A Guide to Rockstar Resumes
Updated: Oct 9, 2020
Today's Resume Guide is split into six distinct sections, so please feel free to read section by section at your own pleasure.
This guide will also focus more on content than layout and design: I will include resources that can help you format your resume to appear more aesthetically pleasing, but today I will focus more on how - from a content-driven perspective - you and your resume can best stand out. If you are interested in learning about a human-centered driven approach to resume design and style, however, please let me know in the comment section below! I would be more than happy to cover this topic in future posts.
Also: please feel free to skip and choose sections based on your individual experience and preference. Some may be working on their tenth iteration of their resumes; others may have never written one, or even heard of the term 'resume'.
So, no matter your familiarity with the concepts, read and interact with my content at whatever speed you are more comfortable with 😊😊😊😊
What is a ‘resume’
A formula for resume building
Action verbs vs passive verbs
Guidelines + best practices
What is a ‘resume’
Recruiters and employers will spend anywhere from 10 seconds to 1 minute scanning your resume to see if you’re a cultural + professional fit.
In last week’s newsletter, we analyzed why this may be the case: remember the example we used with Google, where more than 3 million job candidates apply every given year - even worse, Google typically only takes around 7,000 of those candidates. That means the average applicant has only a 1/428 chance of getting in! And for humans and AI to process this volume of data, you can bet they’ll be taking as many shortcuts as they can. In other words: there is no way your entire resume will be read, and chances are your resume will be scanned for key words and phrases (more on that later!) and then likely tossed to the virtual trash bin if it doesn’t meet certain tagging criteria. Unless you have a referral. That really, really helps.
But what happens if you don’t have a referral? Indeed, this is more common than not; not everybody can network their way into the company. And this is also perfectly fine! Coffee chats and networking are hard to get right, even if if you do follow all my best practices in my Networking Guide.
So, when this does inevitably happen, how can we make your application stand out on the basis of your own individual merit, unique talent, relevant skills, impressive experiences, and outstanding accomplishments?
This is where your resume comes in, a document that quickly outlines and highlights your credentials for a job and/or internship.
Suffice to say, if networking is like the ‘easy mode’ of a video game, not networking and simply relying on your resume is the video game equivalent of playing Super Smash Bros. blindfolded. It’s difficult, but not impossible. With that being said, I still genuinely believe networking is the most important aspect in recruiting (yes, even more important than your resume). Nevertheless, a strong resume rounds out your application brand and presence.
Further, in cases where you are unable to network, this guide will help you stand out the very best you can.
In a nutshell, resumes get noticed because they emphasize relevant goals and achievements, focus on critical skills relevant to the job, and are concise, well-organized, and easy to read.
Without getting too in-depth on the design principles that underlie resume building and development, I will say this: if you’re applying to consulting, investment banking, accounting, finance, sales, or any other ‘analytical’ business role, nobody will care if your resume employs fantastical designs that catch the eye. The same can be said for roles in SWE (software engineering), PM (product management), or other technical disciplines (with the exception of UI/UX, Product Design, etc.). While more creative roles - the arts, digital media, graphic design, architecture, etc. - would absolutely benefit from advanced design principles, every resume needs to follow the guidelines outlined in today’s newsletter.
First, employ a chronological format: list your work experience in reverse-chronological order, starting with your most recent position at the top. This is the most frequently used format, and for good reason: typically, our most recent positions are the most relevant and indicative of our current skill and potential.
In your resume, you should also have the following sections (not necessarily in order):
Objective or summary statement
Additional information (i.e., volunteer work and special interests—optional)
There is healthy debate on whether or not there is an ideal order of priority on how one should place each section in his or her resume.
In my opinion, the ordering doesn’t matter. My resume is personally structured by contact information-education-professional experience-skills-additional information, but education in some resumes is ordered last, and vice versa. If anything, the only optional area is the objective/summary statement: I truly think this is a waste of space. Some firms care about this; others don’t. In general, though, a summary statement is redundant and takes away valuable real estate for more relevant and impressive information for your resume.
Second, follow these formatting guidelines (if you’re employing a more graphically creative approach, you can chuck these principles away). For more sophisticated styles, there are different design principles and formatting will therefore be more fluid. If your resume is more traditional, however, then these guidelines are a MUST:
Apply appropriate margins. The standard for resumes and cover letters is 1 inch on both sides. If you have a relatively shorter resume that has more blank space, use wider margins to create a less distracting document that appears more full. If you decide to adjust your margins, keep them below 1.5 inches.
Make your font size 10 to 12 points. I personally use size 10, but this is up to personal preference!
Feature section headers. Bold and increase the font size for section headers (re: Education, Professional Experience, Skills, etc.) can help recruiters quickly find the information they are looking for.
Use bullet points. I suggest use three bullet points for each position and role, with each bullet point going no further than one line. Don’t use complete sentences, and start with action verbs (more on this soon!), not nouns/adjectives.
Ask for feedback. After you’ve finished writing and formatting your resume, ask friends, peers, and mentors to review your work. This is helpful for double-checking potential errors in grammar and spelling, and they can also assess your resume readability, consistency, and professionalism. Is your resume easy to read and process? Does it contain relevant, key words and phrases (more on this soon)? Does it brand you as the best possible applicant for the job and role?
Select a professional, readable font. There are two main types of fonts: serif and sans serif. Serif fonts have ‘tails’ while sans serif fonts do not. Essentially, sans serif fonts are generally better fonts for resumes because they have cleaner lines that are easier to read. Some good fonts to use [notice the lack of Times New Roman, Comic Sans, and other god awful ones] include:
Avenir (my personal favorite, and the one I currently use in my resume)
Garamond (my old favorite, and the one I used back in college)
Georgia // Calibri // Cambria // Corbel // Gill Sans // Helvetica
Confusing? Hopefully not, because we’re just getting started.
A formula for resume building
Content is king, and this is as true for media moguls like Disney and Netflix as it is for aspiring professionals like yourselves.
In a resume, strong content is descriptive and qualified rather than generic and vague. Take for instance the following two examples:
The generic, vague statement
The Daily Californian / Experiential Marketing Manager
Helped plan events for local students
The descriptive, qualified statement
The Daily Californian / Experiential Marketing Manager
Launched inaugural Journalism Conference for +100 local high school students
Generated +$1,000 in revenue on a <$100 budget, beating initial profit estimates by +50% set by the Board of Alumni
Increased digital impressions to 250K views/month, a 20% increase year-over-year, directly after organizing journalism conferences and workshops
See the difference? The first example is something anybody can do. It’s not descriptive, it doesn’t qualify you for a role or position, and it’s not unique or eye-catching. The second example, however, is highly descriptive, underscores key qualifications and accomplishments, and uses numbers and action verbs to quickly catch the readers’ attention. Its language is compelling.
Strong content, functionally and by design, hooks you in. It is alluring because it quickly captures eyeballs. And to capture this element of persuasion in resume building, you can use the following ‘formula’ to structure your thought process.
As you can see, the end result is an accomplishment, not a process. If you have a resume right now, look at how you currently structure your bullet points: are you outlining accomplishments, are you listing-off generic processes? The difference between the two is impact; anybody can follow orders and obey a ‘process’.
Meanwhile, contributing to the organization in a more substantive capacity - through detailed accomplishments and achievements - tells a more compelling story for your candidacy. Avoid processes, and starting highlighting your accomplishments.
In order to do this, let’s delve into the nuances between ‘action’ vs ‘passive’ verbs.
Action verbs vs passive verbs
Action verbs convey leadership, initiative, grit, substance, and impact.
Passive verbs convey compliance, lethargy, and a bent for inertia and the status quo. Passive verbs are: help, assisted with, participated in, took part in, etc.
You are not any of these things. You have made it so, so far in life; give yourself more credit. And if you’re finding yourself in roles where you really are just ‘going along’ with the flow: speak up, find mentors and advocates to teach you relevant skills, and push yourself out of your comfort zone into positions of leadership and change.
So, on that note, what are some examples of ‘action’ verbs? Well, there’s a lot:
Of course, implementing this vocabulary should be done on a case-by-case basis. If, say, you interned in UI/UX with a startup, you would probably want to use more “creative” action verbs like designed, initiated, and prototyped. Meanwhile, some roles like consulting are more multi-functional, so you may end up using action verbs in “leadership” and “communication” as well as “research” and “data analysis.”
In general, you want to start each bullet point with an action verb, followed by your project and then its subsequent result. Use this list of action verbs to inspire how you want to think about your assorted projects and following accomplishments, but don’t feel constrained by the verbs you see above. Go beyond templates, and find your unique voice and brand. Unfortunately, no guide - and no, not even this newsletter 😉 - will tell you how to do something only you can do.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t best practices you can follow, with the help of resources like this news letter, of course 😊😊😊😊
Guidelines + best practices
Building resumes is tough, whether it’s the first time you’re sitting down on your laptop wondering if you should use Word Document/Google Word or something flashier like Pages or Adobe (word to the wise: start with Word to nail the basics, then move onto more complex software), or you’re pulling your hair out editing the 100th iteration of your resume.
No matter your state of progress, keep the following best practices (especially the second one, this is the MOST important one) in mind as you build, refine, and transform your application into a ROCKSTAR RESUME:
Brainstorming your resume:
Inventory a master list of all your roles, projects, internships/jobs, student organizations, volunteering + community service, relevant skills, and accomplishments. List them all on a blank word document.
Write descriptive phrases and bullet points for each one, using the formula and tips + tricks outlined above. Don’t worry about the number of bullet points. While your final resume should stick to three bullet points per role/experience, for now come up with as many bullet points as you can.
Tailoring your resumes:
Analyze the position you’re applying to: highlight keywords (skills, experiences, tasks, requirements) and consider using these words in your targeted resume.
Notice that I said ‘resumes’, not ‘resume’.
Never use the same resume for a different job. Tailor each and every one of your resumes to fit each of the roles you are applying to, accordingly. I know this is tough, but trust me: if you send off the same resume, the AI screening your profile will match it with the vocabulary of the job description and toss yours out if it doesn’t align with what the role is asking for.
Look at the job/internship posting. No, really look at it. Notice its language, tone, and what skills, experiences, and personalities it’s looking for. Employ similar, if not identical, language in your own resume and adapt your work to fit the description the company provides. They are giving you a little cheat sheet into what they’re looking for. Their AI, and even human recruiters, will be closely looking at resumes that embody such language. Use this to your advantage, and stand out by having a tailored resume!
Remember when you were brainstorming your resume and how you drafted all those bullet points? Now, it’s time to narrow them down (if relevant).
For a specific job or internship you’re applying to, determine the activities, accomplishments, and bullet points that fit the role best, keeping in mind what the job/internship is looking for and the vocabulary they use to describe and qualify the position.
Avoiding common mistakes:
Spelling and grammar errors: don’t just double check. Triple check, and get your friends and/or mentors to review your work too. An extra pair of eyes is much more likely to pick up your mistakes. Asking a mentor, upper class-mate, or working professional already in the jobs/internships you’re interested in is ideal.
Contact information: always include email, phone, and social media. Social media is optional, but if you are applying to a role that requires social media expertise (re: social media marketing, brand ambassador programs, influencers, etc.) then it is an obvious demonstration of your prowess in the field. Even then, sharing LinkedIn handles is often becoming the norm, especially if you 1) have an impressively designed LinkedIn profile and 2) frequently post and enjoy a professional brand worth sharing with others.
Exporting via Docx: please don’t do this. Convert your resume to PDF: it’s more professional, easier to read, and more universally accessible on software.
Being over one page: PLEASE don’t do this. Please, just don’t.
Good luck, and as always: when in doubt, always ask for help! Have others review your work, and seek both personal sources - friends, family, mentors - as well as institutional ones - your career center and its career counselors. If your school does not have a career center and/or career counselors - or if they do but you just can’t be bothered spending a month on the waitlist getting an appointment - reach out to alumni and other potential mentor figures. You can also follow us on Instagram and engage with our content! Every week we select a lucky follower and extensively review your resume: free of charge! Check us out.
Resumes are important, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Networking is still, by and by far, your most important recruiting asset.
A strong relationship is enough to turn heads and pass your resume and application profile to the top of the recruiting stack. If you ever wonder why there are some students who get the internship or job despite their lack of experience on their resume, know that networking can make all the difference.
While this, in many ways, can be problematic, the fact of the matter is recruiters and managers simply don’t have the time, energy, or resources to fully examine every single resume that comes their way.
Your mission is to get them to look at your resume. This can be accomplished via authentic networking.
Next, your objective is to impress. And hopefully, today’s guide has shown you how to do just that.