Tuesday, October 20, 2015

5 Dos and 5 Don’ts of Resume Writing

Your resume is an important piece of your HNC application. The HNC's own Career Counselor, Robbie Shields, shares his 5 Dos and Don'ts of resume writing. 

Hello. My name is Robbie Shields and I’m the Career Counselor at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. In this post I’d like to briefly discuss resumes. For most, resume writing is hardly an exciting topic. You’d probably rather be reading about the 9-Dash Line, Baidu’s investment in Uber, or how governments, businesses, and NGOs are working to solve environmental challenges. But in order to position yourself to work in these capacities you need to know how to write a resume. Virtually every job, internship, fellowship, scholarship, or degree program (the HNC included) will require you to submit a resume. Therefore, let’s take a few minutes and discuss 5 Do’s and 5 Don’ts of resume writing. 

Before we get started let me offer this disclaimer; there are many different resume formats for many different regions. Additionally, different industries have different preferred styles. So the likelihood that you’ll be able to write one resume and use it for all applications is slim. But the recommendations I’ll present are fairly universal and will hopefully help you regardless of your region or industry of interest.   

1.      Understand the Purpose of Your Resume
a.       Before you begin writing it’s important to understand the purpose of a resume. Prior to writing you should ask yourself, “What do I want my resume to accomplish?” Almost certainly the answer will be to convey to the reader that your skills, experiences, and personality make you well-suited for the position you’re applying. This may sound obvious, but it’s important to understand this aspect, as it will influence your resume’s content.  

2.      Choose a Balanced Format
a.       When deciding on a resume format, you want to make sure that the information you put on the page is balanced, meaning that there aren’t parts of the page that are blank while others are cluttered with information. For example, resume writers often clutter the information on the left side of the page while the right side remains largely blank. You want to make sure that your information is balanced to ensure that the person reviewing your resume can efficiently find pertinent information. 

3.      Be Specific About Dates
a.       Resume writers are often overly vague or generic in the information they include on their resume. There is no area that more commonly illustrates this than dates. For example, when writing about a previous job someone might put that they were in the position from 2013-2014. If I was reviewing this resume I don’t know if this means the person was in the position for nearly two years (January 2013 through December 2014) or for only two months (December 2013 through January 2014). Specifying dates is an important part of conveying to employers your previous experience. Consequently, you should put the actual months and years you were in a position. This is true not just for internships and jobs but also for educational experiences, such as study abroad semesters.   

4.      Personalize Your Bullet Points
a.       Resumes are very personal documents. The content that you put on a resume should be your experience and your skills. Despite the personal nature of resumes, most resumes writers write bullets that are generic and don’t show what the writer did in a position. For example, look at the following bullet point under an internship:
                                                               i.      “Assisted in the marketing of organizational services to clients.”
This bullet, while accurate, doesn’t tell the reader what the writer did in that role. A good test would be to ask if the bullet listed could have been copied and pasted from the duties section of the job description. If the answer is yes, then it’s probably not as strong a bullet point as it could be. Look at the bullet point below:
                                                               i.            “Used graphic design tools, social media platforms, and presentation skills to assist in the development of marketing plans for 12 multinational clients and 4 Chinese clients looking to enter China’s second tier city market.”
Notice that the actions completed by these two bullets could be identical, but the second individual has done a much better job of personalizing it. When possible, try to personalize your bullet points. 

5.      Proofread
a.       Resumes are usually the first example of your work product that an employer will receive. If your resume has mistakes in it you can rest assured that the employer won’t be calling you for an interview. Understand that spell-check is not a sufficient method of proofreading. I have recently seen job seekers submit resumes that had mistakes such as:
                                                               i.      Curses included Financial Accounting, Managerial Accounting, Tax, and Audit”
                                                             ii.      “Translated documents from Chinese and English to asset supervising professor in his research”
Taking time to thoroughly review and proofread your resume can help ensure that the work you’re submitting is mistake free. 

1.      Exceed 1 Page
a.       Resumes are not biographies. They are a marketing tool designed to communicate your relevant skills and experiences to an employer. Consequently, you’ll need to omit some of your experiences. I find this is something that is especially difficult for SAIS and HNC students, as you probably have accomplished a great deal in your life. But when writing your resume, remember to consider the perspective of the reader. Most positions you’re applying to will value people who can efficiently and concisely communicate thoughts and ideas. Someone who can’t limit their relevant skills and experiences to one-page is probably illustrating that they lack the ability to identify what’s important and communicate it efficiently. So if you currently have a resume longer than one page, take time and think about what can be omitted. 

2.      Use Font Smaller Than 11 
a.       After reading the previous “don’t,” you might have thought that you could pack more information on your resume by changing the font to a smaller font. Don’t do this. When writing your resume you shouldn’t use a font that is smaller than 11 point font. You want to make it easy on the reader to review your resume and if they have to squint to read your information it’s too small. 

3.      Assume Knowledge of Others
a.       A good practice to get into when writing your resume is to always consider your audience. If you put information on your resume you need to ask yourself “will the reader likely know what I’m talking about?” For example, if you were the recipient of the Rhodes Scholarship or an Olympic gold medal you can be certain that the overwhelming majority of readers will know these awards. But if you indicate on your resume that you were awarded the Whittle Scholarship but include nothing else, you leave the reader wondering what this scholarship means. Rather than leave them wondering, parenthetically qualify/quantify the criteria of the award. Don’t just do this for scholarships, think about acronyms (you probably wouldn’t need to do it for the FBI but if you were applying for a job with a US company and you interned at the African Development Fund, you shouldn’t assume most readers would know ADF) and other instances.  

4.      Aggrandize
a.       It’s not uncommon to hear of stories of individuals who get caught making claims on their resume that are gross exaggerations of their actual abilities or experience. For example, individuals who may put they have advanced Microsoft Excel skills but during an interview are unable to create a pivot table when asked. Don’t inflate your skills/experience. Ultimately, you do yourself a disservice because when you’re caught doing it calls into question the credibility of everything else on your resume.   

5.      Email Your Resume in Word Format
a.       Formatting of a resume is incredibly important. When you submit a resume to a potential employer you want to make sure that the information is presented to the reader exactly as you intended. Different versions of Word can affect the formatting of the resume and consequently distort the information as you presented it. So when you’re applying for positions, make sure you submit a pdf version of your resume.

Hopefully, these tips will help you in getting started writing an English language resume. Remember that writing an effective resume takes time so don’t get frustrated if you find it difficult. Like most things, it gets easier with practice. 

Written by Robbie Shields, Career Counselor at the HNC