On Writing

On Writing Interesting…Resumes?

Once upon a time, way back in the day when people typed two spaces after a period, some dowdy old typing teacher sporting a facelift via her severe bun probably told you the “rules” of writing a resume. It mustn’t be longer than a page. All resumes begin with an “objective.” You should always be extremely formal and do not abbreviate or use contractions. You didn’t believe her when she said your skirt was too short, did you? So why are you still listening to her today?

It’s possible that resume served you well back in high school when all you really had to show was your afternoons and weekends gig at Taco Bell. But now?  Watching true and proper grown ups trying to cram a couple decades worth of education and experience into 8 1/2 x 11 makes my brain hurt. And Oh My Zod, when I have to actually read them. So. Freaking. Boring.

So first, forget everything that teacher told you (except the part where she said to spell everything right and, of course, don’t lie). The truth is that even a formulaic resume can (and should) be interesting. As a technical writer, I’ve written hundreds of resumes, mostly for submissions to government and public sector industries in responses to requests for proposals. The requirements for response range from wide open to forms (think tax returns). Yet for every pile of proposals on a selection committee’s desk, it was my job to make my firm’s proposal stand out. I’ve always taken this same goal to task when writing an individual’s resume.

When I did some filler/side work for a company called Career Pro Plus (owned by a great lady, Barbara Adams), I wrote, almost exclusively, resumes for individuals wanting to enter the Senior Executive Service, which is the highest level of government that is not appointed by the president. In addition to the formulaic Federal resume format, candidates must also submit Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs) using 5 character-limited essays that narrate specific examples demonstrating 28 competencies through the person’s experience in leading change, leading people, building coalitions, business acumen, and driving results driven.

Sound challenging? I actually had a lot of fun with them and, just like any other resume, the ones that got noticed (and won the jobs) were interesting to read. How? Well, I could probably give enough tips to fill a series of blog entries, but let’s just start with the basics.

  1. Use active voice
    • On both your resume and cover letter, look specifically for these and remove/replace as many of these as possible: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been
    • Don’t say “I am running the department” when you can say “I run the department”
  2. Tell a story / give context
    • When you say you planned a dinner party, you know what that means because you were there; however, it doesn’t mean much to the reader
    • If you say “I planned and executed a four-course meal for 27 people with two days notice resulting in two immediate re-bookings for parties of 50+ people” the reader can picture it
    • The example above uses a simple formula that’s great for describing examples of experience – Situation, Task, Activity, Result (STAR)… give context, describe the task, add some details, and give the results
  3. Be measurable
    • The “give the results” portion of STAR – now that’s the real meat for any potential employer – so don’t skip it
    • When reviewing resumes, I may find it relevant that someone served on a committee to introduce Six Sigma to their company if I’m specifically looking for that keyword, but tell me that effort saved the firm $1.2 million dollars and you have my undivided attention even if I’m not all about the Six Sigma (yet)
  4. Pro Tip
    • So this may be more of a pet peeve, but for goodness sake, Gmail addresses are free –  so don’t use your thisismystupidemailname@gmail.com address

Hopefully this is helpful to some people. If you’re interested in having your resume professionally written, I do recommend the folks over at Career Pro Plus. They write corporate resumes in addition to Federal resumes (both for SES and regular submissions for government positions). Also, if you’re a writer looking for a neat challenge, they’re always on the lookout for strong writers. It’s fun and flexible, but does require you be available during business hours.