I’ve been spending a lot of time lately working on resumés lately, both my own and my girlfriend’s, and I’ve learned a little bit about resume writing since then. I’ve never liked looking for jobs, most notably due to the self-advertisement that is required in the process. I don’t like having to sell myself, and I’ve never really put much effort into writing my resume in the past, so it’s not surprising that I haven’t heard back from many employers now that I’m applying for more challenging jobs on the other side of the continent. So I’ve been doing my homework and putting in the effort to really beef it up and present myself well to a potential employer.
One thing I’ve learned is that you can—and should—be creative with the format of your resume. There is no reason to present yourself according to a template in your word processing software, nor according to what “experts” might say you should do. There’s a lot of good information out there, of course, but you’ve got to take it all with a grain of salt, because ultimately, a resume is about presenting you, not anyone else. Like a wedding or an essay, the format of a resume exists to convey specific information. Within that format, you can be as creative or as traditional as you like, just as long as that information is effectively and powerfully conveyed.
Another thing I’ve learned is that making bullet point lists of your job descriptions and functions is just as boring for a potential employer to read as it is for you to write. They don’t really care if you had to answer phones or input data into a computer: they want to hear something interesting that you accomplished or contributed. Even if you’ve just been a shoe salesman or a clerical monkey, you’ve contributed a lot more to the success of your company than you might think. You have to pull out your viewpoint to the bigger picture: think of the numbers that can help convey what you’ve done, such as the revenues that were pulled in while you were a sales rep, or the amount of applications of students that you processed, etc. You want to convey not just what you did but what you were a part of.
When I help people with revising their essays and personal statements, I always make sure that any piece is written to assume that the reader knows nothing about what is being discussed, even in specialized fields like law, business, and medicine. I believe in describing things lucidly enough so that a “layperson” can get the gist of what is being conveyed. The more obtuse and jargon-filled a piece is, the more likely that it’s a bunch of bullshit. I’ve found that the same principle applies to a resume: never assume that the reader of your resume will read between the lines for you. Clearly explicate your accomplishments and contributions so that anyone can understand them and be suitably impressed.
And this is not easy to do. It’s not really the kind of thing I enjoy applying myself towards. But I’ve realized that if I’d like to get a job that I’m really into, I’ve got to put a lot of work into it. I’ve realized that I knew that my resume was weak, I just didn’t know how to approach it; after all, it’s not something you learn to do in school (though you should). So I’ve been looking at examples and formats and getting a feel for what works and what doesn’t.
Another annoying and time consuming process is that you should target your resume for each specific job you are applying for. Each employer is looking for certain things, which they convey through keywords in their job posting. The “experts” on resume writing say that you should cut and paste these keywords into your resume, but I feel that can be a bit conspicuous and even desperate. I think it’s just as effective to take the meaning of those keywords and elucidate it in new ways through synonyms and arrangements according to your own particular and unique experiences.
It’s a lot harder to create a good resume than one would want to think. It takes a lot of time, brainstorming, concentrated effort, and endless revisioning. But you’ll KNOW when you’ve written a good one. If you don’t feel confident about your resume then there’s probably a reason for it. It’s like writing a poem or story that will hold up to the minute scrutiny of a highly critical academic audience—it’s got to be hewn out of stone, every surface holding just the right amount of light to convey a whole perfect piece of understanding.