I enjoy working on my resume about as much as I enjoyed eating vegetables as a kid. My parents had a pretty strict “you’re not excused till you eat it” policy, so I would stay at the table long after everyone else was done and stare hatefully at my salad until I finally gave in and ate it. Working on my resume feels oddly similar. Though I whine slightly less than I did as an 8-year-old, I’m pretty good at distracting myself with almost anything until I can’t avoid resume updates any longer.
The challenge of writing about myself is hard enough as it is. Add the pressure of trying to stand out from the bajillion other people applying for this job and… nope, going outside to play.
For those of us who’d rather be doing ANYTHING else, I have bad news: your resume is important. It’s a powerful tool for selling yourself. It’s often the only piece of information a company has about you. And you never know when someone at your dream company will say, “Just shoot me your resume.”
I recently asked Nicole Ray, a recruiting manager at a tech company in Austin, Texas, for resume advice. Nicole evaluates resumes for a living, and I figured if we’re going to spend time on this godforsaken task, we might as well get professional advice.
Here are Nicole’s top tips for writing an effective resume.
Keep it simple
When you apply for a job, you have no idea who will end up reading your resume. They may not be on the hiring team for the job or even work in that field. Heck, they could be an intern. Use simple language to make your skills and experience crystal clear. You want the person reading your resume to be able to understand what you can do, regardless of their education and background.
Keep your resume visually simple as well. One of Nicole’s resume pet peeves is when someone fills every single space on a page with words. White space is your friend.
Make it short
The average length of time someone looks at your resume is six seconds (verified by Nicole). There are mixed opinions on resume length, but I personally don’t like my odds with a resume longer than a page if I only have six seconds to make an impression.
Think of your resume as the “greatest hits” of your career, not every single detail. No one needs to know that you worked at Petco in high school if you’re applying for a writing job.
Tailor your resume to the job
Companies often use algorithms to narrow the applicant pool before passing resumes on to humans for review. Using the keywords in the job description will help you avoid being eliminated before a human even knows about you. Different industries may want different types of resumes, so be sure to research resume examples for the field you are interested in.
Nicole says, “Pay attention to detail. I’ve seen people address things to the wrong company because they didn’t proofread.” Let’s not be those people.
Focus on your results
Resumes are often filled with “activities” — the stuff you did at a job. But recruiters are often more impressed by results, i.e., the effect your activities had. For example, don’t just say that you led a team to improve billing processes within your company; tell them the effort saved the company $25,000 in its first year.
Talk like a real person
Aside from keeping it short, the best way to prevent TLDR (too long didn’t read) is to avoid jargon and write in a way that is similar to how you would speak. For me, this means replacing technical terms with simpler ones and using action verbs. For example, I can say, “I am a contributor to thought leadership content around women’s professional development on a digital platform,” or I can say, “I write about working women for a blog I started with friends.” Which one made you want to read more?
Cover letters are a great place to show your personality and connect with the reader. Nicole says, “If people submit cover letters, I always read them. I like when people tell me about themselves and grab my attention, even if it’s with a funny story.”
Use free tools
You’re not alone in this. There are lots of resources to help you on your resume journey. Sites like Canva and Enhancv offer free resume templates, and there are so many articles about every imaginable aspect of resumes. There also are lots of free or inexpensive resume workshops. I recently attended a free resume writing class at General Assembly and found it very helpful.
Get a second read
The last step before you send your resume out is to get someone to read it for you — ideally someone with experience reviewing resumes or hiring. If you don’t know an experienced resume reviewer, ask a friend to look at it for 10 seconds and tell you what they got out of it. Whenever I write something, I try to remember that a potentially tired and cranky person will read it. Making that person’s job easier gives them one less reason to throw you into the “no” pile.