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In a recent post, Three Keys to a Resume That Works, I mention that resume writing is an art and not a science and that everyone you talk to will give you a different perspective about what makes an effective resume.

To expand on the ideas outlined in that post, here are some strategies for what we’ve seen work well for the hundreds of professionals who have partnered with our career coaching team. I’ve included answers to common questions we receive.

Document length: No more than two pages. Early career professionals can target a one-page resume and after 10-15 years you can go to two pages. More than two pages communicates that you are not succinct in your thinking and that does not bode well for you getting your document read or landing the job you want.

Language: Vary your word usage, especially with verbs. Don’t start every bullet with managed or led, look for more powerful verbs that indicate movement like transformed and streamlined. With nouns and adjectives, make sure to not use the same word again and again. Be sure to put the current job in present tense, and past jobs in past tense. Use third person, not first throughout your document.

Things to omit: Objective is an outdated item and is no longer needed. Also, omit references available upon request. It’s unnecessary and shows a lack of sophistication.

Stuff to include: Link to your LinkedIn profile, and URLs for the companies you have worked for. Customize your LinkedIn profile URL to remove the extra numbers, which shows you know what you are doing on LinkedIn (Check out LinkedIn’s help to figure out how to do this). Include a one-line blurb for each company you have worked for outlining what they do, and their size. Include relevant volunteer work, especially if you have had an employment gap, the pro bono experience is related to your career goal, and/or the work is related to causes you truly care about.

How far back to go: Best practices suggest not going back more than 10 years. When you feel the positions further back are most relevant to the role you are seeking, consider adding an Early Roles section after your Professional Experience section where you simply list the roles in one-liners. Even if you include this section, be selective about what you list. You can remove dates from this section (only) if the positions feel ancient time-wise.

Education info to include: It is appropriate to combine education and training into one section, especially if training you have completed is relevant to your career goal and more recent than your degree(s). You can list items in reverse order of completion (meaning newest first), or with most significant degree/accomplishment first. If it is more than 10 years prior, it is fine to omit dates of graduation. If you have not graduated (and don’t intend to), indicate the area of study and leave it at that without the degree mentioned. If you have more than three to five additional training achievements beyond your core educational background, consider making Training its own section.

Contact info: It’s considered best practice to not include your address on your resume, but instead just your city, state, phone, email address and LinkedIn profile URL. Include your name, email, and phone somewhere on page two in case the pages get separated.

Accomplishments: Showcase your favorite projects, up to three per role, finding ways to indicate heft and scale as you describe the problem you were given, the actions you took and the results that came from your efforts. It’s more important to include projects that you enjoyed than those that were the most successful, as the projects you were engaged with most are the ones that you would like to do more of/and attract positions where you get to do those things in the future. For example, one of our clients, an attorney, included a case that he enjoyed but the firm actually lost. Similarly, as much as possible omit projects that you did not enjoy and don’t care to do again.

Front end: In general, avoid jumping directly into your professional experience at the front end of your resume. Instead, include an introductory section that includes an umbrella statement summarizing the breadth of your experience, tailored for the type of work you are targeting now. This top section can include one or more sub-sections including a headline, domain areas you’ve worked in, technical and leadership competencies, and skill highlights. When in doubt, write out more content than you want to display to make sure you have included all elements you want to emphasize, and then trim it down with an editor’s eye.

Editing the front end is one of the trickier parts of resume writing, and you may need to get some professional assistance to do it well.

It is, in our experience, the most overlooked and powerful section of the resume and the one most able to provide traction towards the position you are want.

There are many more elements that make for a powerful resume, but these are some essential ingredients and strategies.

A thoughtful, intentional resume should not require a large degree of manipulation as you apply for different positions. If you find you are modifying more than 10-20% of your master resume for each new job you apply for, you need to spend more time figuring out what you truly want to be doing in your career, and how to present that in your resume.

If you need help crafting a compelling resume, reach out for a complimentary consultation to explore working with our talented career coaching team here.

In a future post, I’ll share some of our tried-and-true strategies for LinkedIn profiles that work.

Image credit: Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Image credit: Andrew Neel

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