Sunday, April 05, 2009

On Resumes

We’re doing a series of sessions with some students (as part of Friends of Children) who are due to graduate next year, counseling them on how to prepare for recruitment. (Getting jobs, that is. Just making sure we're clear.) Among other things we discussed today, we talked about resumes. This gave me an opportunity to structure my own thoughts around the subject. So I thought I’d put them up here, to invite comment.

A resume has one specific purpose: to get you to the next step of the hiring process. The resume won’t get you a job by itself, but it will certainly help you get there. It should hint at the interesting, talented and competent person you are, so that you are called for the interview and get to talk about how wonderful you are.

Given that, I think a resume should do three things:

  1. Introduce you: give a summary of your career till date
  2. Highlight your best side: this is the part where your achievements and your interests make you a smart and interesting person
  3. Show that you are a good fit for the job in question: this is the tricky part, where your qualities need to match the company and the job you’re applying for

The third point, I suspect, is one that most of us often neglect. Every job, every company calls for different skills and attitude. The key is to highlight that in your resume (and no, this is not a fiction-writing exercise).

Every single word on that resume should be aimed at showing what a wonderful fit you are for the job. It’s no point just saying, “experience in doing x”: describe how it made you a better, more competent person. That office party you helped organise? “Organising  an entertaining office event helped me hone my coordination skills. Getting everything done satisfactorily on time and making sure that the event was fun for everyone was difficult but very rewarding.” One young man who showed me his resume had ‘trekking’ listed as a hobby. I suggest something like “I enjoy going on treks to fuel my inner nature enthusiast” in its place. Get the idea?

I don’t think a resume needs to follow any particular format, but it should contain these elements:

  • A career objective, that should ideally show how right you are for this particular company and job role
  • A summary of your professional skills and work experience
  • Details of your work experience at each job role (not too much detail, just highlight what will be of relevance for the position you’re applying for): if you're a fresher, maybe you did a summer training, some interesting projects, helped your brother out at his store?
  • Your education and academic performance
  • Your interests, to show what a wonderful person you are
  • Your contact details, so that they can get in touch with you if you succeed in impressing them

Anything I have missed?

Of course, all this has to be keeping in mind that the reviewer is going to have a very short attention span and is just going to skim through the document. So lots of bullets, no long paragraphs, and keeping it short (under two pages is my opinion, though I'm sure this differs) might all help. 

One significant way in which the resume of a candidate with no work experience differs from someone who has at least a few years of experience: in the first case, you have to actively look for things that might add to your value as a candidate. In the second, you have to think carefully of what to keep and what is irrelevant at this point.

And - this should be hardly necessary to point out - but absence of errors, clean and consistent formatting, and a readable font size all help!

Of course, I’m in no way an expert, and I don’t even follow all of the above myself. So I thought this might be a good place to put these points down.

If you think I’ve missed the mark or left out something, hit the comments section. Also, if you have any advice on how students who will hit the job market in another year should prepare, please hold forth. 

Added on 4th April 2009: Praveen pointed to one great tip that I had remembered to talk to our small group of young men about, but forgot to include here: don't include anything in your resume that you are not prepared to defend. The resume should raise topics of conversation in your interview: and you should be prepared to explain anything in it at length. So if you're not confident about that project you did last semester, don't put it in. Put in something instead that you know about and are interested in. Remember, it works both ways - keep out things you are not sure of, and highlight those you are positive about and want to talk about. 


Dr. Ally Critter said...

I think the resume should not be too detailed. Interests and all are fine- but in a line or two no more, not like fillers. Here, in the US, I was told to use initials- to get in( names can reveal race/gender/ color etc- why let them discriminate there). Oh and no facny fonts- indeed no fancy stuff, Times New Roman 12/10 is good enough. The resume should shine for the person it represents, not the fluff.

Praveen VS said...

First of all though unmana u claim not be an expert by this blog suggests otherwise.
Anyhow just another point to add is that resume should only have things which you really are confident about not all the things that you have studied. Your resume more often shows ur aspiration.

Unmana said...

Alankrita: Good points, thank you. About using initials - I don't think that works in India yet, though I agree it's a valid point.

Praveen: That's a fantastic point that I forgot to put in. I'm editing now to add that - thanks!