Resume Formatting and Content

by Handlin, Liz Sunday, May 16, 2010
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I have worked with a lot of clients over the years and most of them tend to land jobs pretty quickly after they have a completed resume. But times are tough and it tends to take longer for almost anyone to find a job and when people don't find jobs as quickly as they would like they tend to second guess nearly every aspect of their job search.

Am I wearing the right kind of interview suit? Did I offend the interviewer? Why won't the recruiter call me back? How do I make sure my resume is reviewed by a hiring manager? Does my resume need to be redone? These are just a few of the questions that job seekers have asked me. Many times a job seeker can make some changes which rapidly alter the course of their job search. Other times, however, they are over thinking the search process particularly when it comes to their resume.

There is more than one way to write a good resume. There, I said it. I would like to believe that my way of doing this is the only way or the best way but I know that there is more than one way to get the job done. The key is to format simply, include relevant content, and emphasize accomplished backed by metrics. The resume should be easy to read and should not exceed 3 pages. Beyond that there are several different ways you can create a great resume.

Following are a few questions that clients often ask me about and my rationale for doing things my way.

1. Should I include a list of core competencies at the top of my resume?

Liz's Answer: Generally no. The term "core competencies" became popular in 1990s corporate America (I think I remember when we started using the term frequently) to refer to the core skills required in any job. The problem with creating a list of "core competencies" is that you are taking a series of words out of context and expecting someone else to figure out your level of expertise.

Many clients have said to me, "but Liz, I want to list core competencies so that my resume will be selected by search engines looking for marketing people". My answer is that if you are truly a marketing expert you should be able to list enough metrics based accomplishments that include the word marketing that you don't need to include a list of words at the top of your resume.

Having said all of that, I have seen good resumes with lists of core competencies at the top and as long as it doesn't take up a lot of space that you could use for high impact accomplishments it I probably won't do you any harm unless you are a senior executive. Senior executives who list core competencies or lists of skills at the top of a resume make themselves look tactical and junior level so I always advise senior clients to skip the core competencies.

2. Do I need a summary section that lists the best of my accomplishments?

Liz's Answer: No. I polled some of the top retained recruiters in the U.S. on this very topic. The top of the first page of your resume is valuable real estate so make wise use of it. Reiterating information that can be found in the body of the resume is not a good use of that space. If you include a short statement of some kind it is very likely that a recruiter will read it but if it's more than a few sentences they will probably skip it and move on to the meat of your resume. I think of that section as your "30 Second Elevator" pitch. You should list the statement you would give to the CEO of your dream employer if you were alone in an elevator with him/her for 30 seconds. If you don't have a 30 second elevator pitch and you are a job seeker you need to create one.

See the post from last year about my conversation with Austin based recruiter Marc Davis on this topic.

3. Should I include a skills section on my resume?

Liz's Answer: It depends on whether or not the skills section is relevant to your job. I can't tell you how many accountants I have met who list "proficient with Quicken, Excel, Quickbooks, and Microsoft Word" on their resumes. If you are a junior level accountant it is OK to include this but if you are a senior accounting professional or a CFO it should go without saying that you know how to use the basic tools of your trade. Especially if you are a CPA or have worked in a large public accounting firm.

If you are a technical professional, say for example, a software engineer, it can be helpful for recruiters to be able to see, at a glance, what technologies or coding languages you have expert knowledge of. I usually recommend you include that section at the end of the resume but there are cases where including it on the front page make sense. Your unique situation and job search tactics are factors in deciding how and where to list this information.

I could go on and on about why I write resumes the way I do but instead of making this the longest blog post in the world I think I will add links to other posts I have written in the past that are relevant to this topic so I am going to link to them here.