By: Dorian Merrill, Managing Director
Expert opinions about what the perfect resume looks like are just that, opinions. The truth is, there are no hard and fast rules for crafting the optimal resume, and that adds to the challenge for most professionals. At Leading Principals, we have reviewed many thousands of resumes and we are more aware of trends and pitfalls than most, but even we each have differing preferences when it comes to resume presentations and content.
It makes sense that professionals at all levels are concerned about how to best present themselves on paper for positions they are interested in. A recent CareerBuilder survey of hiring and HR managers confirms that competition for positions is high and that the person who receives a resume will likely spend one minute or less reviewing it before making an initial judgment call regarding a candidate. Those who are lucky enough to have a referral into a company are at an advantage, but it is still vital to make the right first impression with your resume.
While I can’t give you a tidy checklist to follow to ensure that your resume hits the mark for everyone who sees it, I can offer some of the guidance that we share when we work with professionals, from mid-level to c-suite leaders, who are seeking a career transition. Here are some things to consider:
- Know your audience – If you are in a technical or conservative function or industry, stepping outside the box with the presentation and format of your resume is not in your best interest. Alternatively, if you are in a more creative role, or you are presenting yourself for a position with a firm that values innovation and creativity, then you’d be wise to consider a more visually dynamic presentation style. Do your research and make certain that the content and format of your resume seem well-aligned with the organization and the position you are submitting yourself for.
- Include a headline and skills summary – Given that you likely have a brief window of time to hit the mark with the person reviewing your resume, it is a good idea to include a direct headline statement at the top of your resume that specifically addresses your suitability for the position. In addition, consider including a succinct bulleted skills summary section that lists the skills that you possess that are most aligned with the role.
- Communicate clearly and concisely – If you have only a few minutes at most to make an impression, don’t you want to get as much information across as possible? Use language that is direct and incorporate achievements and simple action verbs (“achieved”, “improved”) instead of buzzwords and clichés (“team player”, “results-driven”). As far as length is concerned, mid- and senior-level professionals should target a two page maximum.
- Balance responsibilities and accomplishments – While it is important to include a summary of your responsibilities for each role you’ve held, you will make a more dynamic impression if you focus on meaningful accomplishments. What specifically have you done to improve the organization’s performance? You can include both measurable and less tangible accomplishments, but make sure they are relevant to your career path and the position you seek.
- Eliminate errors – This should go without saying, but you absolutely must make sure that your resume is perfect when it comes to spelling, grammar and formatting. Review it multiple times yourself and ask at least one other person (recruit the best proofreader you know!) to review it for accuracy.
While there is no magic formula for creating a perfect resume, if you incorporate these tips you will certainly be better positioned to make a solid first impression with potential employers and you may find that the chances of landing your ideal position greatly increase.