Stand Out in a Crowd

Top 10 Tips For Successful Resume Writing
By L.H. Daggett, Daggett & Associates

As an executive search professional, I am continually amazed by the number of poorly written resumes crossing my desk. I dissect and critique resumes for a living, and am often frustrated by vague prose, generalities, and run-on lists and tables.  It is even worse (and unfortunately just as common) to find blatant errors in grammar and spelling.

In lieu of concise and thoughtful statements of Objective and Experience, candidates too often utilize extensive bulleted lists to itemize their every duty.  It is ineffective, for example, to remind a recruiter that as Director of Communications you are responsible for “daily communications with internal and external audiences.” We know that. 

It is also ineffective to list statistical accomplishments that have no basis, like the Account Executive who “increased revenue by 300%.” From $1,000 to $4,000? I appreciate quantitative data, but incomplete data is not useful.

The candidate who claimed, “I have strong communication skills,” and then followed it with the statement below is making a bad first impression:

  • “Intereated with suppli vendors, and assessed problems with defectiv products.”

I’m also nonplussed if I have to conduct extensive research to determine the scope of your capabilities and accomplishments. A Marketing Director who described his role as “responsible for all marketing and product management for DGS” leaves me scratching my head.  Google tells me that “DGS” could be “Dragon Go Server,” “Deary’s Gymnastic Supply,” or the “Department of General Services.”  And is “Mars Systems” a $5 million startup or a $5 billion industry giant?  It matters to me the size of your company (or division), the industry/market, and reporting relationships, including the number of direct reports.  These facts characterize a candidate’s environment and provide benchmarks for measuring success.

At the risk of sounding pretentious, here are my Top 10 Tips for Resume Writing.  They’ll make your recruiter proud.  And please let me know if you find any spelling errors.

  1. Proofread, proofread, proofread
    • If your resume is studded with errors in spelling and grammar, you will appear careless or even unprofessional.  Use a four-step approach to guarantee good results:
      • Spell check with Microsoft Word’s Wizard.
      • Print out your resume and proofread it several times.
      • Proofread your resume out loud.
      • Pass it around to several other friends or family members for the acid test.
  2. Be accurate
    1. Be painstakingly accurate in all communications with recruiters and potential employers. Your resume is Ground Zero.  If you did not complete your BS or MS degree, don’t list a university and major and leave it at that. Instead, clearly state the extent of your degree work.  Avoid creative career titles. Reference checking today is increasingly rigorous.  If you have concerns about the appearance of a firing, layoff, or very brief work stint, openly discuss this with your recruiter or hiring contact at the outset of the recruitment process.  And avoid large, unexplained career gaps; if you took time off for an educational or personal sabbatical, state this briefly on your resume. Lastly, if you have had above-average turnover in your career, it can be effective to cite the “reason for leaving” at the end of each employer section.  This strategy shows you have nothing to hide; it will gain the confidence of your recruiter and place you in a more competitive position.
  3. Be succinct in length, structure and style
    • Length -- Please keep in mind that a five-page resume is never in vogue. The length of the resume should, to a certain extent, reflect the length of your career and your professional achievements.  I prefer two-page resumes, but have seen some good three-page ones belonging to senior managers with significant career and technical accomplishments. Any longer and your reader may drown in a sea of black text. To develop a concise resume, follow a 2-step process:
      • Get everything down on paper -- don’t be too critical at the outset. Create an outline and fill in each section using short statements, numerical data and action phrases. Enumerate all significant achievements, associating each with an employer and job (i.e. avoid laundry lists that are not in the context of your employer).
      • Edit, edit, edit.  Following the “structure” guidelines below, winnow down each section by slashing unnecessary words/phrases, removing redundancies, and deleting less meaningful achievements. Tip: if you are down to the nitty gritty of eliminating a few lines (to fit your resume to two pages), look to eliminate “hanging text,” where one or two words take up a full line.  This can be done by rewording a statement or two, or by condensing the font just slightly in the offending line or paragraph.
    • Structure -- Your resume should contain seven elements: 1) contact information, 2) objective, 3) summary of qualifications, 4) employer information, 5) job information and job achievements (each employer), 6) education, and 7) affiliations, technical skills or language skills.  I have provided additional information on each of these categories in the “Tips” that follow.
    • Style -- As far as style is concerned, I recommend the KISS methodology.  Keep it simple. Use a 1-inch margin left and right, and at least a 1/2-inch margin top and bottom to ensure some white space on the page. Left-justified text with category indents and bullets works well. Choose a standard font throughout, using no more than 3 styles (e.g. regular, bold, italic), and avoid inserting decorative lines and symbols, as these do not travel well.
  4. Include professional contact information
    1. Relevant contact information should be included at the top of your resume, including name, home address, daytime and evening phone numbers (home, work, cell), and a reliable e-mail address. I recommend that you allow recruiters to contact you at work, if possible.  This generally creates a more professional impression, avoiding those home message recordings from children or pets (it’s true, one of my candidates had their dog “speak” on the answering machine).  Having a work or daytime contact number and e-mail address will improve the speed and efficiency of ongoing job communications.
  5. Make your Objective known
    • A career Objective is often integrated into an Executive or Professional Summary.  One excellent approach is to title the Summary with the Objective, e.g., “Senior Sales and Business Development Executive.” This puts your goal front and center and also serves as an effective introduction to summary remarks.  Regardless of the approach you take, your goal is to ensure that your reader immediately understands who you are, and where you want to go. An objective should be a concise, one- to two-sentence statement that reflects your qualifications and career aspirations.  If you are qualified for and considering more than one discipline, tailor your objective to the job you are applying for (you may have more than one resume version). Avoid statements like “Broadly diversified senior executive seeking a position in finance, business development or operations.”  Some better approaches include:
      • “Vice President or Director of Marketing”
      • “Senior Marketing executive with 15 years of hands-on experience seeks Director or VP-level role in the semiconductor industry.”
      • “Proven Sales executive with a track record of increasing sales, productivity and profits within the Business Software sector, including ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), CRM (Customer Relationship Management), and BI (Business Intelligence) products. Seeking global Sales leadership opportunity.”
      • VP Engineering with 20 years of experience in the design and introduction of process control solutions for the semiconductor industry.  Seeking engineering leadership role at a public or pre-public semiconductor equipment company.”
      • “Senior Sales Operations professional with global experience managing high-technology products and services. Ideal role would be Director-level position for a growing company within the Internet, IT or telecommunications industries.”
  6. Summarize your qualifications (Professional Summary)
    • This section -- referred to as a Professional Summary,, Executive Summary, or Summary of Qualifications -- is a highly effective resume component. As the lead-in to your resume, it should form a clear snapshot of critical skills and talents.   The Summary should cite functional experience (e.g. Finance, Engineering, Sales), industry or product experience (e.g. IT, Internet, Networking, Semiconductors), broad achievements (“organizational architect with expertise building startups and $500M+ business units”), and qualifications (e.g. “extensive international business experience,” “fluent in French and German,” “skilled in financial analysis and strategic planning”). The Summary can be anywhere from 5-10 sentences, displayed either in paragraph format or as a bulleted list. Descriptive adjectives like “dynamic,” “intense,” and “accomplished” are a plus, but avoid the use of self-congratulatory superlatives (e.g. amazing, incredible, outstanding), both in the Summary and throughout the remainder of your resume.
      • I have seen resumes where candidates effectively separate their organizational skills from their technical expertise (i.e. two separate paragraphs or a bulleted list following an introductory paragraph). This can be an excellent strategy if you have expertise in an industry where experienced personnel are in high demand, or if you have sought-after technical expertise that is highly specific to the job opportunity. This could include hardware or software expertise, or technical certifications.
  7. Include relevant employer information
    • For each employer, state the formal company name and the geographic location where you worked (e.g. San Jose, CA). Unless the company is a household name (e.g., IBM, Google, Applied Materials, Oracle), include a brief description of the business (“the world’s leading supplier of Business Intelligence Solutions with annual revenues of $1.5 B and a global client base in 16 countries”). Personally, I like to see a business description, regardless.  If your employer is a public company, include the exchange and ticker symbol parenthetically, immediately following the company name.
        • Term of employment -- if you held just one position with the company, list the term of employment (e.g. Jan. 2004 - June 2007) on the same line as the company name at the right margin. If you held several positions with the company, list dates as follows:

          APPLIED MATERIALS (Nasdaq:AMAT), Santa Clara, CA                             Jan. 2004 - present
          Controller                                                                                 Nov. 2006 - present
          Responsible for all corporate accounting, financial controls and financial reporting, including...

          Senior Financial Analyst                                                           Jan. 2004 - Oct. 2006
          Implemented budgeting and forecasting for worldwide operations...
  8. Include relevant job information, including key accomplishments
    • State your title and the dates of your employment. If you held multiple positions, list the individual titles and dates for each job.
    • Briefly describe your responsibilities (“Responsible for new product development and sustaining engineering for automated wafer handling products used in semiconductor manufacturing. Reporting to the COO, manage a 65-person team, including 8 direct reports, in the U.S., Europe and Asia.”).
    • List key accomplishments.  Accomplishments should be meaningful and data driven (e.g. “Restructured the sales organization, building an experienced team of 15 account managers including eight new hires. Increased annual revenues by 35% to $250M in 18 months.”).  For more recent positions, those held within the past 10-12 years, include five to eight hard-hitting statements (for older positions, a paragraph or short bulleted list will suffice).  Focus on examples that convey the depth of your responsibilities and magnitude of achievement. Category options may include sales growth, operating improvements, productivity gains, cash management, new customers/partners, new product introductions, M&A activity, software/system upgrades, finding and keeping the right talent, or taking a company public (to name a few). 
      • In some cases it can be effective to reiterate significant accomplishments as an addendum to the Career Summary, with the caveat that they must have a “wow” factor. Use a bulleted list, keep it brief (four or five statements), and make sure to include the associated company/job (e.g. “As Product Line Manager for National Semiconductor.....”).
    • Caveat:  Avoid run-on resumes. If you’ve been in the workforce for 20+ years you likely have an impressive record of career achievements.  However at this stage in your career, your future employer will not be focused on your first job as a finance department temp.  Or your second job as an Accounts Receivable Clerk. Omit early positions that are not relevant to the job you currently seek.
  9. Educational information - focus on major degrees
    • I recommend listing your educational history towards the end of your resume, following Work Experience.  There are exceptions to this practice; if you have extremely strong credentials that are highly specific to your career objective, you might choose to include them as an addendum to your Career Summary. In most cases however, it is appropriate to list “Education” following “Work Experience,” and before “Affiliations” or “Technical Skills.”
    • For each degree, list the degree title, the major/minor, the university (please include the full, proper name), the university location and the date the degree was awarded (if it’s been 25+ years since degree completion, you may choose to omit the date).  For example:
      • Ph.D. in Physics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA. 2001.
    • If you attended a university but did not complete the degree, state this clearly.  Do not include postgraduate work if it was insubstantial and/or you had no intention of completing a degree. For example:
      • Coursework toward a MS Mechanical Engineering, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Attended 1997 - 1998, earning 32 of 40 credits required for degree completion.
    • Include widely recognized certifications here, including CPA (certified public accountant), CMA (certified management accountant), CFA (chartered financial analyst), CCP (certified compensation professional), etc.
    • Do not list recreational clubs and nonstandard certifications.
  10. Technical skills, technical publications, affiliations and language skills
    • Patents and other published works may be included in this section. If you have published extensively, consider including your list as an addendum to your resume.
    • Some positions may demand knowledge of specific equipment, processes, software or training in addition to experience in a particular market or industry. If you possess “in demand” expertise -- or key certifications -- list them here.
    • Include professional memberships and affiliations here.  These should be organizations that are recognized on a regional or national level.
    • If you are fluent in a language other than English, make note of that here.
    • Personal and references: I would omit personal information as it can be a distraction.  An exception to this would be a notable achievement that has bearing on the job you are seeking.  As to references, the hiring company will expect them, so it is ineffective to note they are “available on request.”  I do advocate having a ready reference list in hand at the outset of your job search process.

That’s it -- the secret to a successful resume.  I predict that this advice will be worth more than what you paid for it.  Good luck!

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