First of all, a disclaimer: I am not an HR professional, nor do I claim to know the right formula for the perfect resume. In fact, I don’t believe such a thing exists – the perfect resume, that is. HR professionals most certainly exist.
I’m just a professional, who has crafted, re-crafted and distributed resumes to great personal success and I hope this ‘real talk’ version of that process will help a few others out who are looking for a new or better opportunity while refreshing myself with the process too.
Best resume writing tips for 2023
This is what you came for. If you find it useful, I hope you’ll read on and get the full context of important considerations as you review what goes into that idea of ‘perfect resume.’
Contact and personal info:
- Use a professional email address – if you don’t have one, get one from Gmail.
- Don’t include personal info like age, marital status, home address etc.
- Include websites and social media channels but make sure they’re properties you’d be proud to present and discuss with your potential interviewers.
Resume length and content:
- Keep it between one to three pages, never more – there is a lot of debate on this one, but 1-3 is the most consistent thought on every resource I considered.
- Choose the right layout of experience, education and skills based on where you are in your career – if you have less experience, consider a functional resume. If you have a significant body of work, lead with your experience in reverse chronological order.
- Avoid anecdotal copy, focus on what matters to the hiring manager.
- Proofread, double proof-read, and then triple proofread.
- Create each line to draw the reader further into your resume and use the first third to sell yourself at a glance – if the hiring manager isn’t captured by your resume by then, there’s less chance they will consider reading further.
- Consider a snappy summary or elevator pitch at the top.
- Don’t go beyond the past 10 or 15 years’ experience
- List your most relevant, high-impact experience but be prepared to talk about everything in-between.
- Be specific – give hard examples, outcomes and results rather than narrative.
- I did [A] to achieve [B] which resulted in [C]
- Keep it simple, avoid million-dollar words.
- Have and share portfolio samples and case studies – highlight your promotions and achievements in the orgs you’ve worked for
- Take the time to customize the resume to the job you’re applying for
- Don’t explain your job fundamentals for each role and experience you’ve held – recruiters know these functions.
- Name the file of your resume correctly.
Resume design and format:
- Font matters! Stick to what is tested and true, like Verdana, Arial or Helvetica, or it may come out looking funky if ported to other formats
- On that note, make sure your font size is a readable size, I’d recommend 10-12 point min/max
- Use simple sub-headings and white space to make your resume easy to read
- Use a template as a guide to keep the design clean and clear
Advanced resume tactics:
- Make sure your resume is Applicant Tracking System (ATS) friendly (aka for the bots)
- Follow-up personally with the people involved
- Identify recurring words, themes and needs in the job description – this will give you an idea of what the hiring manager considers the priorities for the organization and role
- Compete for the roles that are right for your experience, within a ‘band’ or two and craft your resume to speak to that
- By ‘band’ I mean the progression of experience in an org. Keep in mind, this will be different for every business but a fair guide is something like: assistant, specialist, executive, lead, manager, sr. manager, assistant director, director, vice-president/head of, C-suite (CEO, COO etc.)
- Use power words like:
- Have a website and start a blog. Even if it only has your resume on it, have a website and start a blog (I think Medium is still free).
Tips on how to get and crush that interview
- Do the cover letter – a polarizing item but why not, if it helps? It surely can’t do any harm, just keep it on-point and be brief. Sell the interview to the hiring manager, make them NEED to meet you and be yourself.
- Again, be true, be yourself and be genuine – the adage “fake it ‘till you make it” is a disaster for ALL parties involved. Don’t be something you’re not unless you want to ensure one or both of you are miserable in the long run
- You are selling! You’re selling you as a professional. Be humble but be confident in your product. This is not the time to be shy about how valuable you are as a professional.
- Explaining job gaps comes up in a lot of ‘resume’ advice, but what does it mean. Here’s my piece on that: be honest. At this point every hiring manager and recruited has hear that canned, B.S. explanation. It will be refreshing to hear some honesty. Covid sucked. You lost your job. Some workplaces aren’t the right fit. Sometimes you made the wrong decision and took the wrong opportunity. The important part is that you did and you learned from it. Just don’t smack-talk or trash anyone, thing or company – that is a bad look for everyone. Keep it positive, stay on point and remember your purpose for sharing the ‘why’ in those gaps: What happened, what you did about it, what you learned, how you improved, what contributed to your growth and success.
Key things to remember as you forge ahead
When I was in the early stages of my career, in a conversation with a close friend and elder professional, I was telling him about the anxiety I had when following-up or chasing an opportunity I had applied for. He simply said “You can’t lose something you didn’t have in the first place.” This has gotten me over many mental hurdles that could have prevented me from pursuing what I’ve wanted.
My favourite Wayne Gretzky quote: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” It reinforces the point above. You deserve what you want, don’t be the only thing preventing you from getting it. The worst that can happen is it doesn’t work, but then “you can’t lose something you didn’t have in the first place.
While you ARE unapologetically chasing your dreams, be courteous and don’t pester. Also don’t hound people who aren’t in the hiring stream like the CEO or VP set. Use your brain – these tactics require common sense and grace. They aren’t an “I win” button for getting jobs.
Be energetic and don’t take shortcuts – that’s what a grand majority of your competitors will do. Think about what everyone else in the hiring pool will do, then go way above and beyond that.
If everyone will send a carbon copy, make sure yours is specific and tailored. If everyone will send a one-pager without a cover letter, make sure you get the right details across in the right amount of space and level up with a cover letter. If most applicants won’t have a website, get yourself one.
Every time you add an element, you shrink the pool of talent in your favour – if you’re not willing to put in the work at this stage, that will certainly communicate through your application.
Finally, ask for help and feedback on your resume but bear this in mind: everyone has a different idea of what constitutes the ‘perfect’ resume, cover letter or process. It is a primarily subjective thing, like what is the perfect outfit or meal to serve a guest.
Seek that feedback, but know your audience more importantly, then apply your knowledge, common sense and instincts to what feedback best applies to your situation.
Be grateful and honour that feedback, but no one expects you to take it straight to the bank, especially if you don’t feel it applies or is as relevant to you in your circumstance. Feedback is not a hard rule to follow – it is a guideline and a second check on important things you may have missed, want to consider or might do a little differently.
Most of all, be authentic. Be your best version of your genuine self. Faking this, the process or who and what you are will certainly cause distress, heartache and in many cases critical damage to your path forward.
Go get it, and never stop.