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If you’re about to use your resume — for any purpose — or simply want to have a resume you’re proud of, it’s important you consider the following five things.
1. It should read like a list of accomplishments, not job descriptions
It’s shocking to me how many people’s resumes read like job descriptions. They’re simply lists of technical or functional components of jobs that people have previously held. They talk about all the various tasks that people completed in past roles.
Better resumes include lists of the many accomplishments people had and descriptions of their proudest moments. These lists should be specific. They should tell readers about the change or shift they made in results, a process improvement or innovation that saved a company X amount of dollars, the number of people that they helped get promoted or the percentage by which they exceeded their goals.
What resume readers want to know is not only how likely you are to be successful in the next role or engagement, but how likely you are to be a superstar. If your resume tells us about all the awards you won — and for what — and how you revolutionized or transformed your division or department, now we’re talking.
2. Your resume is your story — tell it well
Strong resumes tell the reader all about the essence of the candidate; not just what they’ve done, but rather, who they are. When we know who someone is at heart, we know what we can count on them for. This is a big deal. Resume readers should get a clear idea of the person they’re reading about. Concepts, ideas and patterns of behavior should emerge throughout the resume.
For example, if you read my resume, several key themes should emerge: I’m obsessed with leadership; I am passionate about developing talent; I care about others; I consistently deliver results; I can be counted on to be a top performer; and I take serious pride in transforming and changing things for the better. This isn’t what I do — it’s who I am. I behave this way in all environments, and if an environment doesn’t value these things, I probably won’t be a good fit. You know exactly what you’re buying when you hire me.
Does your resume do this? Can your reader walk away with five descriptive sentences that predict exactly how you’re likely to consistently behave? If not, I’d recommend pulling away with a blank sheet of paper and making a list about what you exude and effervesce, then go back and see if those concepts literally leap off the resume.
3. It should be highly specific
When you talk about your past accomplishments or achievements, being specific is hugely important. When you talk about delivering results, it’s incredibly helpful to list exactly what kinds of results. When you talk about implementing positive changes on the job, it’s helpful to talk about the specific impact or benefit those changes had. If you talk about having led a committee or project, it’s imperative to describe what that committee did or how that project helped the organization.
The more you can use specific numbers and examples of exactly what your contributions meant, the better. Too often, I’ll read things like “exceeded goals,” and I’ll wonder “by how much?” There’s a difference between being at 101% of the goal and 201% of the goal. Too often, I’ll read “built relationships with clients,” and I’ll wonder “how?” or “what did that look like?” or “So, what did that lead to?” Resumes should not only list the “what,” but the “so what.” Readers should always know not only what happened, but why it mattered.
4. Talk about your personal life
Too often, resumes are one-dimensional. They only list professional details, and that’s it. It’s amazing to me how many times I’ve interviewed somebody who sings in the choir at their church on Sundays, is heavily involved in volunteering for community organizations, sits on a board or two, runs marathons and plays in a soccer league, all outside of work — and none of it is on their resume.
If your resume is the story of you, why wouldn’t you tell people about the whole you? Sharing how busy, proactive, engaged and involved you are outside of work is a tremendous testament to your ability to juggle a lot of balls and handle a lot of moving plates — and employers love to see this. It tells your reader that you have an active spirit, you like to step up and you like to make a difference, but all too many people don’t view this information as relevant. Employers today love to hire whole and complete people, so if you’re doing these kinds of things, get it on your resume.
A great practice to ensure that your resume captures all these things is to update it regularly. If you go into your resume and update it twice a year, you’ll know the specifics of what you’re achieving, and all of your proudest accomplishments and achievements will be fresh in your mind. All too many people tell me that they haven’t updated their resume in years, because they haven’t really needed to, and that’s why they simply can’t remember the specifics of what they were doing back at the time. If you update your resume frequently, whether you need to or not, this won’t happen to you.