A good resume talks about your work history. A great resume sells your skills.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve just begun the hunt for your first job or if you’re a seasoned vet with a long list of accomplishments behind you, you will always need a polished resume. And while it’s good practice to brush it up every six months or so, the reality is that very few of us do it until it’s crunch time. It’s time to break the bad habit and keep that great resume at the ready–in this job market, you can’t afford not to.
What makes a great resume?
The average resume gets less than ten seconds of attention before it’s moved to the pile that determines your eventual fate, and that’s if it even makes it past the dreaded applicant tracking system (ATS) scanner. You want to make sure yours stands out, and that it paints the clearest picture possible when it comes to showcasing your skills. It should be clear and concise, and be flexible enough that you can tailor it to the exact position you’re applying for. One page is ideal, and unless you’ve got an experience list that would make Elon blush, it should never be over two pages.
Your resume should include:
- Your contact information
- A summary of your work or statement of the type of work you are looking for
- Work experience
- Other achievements and certifications, as appropriate
Some of these sections are fairly straightforward, so we’ll pass over them. The two areas most people struggle with are the summary statement and the work experience, so we’ll focus on those.
Summary statements for resumes
This is where you get the chance to not only summarize the work you have done up to this point in your careers, but also to speak your piece about why that work history makes you a perfect fit for the position. Use impressive stats; talk about how much your teams love working with you; reference something about their product.
A trick I like to use is to pretend a friend is asking me to write this for them instead of for myself. If a friend came to me and said “how would you summarize these things to make me sound like a total badass?” I could talk them up, no problem. It takes away some of the pressure and awkwardness we all inherently feel when trying to sell our own skills.
I have five years of experience as a front-end software engineer and have worked on a variety of projects in the retail and financial industries. I would like to bring these skills to Acme Inc., where I believe my track record as a UX-focused professional can contribute positively to reach its goals in serving customers the best site experience possible.
Does this say the things I need to say? Yeah. Sort of. Not very well, though. Sure, you know I’m a front-end developer, and I have some UX experience. I also know Acme Inc. creates website experiences for their customers, so at least I’m paying attention to what the company does. But there’s nothing that stands out. I could copy and paste the “Acme Inc.” bit with virtually any other company and the shoe still fits.
In my five years as a front-end software engineer, I have worked with multiple teams in the retail and financial industries to help create rich, engaging user experiences that helped increase the length of site interaction from customers by up to 23%. I am sure that my past work will lend itself well to joining Acme Inc.’s new AI division, where I look forward to increasing the engagement in immersive experiences, boosting the clients’ bottom line.
Does this say the same thing? More or less, yes, but it’s also more descriptive and gives the reader a better idea of what I have been working on, why my work is valuable, and where I can add this value to Acme Inc.
Work history for resumes
Similar to the summary statement, you really want to talk yourself up here. Get as descriptive as possible, feature your libraries, and make yourself shine.
No: Managed and mentored junior developers
Yes: Managed a team of three junior developers through the full lifecycle of an Alpha release in the iOS and Android marketplaces
No: Applied best practices to achieve a high level of accessibility across the app
Yes: Established and formalized company best practices to ensure all past and future work adheres to WCAG 2.0 AAA standards
Words can be powerful, and here you have the opportunity to let them do all the heavy lifting. Use as many “strong” action verbs as possible to boost your badassery. You didn’t “lead” a project, you “orchestrated” it. You had a good idea and put it into action? Sounds more like you introduced and developed it to me. You get the idea.
On the topic of language
You can find lists all over the place that have the most-used ATS words, but your best bet is to match things to the job description itself. This can also include changing up titles to better match what they are looking for. Be careful here, though–your description and work should still reflect something appropriate and aligned with the title. For example, if the title for your first job was “Entry-level Engineer” and this next company is looking for someone who “worked as a junior developer for at least three years,” then by all means change the title on your resume to “Junior Developer”.
Language is not grammar, but they’re both important
The last thing to stress here is how important it is to make sure your grammar and spelling are on point. Almost every word processing program these days has built-in tools to ensure you’re following basic guidelines and getting the right to/too/two in there. If you want to go the extra mile, plug that bad boy into Grammarly and get extra assurance that you’re communicating clearly and sounding professional. Nothing is a bigger turn-off to a potential employer than making it look like you couldn’t be bothered to spell check before clicking send.
Now that you’ve got some tips and tools, it’s time to revamp your resume and get ready for the incoming flood of jobs. And if you’re ready for some professional feedback on your work history and want to dive into the world of freelance, check out Gun.io and let us help you land the perfect gig.