Writing Tips to Spice Up Your Resume
K P. White, M.D., Ph.D.
In my life I have read a lot of resumes… as an editor, as an employer and CEO of a company, and as a University professor. I still have the resumes of people I have hired. I remember what impressed me about their resumes and, similarly, why other resumes failed to catch my eye.
The first thing that stands out in my mind about the most successful resumes I have seen… is that they stood out. They were different from the rest. Something about them made me take a second look. Then, when I did look more closely, I discovered that these stand-out resumes were well-organized, clear, concise but not too humble and brief, and contained all the information I needed to know.
Let me start then in reverse order. What does an employer or a school or program admission officer need to know about you? Obviously, it depends what type of position you are applying for. Nonetheless, there are a few things that are essential:
Your name, address, phone and fax numbers and email address should be at the center top of the first page in large, bold letters. I remember once reading a resume on which all of that information was left out. How the heck could I have contacted that person if I had been interested in them? Make that information immediately accessible to the reader. Don’t make them look for any of it.
Next you should put your birth date, birthplace, citizenship and languages spoken. In most circumstances, employers and admissions officers want to know if you are 21 or 61 years old. They want to make sure that you can work or go to school in their country. And they want to know that you can speak their language. All of this information they usually want to know right up front. Obviously, there may be circumstances where you do not want to put this information front and center. If you are 73 years old, you may find it difficult getting into Medical School. If you are young, however, note that relative youth often is an advantage, especially for positions requiring a resume. A young person with an impressive resume is more impressive than an older person with a similar resume. Doesn’t that make sense?
Next, in one clear sentence, explain your Career Objectives. This lets readers know why they are looking at your resume. Admittedly, almost every resume should be accompanied by an introductory letter explaining why you are submitting the resume; but sometimes the letter and resume become separated. Explaining your career objectives at the top of your resume will make it stand out from the rest, because most people just do not think to do this.
Then list your Education and Degrees, starting with the most recent degree or program first and going backwards in time. For example, list your Masters in English Literature from Quakadoo University, 1999 before your Bachelors of Arts from Cucamunga College, 1996. This essential information should be in bold font. But don’t just list your degrees; in regular font, also mention any awards or distinctions you received while in each program. You can follow this with sections on Additional Credentials and on Awards, if you have them and if they are pertinent.
The same basic rules apply when you list your Past Employment. But instead of just mentioning dates of employment and awards you received at any given company, also briefly summarize what your responsibilities were with each position. One client whose resume I edited had worked at the same company for 37 years. Imagine how brief her work history appeared to be: one line, one employer, 1967-2004. I suggested to her that she break down those37 years into all the various positions she had held over those 37 years, and then briefly summarize her responsibilities in each position. This one change added five extremely impressive pages to her resume.
After listing your past employment, and somewhat dependent upon what you are using your resume for (for example, to find work, get into school or be hired to run drum-making workshops across the state) you then should list your Skills, Computer Programs you know, Professional Memberships you have and/or whatever else is pertinent. End the resume with a brief description of your Hobbies and Interests.
So now… how else can you make your resume stand out? A few hints:
Now, I cannot promise everyone this type of success, and there may be some settings where a portfolio is not truly appropriate. Nonetheless, I truly believe that the extra effort and expense of a portfolio enhances most employment and many educational pursuits. Consider it.
Hey! And if you get to be the President of Harvard University one day because of this, you can add THAT to your resume!!!