The Art of Resumes: Apply These Best Practices

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08-31-2023 05:42 PM
ChristianWells
Esri Regular Contributor
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At the 2023 Esri User Conference, the YPN group sponsored resume reviews for attendees, where they had the chance to sit with a manager or recruiter from Esri to get feedback and coaching. I had the opportunity to lend my expertise and knowledge to many young professionals looking for their first professional job, an internship, or even making an industry switch. The process allowed me to reflect on my journey of building a resume for the first time and the challenges I encountered during a similar stage in my career. It also revealed some common patterns when reviewing resumes as a mentor or a hiring manager. Here are three essential tips for building a stand-out resume.

 

Lean into the discomfort.

Writing a resume may come with mixed emotions – it sure did for me! I remember feeling anxious, impatient, and frustrated with the resume-writing process. While it may feel uncomfortable sometimes, I found that the best remedy is to sit with the emotions to understand them and clarify why I felt that way.

For me, I found that most of the feelings came down to two things:

  1. How would I set myself apart from other candidates?
  2. How can I convince someone to take a chance on interviewing me?

Once I knew why I felt like I did, my next step was easy – get curious! These questions that were circling my mind were something I could research and explore. They spawned other questions that I could find answers to, such as:

With each question came an answer that increased my knowledge, and with more knowledge, my confidence continued to build.

It can be easy to view writing a resume as a task to complete and get done as soon as possible. However, you will get shallow answers if you only ask surface-level questions. The longer you explore and the better questions you ask, the deeper your knowledge and confidence will become, giving you the exact advantage you seek.

 

Be focused, be concise.

One of the things I knew I needed to overcome when writing my resume was keeping it simple so that a recruiter could quickly scan it. It can be very easy to put as much information as possible into a resume so that you are covering everything imaginable. However, as we already know, recruiters may look at dozens or hundreds of resumes depending on the position and can only spend a short time with each one. Rather than being discouraged by this fact, we can use the knowledge to our advantage by finding the right balance of detail and brevity.

The key is to keep your resume design simple, consistent, and legible. Space comes at a premium on your resume, so you must discern what makes it in and what doesn't.

  • One page or two?
    • Early in your career, one page is best. As you gain more years of experience, it is more acceptable to have a two-page resume. 
  • Professional Summary
    • You could drop the summary; most of that information will be in a cover letter, and it doesn't often add much value beyond saying, "I'm looking for a job."
  • Bullets
    • Set limits for the number of bullet points you use for each job. Five bullets as a limit is a great rule to follow. 
      • Another tip is to decrease the bullets you use for older jobs. For example, I might use five bullets for my two most recent jobs, four for the next, and three for the last. 
  • Sections
    • It can be tempting to create sections for jobs, extracurriculars, volunteer activities, awards, and skills. I recommend a few simple areas:
      • Education - college or university, degree type and subject
        • Include GPA when over 3.0, honors, and thesis where applicable.
        • Note: After you have your first professional job, move education below 'Other Experience'
      • Professional Experience - positions directly related to the job you are applying for.
      • Other Experience - extracurriculars, volunteering, or unrelated jobs.
        • Note: I don't use bullets when listing these roles. 
      • Skills - specific technical or professional skills you can demonstrate in an interview.
        • Note: If you list it on your resume, it's fair game for an interview question. Consider the depth of your experience and your ability to explain your skills before you list them. 
      • Awards - only include awards if there is room; don't force it. 
  • Fonts and Margins
    • Proceed cautiously; making margins and fonts too small to make everything fit is probably a sign you need to edit and cut some things out first.

 

Don’t undersell (or oversell) yourself.

Before you dust off your thesaurus and start looking for the best resume verbs, we need to talk about the power of words. Take a look at the following statement:

Used ArcGIS Online to create maps for stakeholders.

How does this sound to you? Does it sound exciting and interesting? How much does it tell you about someone's experience?

It sounds generic and doesn't tell me much about the work being performed. So let's try something different:

Perform spatial analysis of environmental risks and design maps in ArcGIS Online for community stakeholders.

How did your perception change? Hopefully, you found it more enjoyable to read and have a complete picture of the work being performed.

This rewrite is more engaging to the reader and allows the recruiter or interviewer to ask better questions. What spatial analysis tools did you use? What environmental risks did you identify? How did community members use the maps to inform their decision-making? 

The whole point of a resume is to sell yourself - you want other people to be interested in what you offer them. If you undersell your experience and use overly simplistic or generalized language, it will be challenging to entice a potential employer. It is essential to take the time to write, rewrite, refine, and improve your language to make it specific, accurate, and engaging. Reading your resume out loud, even to others, is a great way to gauge how it sounds. 

Now, as a caveat, you'll also need to be careful overselling your abilities by stretching the truth or embellishing your experience. One way to avoid this is to ask someone familiar with your work to review your resume and ask if they agree with your writing. 

 

Summary

I hope you found something helpful in this blog that inspired your curiosity to try something different when you write your next resume. There is a lot of great advice out there, and I encourage you to explore as much as possible to find what works best for you. You have something unique to offer this world, and your resume is one way to show people exactly what that is. So don't rush the process; give it the time and attention it deserves - you are worth it. 

Thank you for your time!
Christian Wells
LinkedIn

 

Please share your ideas, feedback, questions, and more in the comments below. I will do my best to help you where I can.