Tips For Resume Writing From a Hiring Manager

I'm still in the midst of staffing frenzy at work, though things are looking better than they were. I suppose the impending recession is to the benefit of some. On average, I seriously read about 10-20 resumes per day, and about twice that on Mondays to account for the weekend. Most of these resumes are written fairly well, but there's one mistake that seems to be consistent - 90% of them are over 5 pages long.

Yes. 5 printed pages. For a resume.

One might think this was limited to folks with 10+ years of experience. One would be dead wrong. From what jobs a person has had for the last four years since college to every internship, co-op, part-time job and paper route, each are glorified with 2-3 "action statements" or, even worse, a paragraph. My favorite example is one that contains something like this (I'm fabricating this example in its entirety):

Dog Walker (self-employed) 5/1996 - 10/1996

  • Responsible for complete care of 10-12 canines several times per week
  • Created detailed exercise plans for all clients and executed them on a regular basis
  • Delvered on-time, consistent service

Ok, first of all... you're applying to be a software engineer. You've been doing something similar for about four, maybe five, years. For what reasons would you possibly want me to know that you spent a summer twelve years ago walking dogs?


Had this been from an actual resume, I'd have serious concerns about the level of judgment of this individual. They either sincerely believe that their summer excuse to walk around in nice weather was relevant to the work they'd be doing designing and developing software, or someone else told them to put EVERYTHING they had ever done onto a resume. So perhaps it is relevant. I will allow for the obvious fact that I'm not the world's greatest hiring manager. I have to give folks like this some benefit of the doubt, but this was a rant, and now that rant is over. </rant>

There's a serious purpose to this post. I've been thinking a lot lately about what I like to see in a good resume. To me, a resume has one purpose -- to get you an interview. So, you might think it goes without saying that the best way to do this is to design your resume to effectively communicate why YOU are the best candidate for a particular job... and let me tell you, sending a novel when a haiku would do is never, ever going to win you anything.

Thus, I present my personal set of tips for resume writing, from the perspective of a hiring manager. These are in no particular order:

  1. A resume has one purpose: to get you an interview. There is no need to tell your entire life story. If you've gotten said interview, and I ask about previous experience, feel free to unload.
  2. There is no need to list when your children were born as a way to explain gaps in your resume. If your resume is interesting enough, we'll ask about the gaps. You're also indicating gender, depending on your phrasing, and it's illegal for anyone to make a hiring decision based on such information so simply exclude such information from your resume. It's also illegal for anyone to ask "did you take breaks to start a family?" or any other question that indicates gender, age, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, etc., so if asked you can always say "I took time off for personal reasons."
  3. Your resume should never be longer than two pages. If, for the sake of example example, your resume is five pages long (random number, of course), it's probably because you're listing WAY too much work experience. List the most recent one or two positions as you normally would, and list the rest in a shorter format in a section titled something like "Previous Work Experience". This way, the bulk of your job information is what's truly fresh in your mind, not what you did six jobs ago. As a hiring manager, I like seeing that you've been doing things for x number of years, but I'm really unlikely to ask questions about a job that was many years ago unless your most recent jobs are all the same.1
  4. Your resume should be tailored to the position for which you're applying. If, say, you're applying for a job as a Mid-Level Software Engineer, don't list that you were a veterinary assistant for two years after college, unless that's your only work experience. And, in such a case, seriously ask yourself why you believe you're qualified for a mid-level, not entry-level, position?
  5. Use action words for every single descriptive sentence. This goes for both your experience as well as anything you accomplished as a student. If you made the Dean's List don't say "Dean's List", say "Achieved Dean's List standing during five of eight semesters".
  6. Your resume should read like a PowerPoint presentation. This means that your bullet items should not be very long - they should be succinct. Please don't write a paragraph about what projects you completed - generalize. A good manager will ask probing questions during an interview about what projects you've worked on. This gives you a chance to show off your ability to speak eloquently.
  7. If you insist on including an objective statement, use it wisely! Personally, I hate objective statements. They take up valuable real estate on a resume that should be used to tell me more about what skills and experience you have which align with a particular job posting. The only time, again in my opinion, that you should include an objective statement is if you need to indicate why your resume is being submitted, should it not be obvious. For instance, if you are posting your resume on a job board that has no facility for a generic cover letter, and your experience does not align with what you're looking for, explain why. Say something like: "Motivated veteran of the healthcare industry looking to break head-first into the field of software development." This way, when I read your resume, I instantly understand that I'm only going to be looking at your employment qualities (how long you've stayed at a job, were your positions intelligent moves that furthered your career, etc.) rather than your hard, technical skills.

In my opinion, and I'm over-using that qualifier today, my resume (PDF) is a good example of these tips. I'm not saying I'm doing everything perfectly, just that I lay out my resume the way I'd want to see one. I might actually have to bleed over onto a second page one of these days. To keep myself from doing so, I removed something I see on every resume I peruse - a list of technical skills. YMMV... I haven't needed it any time recently, so it was an easy thing to cut. Most job boards let you define a set of skills along with skill level, how long and how recently you've used that skill. I find that sort of list far more valuable than any I've seen on an actual resume.

  1. Ideally, your resume should fit onto a single page, but I am told by colleagues that this is simply asking too much of more experienced folks, so I’m relaxing my instinct a bit.

Jan 22nd, 2008