Craft a resume that highlights your experience in as clear and compelling a manner as possible
At Aspen Leadership Group, we’re committed to ensuring that our clients are made fully aware of our candidates’ extraordinary talents. As a candidate, crafting a good resume makes it easier for a client to readily recognize your strengths and fit for a role. The following guidelines will help you create a strong resume that puts your skills and experience front and center.
Be empathetic. Put yourself in the role of the individual—be it a hiring authority, a member of a selection panel, or an HR representative—who will be reading your resume. Ask yourself, “Will the recipient be able to gain a sense of who I am and what I have to offer the first time they read my resume—when my resume may be one of dozens seen that day?” “Are there memorable aspects to my resume that will remain with the recipient when he or she moves on to the next resume?” “What does my resume, the formatting, the visual impact, the choice of active and passive language say about me?”
Less is more. The ability to make a case succinctly in a meaningful way—being aware of what resonates with an audience, cutting through the mundane, and focusing on compelling themes—is a key component of the advancement profession; your resume is an indication of your capacity to be both compelling and succinct. Many successful individuals with decades of experience have been able to craft excellent one-page resumes. Very few careers demand a resume of more than two pages. Within a specific position heading, two or three bullets are all that most hiring authorities can focus on in one sitting. Under professional experience, consider one statement that summarizes your experience and responsibilities and two to three supporting statements containing measurable or tangible results. Short direct sentences are more powerful than long complex sentences. No mention of collaboration or one’s team sends a message that may be in conflict with your intent.
See the big picture. When a hiring authority receives a resume, the first thing they see is a graphic—a picture—not words and sentences but a series of black and white spaces. Their first reaction to your resume can shape the recipient’s view of your experience for better or worse. Your resume should be attractive. There should be an ample amount of white space and an easy to read font, no smaller than 11 points. Generic fonts like Times New Roman should be avoided. Indentation, capitalization, and use of bold text should be considered as graphic elements that add interest to your document and keep the recipient engaged. If you use a 24 point font for your name, and an 11 point font for your experience, consider the subtle statement this makes about your priorities. Avoid the unexpected or overly dramatic. It is best to use a heading that includes your name and contact information, follow this with a statement or goal if you choose, then list professional experience, education, and professional affiliations.
Be consistent. Use consistent formatting and language throughout your resume particularly when presenting your professional experience. This includes titles, employment dates, and the presentation of responsibilities and accomplishments. If in one listing you begin with “Led a team of eight…” try to do the same throughout.
If you have held multiple positions at one institution—particularly if you have taken on more responsibility during your tenure—list these as sub-headings under one clearly articulated institutional heading. This avoids the pitfall of having your positions of successive authority appear to be short tenures at multiple institutions.
Avoid hyperlinks and complex graphics. While it is true that most resumes are received electronically and the first review may take place online, when a resume is distributed to a search committee, the materials are often printed—and not on a high-quality printer. Hyperlinks are lost in the process and graphics, including one’s portrait, that may stand out online may be poorly reproduced or translated from color to black and white. Consider how your resume will appear printed as well as online.
Tell a story. The most successful resumes tell a story—they may even contain an element of suspense. Your experience should build to a conclusion—in the mind of the reader—that the opportunity for which you are applying is a perfect and logical next step for you. Anything that you can do to show that each position built upon the prior position and that you learned valuable skills along the way will make this new opportunity make greater sense. Careers follow different, and often unexpected, trajectories, but a skilled communicator can show unity in disparate experiences—for example, illustrating how they enhanced your skill set or offered you the opportunity to provide support to a cause you believe in. Consider the breadth of your career and look for unifying themes—make sure they come through clearly.
Know your audience. Creating a resume with which you are satisfied can be a time-consuming endeavor, but, unfortunately, one size does not fit all. An esteemed university and a start-up reliant on crowd funding are simply going to have different expectations of how candidates present themselves. Pay close attention to the language used in the position prospectus and on the institution’s website for insight into the type of language and presentation skills sought, and tailor your resume accordingly. Be responsive: without rewriting your resume for every position, you should maintain the flexibility to provide examples from your professional life that are responsive to the position description.
Nobody’s perfect. Somebody probably is perfect but it is unlikely to be you and it is certainly not me. Proofread your resume multiple times and then ask at least two friends or colleagues to do the same. Make a “hit list” of common errors—spacing, typographical errors, tenses, inconsistent use of degrees and titles, capitalization, etc. The quickest way for one’s resume to end up in the rejected pile is for the hiring authority to find a typographical error.
Seek professional help. At a certain point in one’s career, it may be necessary to seek out the services of a professional resume writer. This may be because your experience is so vast and the positions you seek are so advanced or it may be that you simply are not confident with your presentation abilities. Regardless, there are numerous services available if needed. Seek them out and choose the service that is best suited to your needs.