12 Simple Ideas For Better Resumes

The Power of a Good Resume

In hiring for Renesys and PPNA, I have read hundreds of resumes. Few sell their candidates very well. Compelling and well-designed resumes have rescued candidates from the trash heap, and I have probably missed good candidates because I couldn’t see their greatness on paper. Presentation matters.

Remember, resumes are your advertisement for yourself! It can be quite hard to get into the mindset of ‘selling yourself’, especially for modest and shy people (including me). ‘Selling’ sounds dirty, but selling well means respecting your client’s needs and giving them what they want (an awesome new employee!).

Let’s move beyond the obvious failure points (typos, lies, lack of actual qualifications) to some simple tips to improve the power and impact of your resume.

For the Applicant

Writing the resume forces the applicant to choose a story. Deciding what story to tell guides what experiences and skills to include in the rest of the document.

  • Where are you coming from? What are your strengths and weakenesses?
  • Where do you want to be in two years? Management? Implementing? Running the shop? School? Giving a TED talk? Traveling South America? Build to reach that goal.
  • Are you ‘punching above your weight’, or applying for jobs you are actually (gasp!) qualified for?
  • When people read your resume, does your ‘evidence’ support your goal? Ask friends what they would look for in hiring for a particular position, and ‘patch over’ the parts that you are missing. Iterations and drafts here can work wonders!

For the Reader

  • Make it easy for them to sell you internally.
  • Make it easy for people to be part of your success story.
  • Show how you can help their company / solve their problems.
  • Entertain the reader (or at least don’t stress them out)
  • Make it easy to find information.
  • Make it easy to see if you are fit or not (hard!).

Design implications

Resume designs should keep the document’s purpose in mind. With a few small steps, you can make your resume look designed. To follow along at home, open my annotated resume. (Since I am giving advice, I had better be willing to take it and there are plenty of things to improve in mine!)

12 Simple Ideas for Better Resumes

  1. Stop worrying about page length. Seriously, people will read them on the screen. If you make the first page awesome, they will read more. Make sure you have enough bait in the first page to pull people in!
  2. Big margins give air and room for the design to breathe. Lines should have 65-70 characters for maximum readability.
  3. Increasing line height gives some vertical rhythm to the page
  4. Nice fonts look good. Helvetica is classic, and free on OSX, but choose your own and season to taste. No more than two (one sans, one serif), and keep the number of color/size/font-face combinations small.
  5. Alignment matters. Think about gridlines and guidelines.
  6. Stay on message. Remember your goal: to advertise yourself. Any text that doesn’t support that goal should be trimmed.
  7. Write like it’s a press release. Summary sections ‘front-load’ the interesting material, and give the reader an easy way to sell you to other people inside the company.
  8. Empahasize the important infomation first. “MS (Rocket Science). Harvard. 1990.” not “1990. Cambridge, MA. Harvard. Rocket Science, MS.”
  9. No bullets. They are wasted ink, most of the time.
  10. Use color. Bold and other typographic choices can sometimes be replaced by color changes. Remember that we are visual people.
  11. Remove “references available on request”. Of course they are!
  12. Be bold. Bold is succinct. Trim unnecessary words, especially weasel words and ‘liberal arts hedging’. Save your caveats and hesitations for in-person.

4 Other Ideas about Resumes That Might Be Terrible

  1. Images speak volumes. In the United States, there are legal issues around including images of you on a resume. That doesn’t mean that you can’t link to plots you have made, buildings you have designed, project logos, or other portfolio work. My ‘links’ section retells my story in image form. (I think this is my own creation. I have never seen this in another resume, so if there is prior art, let me know!)
  2. Passing the HR buzzword filter is hard and tedious, so move all that stuff to the end.
  3. De-empahasize dates. Ageism exists, especially in tech.
  4. Move contact info (including possibly name!) to header or footer. Blind the resume to any bias-inducing information (name, apparent gender, etc.).

Other Tips

  • Keep a text document with all of your scraps to get over the procrastination and inertia of starting.
  • After you finish a draft start over from scratch, and see if you do better the second time. All iteractions are selections from the distribution of the ‘ideal resume’, and ‘averaging them out’ can get the highlights of both.
  • Leave appropriate time. Like any document, resumes take time, and doing them in a panic won’t have good results.

Read more about how I created this resume (and the trade-offs I made) in Part 2 at  https://writeonly.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/building-better-resumes-using-python-and-some-design/

rst2resume is located at https://github.com/gregglind/rst2resume/


5 Comments on “12 Simple Ideas For Better Resumes”

  1. […] been asking me how I created my resume. You already read about my princicples of resume design in Part 1, so let’s get on to building […]

  2. Hollis says:

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    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two images.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

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