Monday, August 11, 2014

Tips on Organizing a Strong Resume

One point worth keeping in mind about your resume is the amount of time the reader will spend on the document - typically 1-3 minutes. Given this, layout and readability are both extremely important. A good resume starts in the presentation: how the document is organized and designed, as well as the content you choose to include, and how that is presented. Here are a few things to consider when judging the effectiveness of your own resume.

1. The document must be easy to look at.  For example, if the font is too small, the margins are tiny, and everything is crammed together, your reader will get a bad first impression.  This is especially important because the person reading your resume will likely only give it a minute or two, in total.  So it is vitally important to avoid having a bad impression.  Here is a small checklist to keep in mind:

a) Use a typical font, such as Times New Roman 10.5 or 11.
b) Use margins of between 10mm to 15mm all the way around, for instance using 10mm for the top and bottom, and then 15mm for the left and right sides. This will ensure your document has some white space in the margins and is centered properly on the page.
c) Ensure the paper setting is correct: for documents going to the US or Canada, use "letter-sized", and for outside the US, use "A4". Here is a page on that explains the difference.  Even though many schools these days have computerized their application reading process, it is still worthwhile to be aware of the difference. 
d) Decide on line settings that will make your bullet points readable, and avoid crunching lines together in order to fit too much onto one page.  If you are using Microsoft Word, under "home" go to "line spacing options". Set it at "exactly" and at a setting between 12pt, 13pt or 14pt.  In addition, after each bullet point have a small margin, in order to ensure each bullet is separated nicely.  Experiment with these settings until you have arrived at the setting that makes your resume look best: not too packed together, and with a small bit of space between each bullet point.

2. Keep it to 1 page (see my previous post on why this is best) by selecting what to focus on rather than including everything you've ever done! When deciding, ask yourself what skills you possess that are most relevant to your future - either skills that demonstrate your ability to succeed at graduate school, or skills that are relevant to your future goals. What skills that you possess will an admissions officer or future employer value? Highlight your relevant skills in the bullet points of your resume. 

3. Avoid too much personal information (marital status, age, number of children, height, weight etc) unless requested. Such information can be distracting because it is not what your reader will be expecting when they review your document - so be sure to manage their expectations effectively.

4. Avoid long lists of adjectives like "dedicated team player" and other such fluff. These are not valuable additions to a resume, and are better included elsewhere. For instance for a job applicant, your personal description of characteristics relevant to the job to which you are applying could be in the cover letter.  And for grad school applicants, such concepts are hopefully to be found in your recommendation letters.

5. Include a short list of personal activities in the additional section. In terms of what to choose, this is the criteria I consider: 

a) The activity should demonstrate something appealing about you.
b) You can show a strong time commitment to the activity.
c) The content should be recent.
d) The content is strategic.  

If the activity fits all three criteria, then certainly include it.  For instance if you have been a starting member of a community basketball team for the past 1.5 years and you play twice a month, this is worthy of inclusion. You can highlight team and/or leadership experience, and also you have shown dedication to the activity.  It is easy to see how an activity that does not meet all three criteria would not be worth including: a 2-hour volunteer experience in 1994 that was never repeated is probably not worth fitting on your page, especially if you have more recent and significant experiences.

In terms of point d), some activities people do regularly are just not worth including in the resume, even if they fit a) b) and c). Many people read hundreds of books, or watch hundreds of movies, for instance.  However interesting such activities are, they should not typically be included in your resume, because they don't say anything interesting about you.

6. Make sure each individual bullet point, no matter what section it is in, is clear, impressive and impactful.

7. Have someone whose opinion you trust read your resume and give you feedback on it. It can be difficult to assess the effectiveness of your own work.

Steps 2, 6, and 7 will likely require assistance, so do consult with a professional to ensure your resume is working as effectively as possible. Finally, be sure to read carefully the instructions provided by the school you are applying to, or the recruiter or company to whom you will send your resume.  There may be additional instructions, including the number of lines to use, or other sections that may be requested such as international experience or situation-specific information.  Show that you may taken the time to understand their specifications and reflect them the version of your resume you send to them.