "keep" pile.

Too much formatting spoils the font
The first resume I reviewed was written by the friend-of-a-friend whose IT job was eliminated at the end of 2002. I found almost nothing in the text that I recommended changing. The information was well written and the page layout was well organized with columns that should have been easy to scan.

The problem was too much formatting. Picture a resume in which the first line of almost every section is italicized, with some labels italicized, bolded, and underlined. In addition, the resume writer formatted each new level of indentation with a different bullet style.

This is an easy fix, folks. You don't want human resume screeners to get so distracted by fancy formatting that they miss what the words are saying. Focus on content first. Don't overdo it on the formatting.

Handling the year off to get certified
Another friend worked as a technical editor until his position was eliminated in late 2001. He decided to switch career gears and enrolled in full-time training for a technical certification. About a year later, after nailing every test on the first attempt, he earned certification as MCSD and MCDBA. He started floating his resume around, but wasn't landing any interviews.

Why no nibbles? It might be due to the economy. It might be because he's certified as a developer, but without a lot of hands-on experience.

I blamed the resume. It had had been written not by my friend, but by a technical recruiter—someone who should know better, IMHO.

Not enough white space
Figure A shows a print preview of the resume format, which was a single page, formatted with narrow margins, and filled with text from top to bottom and side to side. There weren't any indented columns, so there was very little white space. It was as if the resume writer was determined to squeeze everything about the candidate onto a single page.

Figure A
This resume’s lack of white space made it hard to read.


It’s nice if you can get your resume to fit on a single page. However, it’s okay to spill over onto a second page if that’s what it takes to document the last ten years of your experience.

Highlighting recent certifications
My next complaint dealt with the way the technical recruiter had documented the year my friend spent getting certified. The first heading in the resume was "professional experience" in all caps. If you have experience, it's perfectly fine to lead with it. However, as Figure B shows, the first item under that heading was the word "student," followed by a notation about the year spent getting certified. That information was in the wrong place.

Figure B
The information about time spent getting certified seemed out of place under the heading "professional experience."


In addition to being in the wrong place, the dates of each exam were totally unnecessary. Your resume is supposed to help you get an interview, not give a week-by-week account of how you passed your tests. Save those details for the job application!

My theory is that the hiring manager will care only about the names and numbers of the exams. As Figure C shows, my “fix” was to suggest pulling certification information into its own section labeled "technical certifications," and then stacking the test names in a column. We placed this section immediately above the "professional experience" section to illustrate the fact that the candidate spent the previous year as a full-time student.

Figure C
To make the certification information easier to scan, I stacked the exams and placed their numbers at the end of each line.


Here's my rationale: Putting the professional experience first would have created an immediate gap, since the last year of employment before cert school was 2001. Listing the training first was a no-brainer for a candidate who wants to break into database development work on the strength of a fresh, hot certification.

Leave off dates of graduation or completion
I advised my friend with the recent certification to continue listing "2002" as the year he received his certification, but to get rid of the year he listed for his undergraduate degree. Putting the year of graduation might give the resume screener a reason to think you're too young or too old for the job.

Job title or company first?
The final piece of advice I gave my friend was to change the order in which he listed his past positions. He listed the employer first, then the job title, and then the dates of employment.

I like to put the job title first because I want prospective employers to scan the left edge of my resume and see things they recognize—job titles! However, I can see making an exception to that rule if what you're "selling" is your experience with a high-profile employer.

Rate Jeff's advice
To comment on these resume tips, or to share your own advice on writing effective resumes, please post a comment or write to Jeff.

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