Resume best practices revealed

Over the past 6 months, I reviewed an overwhelming number of resumes from jobseekers interested in joining my team. After a exhaustive search, we’re excited to have found a great fit for the team – Ryan from M7 Database.

During the process of identifying candidates with potential, I was most surprised at how quickly jobseekers disqualified themselves from the selection process. Like most managers at MS, I'm busy, and simply do not have time to give all interested candidates an interview. It was clear to me that jobseekers that made an effort to position themselves as a qualified candidate, based on the job description, had a significant advantage in moving forward in the hiring process. One of the top requirements for my Program Manager position is an intense focus on understanding customer needs. The first communication from a jobseeker to the hiring manager is a critical part of the interview. For this job, I was the customer. Did the jobseeker understand my needs?

As many of you know, my wife Taunya has a small business that provides professional services including resumes and cover letters and small business marketing. Her email is filled with varying degrees of resume brilliance from contractors to executives. We recently coalesced our experiences into a list of resume best practices that will increase a jobseeker’s probability of securing “the” interview.

I know the resume tips aren’t specific to Access; however, I think this information is super helpful to readers thinking about the next step in their careers. Enjoy!


The original is published here.

Effective Resumes and Cover Letters

Content doesn’t align with phase of career

A resume update involves modeling content to align with the next phase of a jobseeker’s career. The appropriate content sets the stage for the most advantageous compensation and leveling for the jobseeker.

The following are basic career phases with resume content guidelines:

  • Phase 1, Entry-level: Academic career is the foundation of experience. Resume consists of the skills, aptitude, and ambition that the jobseeker brings to an organization.
  • Phase 2, Tactical Implementer: Mastery of tasks and process. Resume consists of areas of expertise and responsibilities grouped by a variety of functional or discipline roles. Achievements are represented as individual and team-based success.
  • Phase 3, Strategic Advisor: Ability to meaningfully contribute to business impact at a high-level and/or across groups. Content focus is on senior management or executive achievements.

Content doesn’t align with a single job function

A jobseeker that plans to target multiple job functions needs multiple resumes. For example, the core competencies for a Program Manager may be customer connection, planning and organizing, and cross-group collaboration. A PM jobseeker that is interested in transitioning to Sales Manager, may lead with customer connection in the new resume; however, should adapt the entire resume to spotlight new competencies like drive for results and communication skills.

Jobseekers that have an interest in making a career change may lack a key core competency of a job function. This is an opportunity to express aptitude and interest in cultivating a new competency. I worked with a Software Design Engineer in Test that was interested in transitioning to a Program Manager role. While he had many of the core skills requirements, he lacked one of the key competencies: user experience design.

Qualifications Summary
Web services expertise with the ability to translate technical concepts for a variety of audiences. Creative problem solver, exceptional communication skills, and adept at quickly grasping complex projects. Ability to build consensus across teams. Interested in cultivating user experience and technical design expertise.

The jobseeker was transparent about his competency, and the hiring manager determined the applicant had enough of the requirements to move forward with an interview loop. (This jobseeker nailed the interview questions and was hired).

Too long

Anything longer than two pages signals the need for a word count diet. The most relevant experience is typically the most recent. For a Phase 2 or 3 career, evaluate areas to cut from Phase 1. Only include early work history experience if it provides unique experience that is not represented in later experience and that is relevant to the jobseeker’s future career direction. For a Phase 2 jobseeker, replace academic content (i.e. coursework, school projects, clubs) for on-the-job experience.

Lack of evidence

Big claims without adequate support (i.e. metrics, rankings, results, and awards) lacks credibility and usefulness. If in the Summary of Qualifications are unsupported claims – words like skilled, adept, savvy, and expert, it’s important that examples of contribution and measures of success be included in either the Summary, Achievements, and/or Experience sections. For senior management/executive resumes, evidence is more important than an overview of responsibilities.

Personal interests without purpose

A personal section should only be included if outside interests represent you professionally. For example, if a job function includes teamwork, list team- or group-based activities. Personal information creates an opportunity for a jobseeker to make a personal connection during the interview process.

Caution: I had a client tell me that he really liked to “spelunk”. I added this to the resume because it demonstrated a sense of adventure in an otherwise ordinary list of interests. Someone on his interview loop took him as foolish because the authentic enthusiast calls the activity “caving”. The interviewer happed to be a world-class caver. Had my client really been a “caver”, he could have had an instant personal connection with someone on the team.

One final note. If you don’t plan to converse with co-workers about your personal interests, chances are that they’re really private interests and should be kept private.

Blah formatting

More often than not, the resumes that we receive are formatted with Courier or Times New Roman fonts. Since the bulk of our clients are Microsoft employees and Microsoft contract staff, we tap into the new “C” family of fonts that represent innovation in readability and design.

There are so elements that factor into effective formatting. Key requirements include adequate margins, and appropriate emphasis with font effects that are easy on the eye.


Most frequently asked question: "Is a cover letter really necessary?"

The short answer is, yes.

A jobseeker that desires to interview for either an internal or external position is willing to demonstrate willingness to research and package content for a busy hiring manager. An effective cover letter/introduction grabs the attention of the hiring manager and sparks interest learning more about the jobseeker.

A generic cover letter is not an effective tool for the savvy jobseeker. While a resume is specific to a job function, the cover letter/introduction email is specific to a job description. The job description serves as a checklist for introduction email content. The email “covers” all the job requirements, with specific examples from the jobseeker’s work history.

Like any well-written product marketing piece, the email concludes with a call to action -- the jobseeker requests the next step in the hiring process, such as an informational interview, interview loop or recruiter screening call.

© 2007 The Brane Company, LLC
All Rights Reserved, Reproduced here with permission.