Mentoring 101: The Art and Ultimate Guide to Resume Writing

Change the Way You Think About Your Resume

The number one obstacle that job seekers think they have is their resume. So I’m here to let you know it’s not, but will show you how to make sure it doesn’t become one. The following is my collective knowledge of resume writing. All of which can be very personal and subjective; agree or disagree, this is what I’ve found that makes a difference.

First and foremost, if you haven’t gotten guidance on your resume, you are going to have to rethink how you build it, present it, and what it contains. I’ve done quite a few resume makeovers, I’ve presented to networking groups, and as late as this past Thursday still hear, “Oh my, I better redo my resume!” Your resume shouldn’t necessarily be considered your way into the job hunt race. Your network will get your there faster. Your resume will be the golden ticket or baton that could get your through the first line of defense, and it will definitely make it easier for folks to pitch your experience when recommending you to HR and Hiring Managers.

Keep in mind that the best way to leapfrog into your next role is to:

  1. Continuously build your network through business and social networks, conferences, webinars, and LinkedIn
  2. Let your existing professional and social network know you’re looking
  3. Display your experience by making and sharing videos, writing articles, and sharing interesting articles
  4. Upskill, reskill, and always be learning
  5. Give back in a genuine and meaningful way, it never hurts, and you never know who you’ll meet at that fundraiser

That’s why the first three articles I wrote in the mentoring series are: The Connector’s AdvantageGiving, and Learning (but read those later).

Standing Out in a Field of Hundreds

A lot of what I write comes from decades of working in various industries, independent consulting, and a network of incredibly generous people willing to help me build my resume to showcase my accomplishments (<– key point, accomplishments, write it down). Content is still king in resume writing. I’ll cover style as well, but the content is the hardest, so I’ll overextend and write a lot about it here.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read something like this:

  • Developed and administered a 3-year rotational Internal Audit Plan
  • Established direction and focus of major audits

So you’re asking, what’s wrong with that? Here’s what wrong: it doesn’t tell me what you did that was measurable, quantifiable, nor made you stand out. It’s actually not from a resume, I took it straight out of a job description just I looked up. Below I highlight the letters that I added to show you how boring it is:

  • Developed and administered a 3-year rotational Internal Audit Plan
  • Established direction and focus of major audits

If an entry in your resume reads like a job description, then consider deleting those lines OR rewrite them. Here’s an example of the same two lines showing three things – What was Accomplished, What the Benefit was, What my role was:

  • Created a 3-year rotational Internal Audit Plan with 18 students to roll out 12 digital projects yielding a $2M annual sales lift
  • Collaborated with internal staff and 12 vendors to establish major audit control optimizations, reducing delivery times by 20%, and saving $250k each year

So, whom would you hire?

I repeat, “What was Accomplished, What the Benefit was, What my role was” you can restructure each in any order you want but must have each! It’s all about your accomplishment, results, what did you bring to the table that makes you stand out. Everything else on your resume is gravy. Focus on rewriting every single line with a measurable goal or with hard and/or soft skills. More on this in the “function” section below.

Different Styles for Different Uses

There’s a difference between a complete curriculum vita digest of your career/life and a resume. Even more importantly, there isn’t a formula for every type of rule, but here are strong guidelines that you should follow.

Resume format depends on your experience and the targeted recipient, but even more importantly, the type of role.

Here’s a summary for different levels and roles:

All Except: Academic, Creative and Early Career

  • List your degrees, certifications, awards, technologies, and affiliations at the bottom of your resume
  • If these are the most important thing you’ve done, then you have to start volunteering today to get tangible experience

Senior Executive

  • Focus on your career trajectory, showcase the size of budgets, the size of teams, company benefits your drove
  • Must include soft skills like mentoring or diversity/inclusion leadership

Mid-Career Professional

  • Showcase willingness to learn, mentor, and drive results
  • Make sure that entries highlight scope and scale for teams, budgets, etc

Consultant

  • List every damned thing possible, every system, every tool, every acronym, and go for a full curriculum vitae format
  • At one point in my non-stop consulting career, I had an eight-page CV, recruiters ate it up like it was candy

Academic

  • Create the following sections and list your 1) publications first, then 2) courses you’ve taught, 3) followed by experience, then the rest of the supporting sections like education, volunteering, etc

Creative and Designers

  • Create sections (in this order) 1) design concept/theory, 2) your major projects, 3) awards, then 4) experience and supporting sections like education, volunteering, etc

Early to No Experience

Applying during a pandemic? Try the short form resume!

A lot of the resumes I’ve worked are standard mid to senior-level candidates with traditional summaries, descriptions of the company, blurb before the bullets, etc. In this highly competitive landscape, if your one of 653 applicants and don’t have an in, nor connection that can recommend you, then you have to go buck wild and trim all the fat.

As an example, I recently tore down my executive four-page resume and brought it down to two pages. It was painful, but I now have two formats and vetted the short-form by someone who agreed that for specific roles, a short-form resume that highlights just your accomplishments is the way to go.

Long and Short Form Resume

Why is that? Well, if previously recruiters and hiring managers had 4-6 seconds to scan down a resume, they now have 1-3 seconds to get through the piles that are coming through their desks. And in their mind, they’re thinking “ain’t nobody got time for that” when they see large blocks of text, so they pass on reviewing your credentials.

Recruiters and hiring managers want to see the “show me the money” accomplishments that make you stand out, anything else is again, just gravy.

If you’re really stuck then hop on over to Resume Worded, their system and process will help you optimize your resume and LinkedIn profile to be lean and mean, for free. Used it myself for my short-form and backported changes to my long-form for accomplishment recommendations. Don’t forget you can always schedule free time with me to help you as well, just hop on over to my Cafécito with Mel link and book some time.

Brass Tax on What to Focus On

I start any of my resume makeover pitches by highlighting the two key areas to focus on: form and function. Basically, “how appealing does your resume look?” and “how relevant is the content?”.

So let’s break it down, here are the top formatting and content landmines that I look for, go ahead and score how many you feel you hit.

Form – If you think it doesn’t matter, think again.

After about ten years of working with media agencies, the concept of clean, spacious, and balanced design was drilled into me. This is why I cringe when I see some resumes, then I try to tackle the content issues.

  • Don’t cram more in by thinning out margins, at the very least your overall margins should not be less than .6 inches, if you have room, go up to 1 inch
  • White space balance is critical before and after headings, job descriptions, even if it means removing content. What do I say about “great content”?  Just “Let it go” (Frozen). Style and branding will trump content in many cases
  • Try to keep the resume to no more than two pages for early career and no more than four pages for executive/senior-level positions
  • Font size should NEVER be less than 11 points, trying to fit War and Peace on a two-pager isn’t going to win you points
  • Make sure to have consistent font and font sizes, font selection is a personal branding preference
  • It may benefit you to use more modern commonly used fonts like Calibri, Tahoma, Times Roman
  • Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) landmines that will make HR folks drop your resume like a hot potato
  • Remove heavy shading and formatting, ATS’ may choke when ingesting to parse your resume
  • ATS’ may choke on the overly creative use of tables
  • Don’t put your name, address nor title in the header of the document, add it to the top of the first page
  • Add your name and page number in the footer to pages all after your first page, choose the “Different First Page” when editing the header or footer
  • Bullet points are shortened incomplete sentences, don’t include a period at the end of the entry, the period is already added by the bullet point
  • If one bullet entry has two whole sentences, then you either need to rewrite to shorten it or make it two bullet points with no periods
  • The “accomplishment” you list should not be more than two lines of content
  • Avoid widows/orphans: one or two words that flow over a sentence or into the next page, consider rewriting the job “accomplishment” as this is wasted and valuable space

Function – This is the meat and potatoes of landing your next gig.

As for content, this is the most painful part for most. Some attribute it to the Marie Kondo style of cleaning out, but I learned this method 30 years ago (read my How to Organize Anything article). Basically, you have to take an inventory of your career, each job, and each job description and make some hard choices, trim down the hyperbole, the clichés, and drill down to the accomplishments and wins with maybe one or two other supporting descriptions.

I’ll start off by saying this, read each of the job entries that you have out loud while asking yourself, “Would this description be something that I would read in a job description posted for hire?” If the answer is even close to yes, then delete the line, YES, DELETE IT. But Mel, “it’s an awesome four-line description of how I managed the international efforts for a multidisciplinary tech company,” yawn! Here’s the bread and butter to get anyone engaged with your resume, tell me what you have accomplished in your role. Remember: “What was Accomplished, What the Benefit was, What my role was.” This is paramount, what problems have you solved that the hiring manager needs to fix for their company. Did you save time, save money, roll out a system in less time, grow a team, cut budgets? While not all job description entries need to have a measurable number or win, they help tremendously. So re-read the description, can you change it to have a measurable, quantifiable accomplishment? No, then yes, drop it like it’s hot.

Main Resume Heading

  • I’m sure you’re proud of your Masters and certifications but consider removing them from your presentation of your name, especially, if it’s not related to the role you want
  • Use certification acronyms in title sparingly, having too many may make you like an academic which opens doubts about how much experience you have, ex: MBA CISSP CISA CEH CRISC CSM ITIL, doesn’t mean you have the experience, you may want to consider removing some or all, just include them in the education section
  • Remove the use of “I” <– sparingly (the letter i) (I do this, I do that), It’s not necessarily about you, it’s about what you have accomplished and can do for the company
  • We are mostly virtual now, remove the street address, just include town and state, if need be remove those too
  • Remove the labels they are assumed: “Email:”, “Phone:”, etc.
  • Did you include your LinkedIn page link?
  • What’s your ideal title or role? Put it topmost after your Name and contact info, is your titled role what you are aspiring to do or can do? Go for aspiring, adding the role you want will help guide and lead the reader to understand how your experience fits with the role you’re applying for
  • Don’t change your title to match the job you’re applying for, be creative about what you want to do, only change your title if the hiring manager has that role
  • ROLE AT THE TOP IS THE ONLY THING I CHANGE ON MY RESUME, more on that later
  • Include a summary to give folks direction on the type of role you want, job history and titles can be very misleading
  • Drop the clichés, Trusted Partner, Thought Leader, Business Originated
  • Make your description read like the words you would you to describe what you are passionate about like you were explaining it to someone in an elevator, your grandparents or the CEO of a company
  • If you have space, you can include your top win or accomplishment but don’t pepper your summary with 16 awesome things you did

What are your core competencies?

  • Include a three-column list of your hard and soft skills that are directly related to the role you’re looking for, not the job you’re applying for, samples later on
  • Competencies should be listed in columns of three and nor more than 4-5 rows

Experience section

  • Write less, ’nuff said
  • For each job, include how you got the job: “Hired by CIO, who I reported into at XYZ Inc” or “Promoted to lead enterprise efforts after successfully landing the companies largest client.”
  • For technical roles, sprinkle in some of the technology but don’t make it the Encyclopedia Britannica of tech acronyms and tech stacks
  • Include a brief line under the job/title for each company to let the ready know what the company does
  • I said “brief,” no more than one line, include info that will show the scale and scope of the company without trying to sell stock in it
  • Review each job entry and remove lines that you would find in a standard job description for that role
  • Then focus on what you have accomplished not what you have done, KPIs, saved money/time, improved processes by what factor
  • Did you manage budgets, teams, how big, etc.?
  • Include a single entry in each job with technologies used so that HR Applicant Tracking Systems can find you in a search
  • Don’t go back further than 10-15 years
  • Shorten older jobs entries to just company, title, and location for any jobs going back beyond 10-15 years, these are less important and less relevant and will help you avoid unconscious age discrimination

Showing You’re Human and Not a Robot

  • Do you volunteer, have certifications, tell me about the human aspect of you
  • List education, patents, certifications, etc. at the bottom, unless you are early in your career
  • No need to include multiple entries for the same certification, combine then and use multiple dates
  • “References upon request.” Seriously?! No need for this

Education Section

  • Put this last always! Unless this is the most and only important thing you’ve ever done
  • If you don’t have a degree at all, don’t include High School, just remove the section and focus on work experience
  • If you do have a degree remove the dates you graduated, it will eliminate unconscious age discrimination if you’re too young or too old

Final Thoughts

I’ve read and heard from a ton of recruiters and career coaches that you have to tailor your resume to the job you’re applying for. Quite frankly, I think that’s bullshit. Yes, I want the job, yes I did those things they are asking for, but I want to highlight the most impactful accomplishments, not just some of what that specific role is asking for. The only time I’ll ever consider changing my resume is if, and only if, there is a very specialized tech stack or accomplishment that didn’t fit in there originally. This is an edge case, I’ve only ever had to do that once.

So again, the only thing I change on my resume is the lead-in role or title at the top. I never customize my resume for each job I’m submitting to. It’s a competitive world, so I’ll leave it up to you to manage 300 versions of the resumes edits, but that’s not how I plan on spending my Sunday nights. For me, I’d rather be writing articles like this one.

So stay strong, build and leverage your network, showcase your experience through articles, and build your brand. Hit the ground running every day to learn more about the target companies, the hiring managers, anything that will give you a leg up on landing your next gig.

Make sure to share your thoughts, updates, and any suggestions I may have missed. Reach out for free career advice, technical questions, or mentoring by scheduling some time to have a Cafécito with Mel!