When I was in business school, I spent a ridiculous amount of time working on my resume. In search of perfection, I wrestled with trivial resume questions, like “should I include an objective statement?," or “how much white space should I have on the page?” I even worried about which words should be in bold font and which should be italicized.
I’ve now participated in corporate recruiting for six years, and I have a much better idea of which things matter on a resume and which things don’t (hint: objective statements are a waste of time). Basically, a great resume has four components: Readability, Relevance, Responsibility and Results.
Readability: If your resume is difficult to follow or has spelling or grammatical errors, it is likely to get trashed without any further consideration. Here are the basic fundamentals to make sure your resume passes the readability test:
It is placed in a familiar format that is easy to follow. Don’t try to differentiate yourself with a fancy format. It will just confuse people. Instead, Google search “MBA resume templates,” and you will find a good standard template.
It is an appropriate length. Keep it to one page unless you have seven to ten years of post-college work experience. Be concise.
It is free from spelling mistakes and typos.
It is ordered chronologically. Potential employers want to see the timing of how you went from one experience to the next.
It uses action statements: Strong resumes use particular verbiage. Each bullet point starts with an action statement like “led,” or “managed,” or “contributed to,” or “developed.”
It leaves out superfluous words: Your writing should look like it was dictated by a robot. Only the most important words should be included—even if it perhaps doesn’t sound great in your mind. “I led a team of 25 people to program a video game and then we sold it to local gaming companies,” should read like this: “Led team of 25 professionals to program video game and sold to local gaming companies.”
Relevance: Assuming your resume meets the readability requirement, recruiters will quickly scan it to see if your experience is a fit for the job. They do this primarily by looking at the companies you have worked for and your function within each company. If your experience is in the same industry or function as the job you are currently applying to, then you are good to go.
Unfortunately, many do not have the luxury of having their experience perfectly match the job description. In this circumstance, you will need to do some translation work by showing how your experience demonstrates your ability to succeed in the job. For example, suppose you are applying for an entry-level position as a financial analyst, but all your experience has been in sales. The job description states that you need to demonstrate proficient financial analytical skills, but you don’t feel like you have the background to demonstrate it.
This is where your creativity comes into play. Perhaps you led projects in school that required you to analyze budgets or lead a project that was data-heavy. Or maybe your sales job required you to analyze the size and scope of your customer base. Find a way to make it relevant!
Responsibility: Recruiters like to get a feel for the scope of work that you did. Was the budget you managed $50,000 or $50,000,000? Do you currently manage a team of people, or are you an individual contributor? Are you in charge of the creative design of the print advertisement, or are you an order taker?
These questions can be quickly answered through a responsibility statement. This is a simple, one-sentence statement included with each job that you’ve had that describes exactly what you did. It should be placed directly below your job title.
Example: "Managed all aspects of marketing for $5MM cleaning products business, including pricing, advertising, consumer promotions and product innovation."
This is not a “show off” statement. Rather, it is meant to give the recruiter understanding. Provide just the facts of what you have done in the responsibility statement, and then you can show off later.
Results: The recruiter has now scanned your resume and understands that you can write coherently, have relevant experience, and have had decent responsibilities in your job. This is where the recruiter says to himself or herself, “so what?”
That’s where results come in. Showing results takes a resume from average to excellent. Results show the recruiter that you have achieved success at your current and prior employers, and thus are likely to achieve it in the future. Without showing results on your resume, it will be difficult for a recruiter to give your resume the approval stamp—even if you have all the other elements.
Good results statements start with strong verbs and end in specific, quantifiable results. Many times the magic is in the wording. You are not being deceptive here—you are telling the truth well. This is not the time for modesty; it’s the time for you to brag about your talents. And don’t worry about not having meaty experience. Even if you are coming out of college and have only worked part time jobs, there is always a way to demonstrate that you are results driven. The key to results statements is that they are specific and quantifiable. Anyone can put in a resume that they are a leader or a self-starter, but not so many can give specific examples of those attributes.
Let’s suppose you managed a bowling alley for a year, part time. What happened during that year? Did you do anything that is quantifiable in any sort of way? Chances are that if you think about it enough, you can find a way to quantify some results that you achieved. Here are some examples:
Grew sales by 20% by executing “buy one, get one” Tuesday evenings to drive incremental customer visits (translation: nobody was coming in on Tuesdays, so I started giving people better deals)
Cut costs by 18% over 6 months by revising employee schedules and optimizing supplier mix (translation: I told employees that they couldn’t work overtime anymore and I told one of our food suppliers to give us a better deal or we’d find someone else)
Led analysis of food court menu to introduce new items and drive food sales growth of 8% (translation: who in the world doesn’t offer pizza at a bowling alley? Well, we didn’t, and I thought we should. It worked pretty good when we started offering it)
Reduced employee turnover by 3 people year (25%) via implanting employee training programs and flexible work schedule (translation: people hated the old manager, and thought I was pretty reasonable, so more of them stuck around)
Whether you are an investment banker or waiter or custodian, there is always a way to quantify what you’ve done, and demonstrate that you are someone who can get results.
How about your resume? Does it have all four Rs?