Thursday, July 28, 2011

10 steps to make a standout resume

Here's the resume writing advice I promised you:
1.  Know the purpose of a resume.
     It's designed to get you an interview, not a job.
     So exaggerate. This is no time to be humble. Present yourself in the best possible light.
     If three of you worked together to accomplish something, take credit for it in the resume. Explain your role fully in the interview. The resume did its job of getting you in for the interview.

2.  Use lots of key words.
     Most resumes are called up electronically these days.
     If your resume does not contain the words used to search for viable candidates, you will never be considered.
     The best place for these key words is in the middle of an impact statement showing what you did with that particular skill.
     If you can't do that, add a section to your last page titled "Skills" and add the key words there.
3.  White space is your friend.
     Nobody wants to read a big, black block of text. Break it up so it's readable.
     Don't dual justify your text, left justifying will open up white space on the right.
     Use bullets to break apart paragraphs.
     Have sections that lead the reader to easily find what they want to read.
     Place one inch margins all around your text.

4.  Use as many pages as you need.
     Long ago the one-page resume was in vogue and no-one went over two pages. Those days are over!
     By limiting yourself to one or two pages you are probably cutting out key words that could pull your resume out of the pile
     Or you are using text that is too small or eating up your white space.
     Resumes are read, distributed and searched electronically; most people don't pay attention to how long they are.
     Here are the new rules of thumb:
          One page if you are a recent graduate just entering the market. But, if you've had some relevant internships that give you experience, go ahead and move halfway onto the second page.
          Two pages until you've worked for five years.
          Three pages until you've worked ten years, then you can move on to four pages.
     But you are putting your less important information on the last pages: Education, Training, Patents, Publications etc.

5.  Write your purpose in a way that solves people's problems.
     A lot of people have a purpose statement along these lines: 'Looking for a job that allows me to use my skills in blah blah blah' or 'To use my skills to obtain a challenging position...'
     Remember, the person reading your resume has a problem. They need to solve this problem by hiring someone to do the work.
     Word your purpose statement to reflect that you are there to solve problems.
     Taking all the above into account, word it along these lines: 'I specialize in ...' or 'Blah blah expert with experience solving such and such
     Remember you can have multiple resumes out there so don't be afraid of limiting yourself by 'specializing' in an area.

6.  Don't use the job description style to describe your accomplishments.
     90% of resumes I see use the job description style and I hate it! Look below to see why.
          Review and approval of process validation protocols.
     So what does this exactly tell us about this person? Only that this was part of their job.
     Whenever you see one of your impact statements, ask the question: 'So what?' If it's not obvious from the statement that you were good at that part of your job, revise it. Watch what happens when I make fun of the above statement:
          Review and approval of process validation protocols...took so long reviewing and never approved anything so they fired me.
     Probably not what you want to say about yourself. So let's show you how to pep it up.

7.  Power up your impact statements by showing your results.
     A good impact statement has three elements to it.
          Problem: This is the reason you were hired in the first place. It is often implied. Documents require review, product needs to be built, sales need to be made, etc.
          Impact: This is what you did about the problem. This is your power verb, more on this later.
          Result: This is the part most people miss on their resumes.
               This is why your last company loved you!
               Try to make it a number of some kind, dollar figures are the best.
     Remember, companies don't hire you out of the goodness of their hearts, they pay you $100,000 a year with the hope that you will earn them significantly more than that. So if you can show in your impact statements where you have saved them $200,000, made sales of $500,000, introduced product that sells for $1,000,000 a year, you are worth the salary. 

     Here's an example from my resume: 

·      Invented, optimized and patented an algorithm that removed inaccuracies caused by fiber-optic kinking, eliminating 90% of clinical failures.
     Sometimes you can't use dollar figures or numbers; still try to indicate your worth somehow. Let's see what we can do with the above statement.
          Reviewed and approved process validation protocols, maintaining a consistent 2-day turnaround, while adding FDA perspective.
     See how much better that looks.
     What if you don't know the numbers? Just guess. As long as you are in the right ballpark and you can show how you arrived at your figures during the interview, you'll be fine. Remember, no-one else can prove your figures wrong.

8.  Start each impact statement with a power word.
     When people read a resume quickly, they start at the top and scan down the left column.
     So make it stand out by throwing in power verbs at the start of each sentence.
          Designed, Created, Trained, Managed, Invented.
     Mix the power words up by using a thesaurus. Nobody want to scan a resume that says, 'Designed, Designed, Designed, Designed...'
     Indent the second line of a two line sentence to ensure that words like and, but or with don't line up with these power verbs.

9.  Limit your impact statements to the things you're most proud of in your job.
     Don't try to show off everything you did at your job. Let's face it, most of what you do at work is boring.
     My resume represents about the top 5% of my efforts.
     If you highlight the things you did that you were most proud of, three things happen:
          a. It's easy to come up with powerful impact statements.
          b. When you talk about them in the interview, you become animated.
          c. You don't bore your reader with the mundane details of your last job.

10. Limit your impact statements. 
     to three per job if you have more than three jobs, five for your most recent job.
     to five per job if you have less than three jobs.

     A good impact statement may take an hour to wordsmith until you have it down. Do two or three a day until the whole resume is ready.

Stay tuned for posts about posting resumes, phone interviews, real interviews, networking and negotiating.
And if you want to see my resume for an example of how it all comes together, click below:


  1. I followed your advice step by step and I got the job. I have learned so much throughout the process and I feel like not only have I gained the tools to be successful but also so much confidence in myself. I recommended your blog to everyone that I know. Thank you very much for all the help.

    1. You're very welcome, Muffin. I'm so glad when people get good use out of this advice. And congratulations!