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New Rules for the New Resume

Hi everyone –

I’m excited to be here at GovLoop!

A bit about me, I’m a Director of Communications at the Government of Ontario, Canada, working in Cabinet Office.

I’m also a late GenX and early Netgen kinda guy! I write to an internal Ontario gov blog and thought I’d share and cross-post some of my favourites over here as well at the same time.

For my first post, I really wanted to share some tips on how to design a great resumé.

As a hiring manager, I’ve read many, many thousands over the years. For anything new media related, I usually get around 300-1000 resumés in during a competition. Sometimes I see amazing ones. Mostly they hurt my eyeballs..

There are tons of great resources out there on the web already, many of which are written by HR professionals. Which is cool, of course, but I feel sometimes they’re written out of a text book and may not actually hold the “inside scoop” one often looks for in order to climb out on top, y’know?

Writing resumes can be very job and sector specific. I wanted to share my own personal “behind the scenes” tips — from the perspective of a younger government hiring manager who always looks for up and coming netgenners, as Don Tapscott calls them.

So! Here are my favourite personal tips (in no particular order) for those looking to cut through the clutter and grab attention with their resume:

  1. Don’t talk about yourself, talk to me. Use a first person active voice. “I always deliver,” and not “Bob has consistently shown…”
  2. Use a nice easy-to-read font, preferably one without serifs and at least 10pt.
  3. Don’t cram everything in. And for the love of my eyeballs don’t write 10 pages. 3, tops.
  4. Don’t cram everything right up to the edges. Tight margins don’t photocopy.
  5. Don’t be smart and write a 1 page resume, either. 2-3 pages is perfect.
  6. Don’t say “company” in your cover letter when it’s a public sector position, or vice versa. “Organization” is always safe, unless it’s a small business. Choose your words carefully.
  7. Choose or create a design format that looks great when photocopied.
  8. Skip colour, unless it’s for a design gig. Note: designers stick to high contrast black and white.
  9. Avoid strange fonts when sending in Word documents. Use a PDF or stick with the defaults: Georgia, Tahoma and Verdana look great.
  10. Get on the business social media sites. Get recommendations. Start a career-oriented blog or a digg account. Include the links in your resume. Skip your pet or recipe site.
  11. Applying for a fancy new media job? You can safely leave off your retail experience from the ’80s.
  12. Unless you worked for CERN, you don’t have “20+ years of Internet experience.” Nobody does. The first browser launched in 1993, fyi.
  13. Being on Facebook or Twitter makes you as much of a social media expert as driving a car makes you a car mechanic or highway planner.
  14. Include one or two reference letters if you feel compelled, tops. Not 10. Or 20.
  15. Use bold fonts sparingly. A few key words on the cover letter and your job title is perfect.
  16. The cover letter is a real chance to show me your personality! It’s a smile and a handshake — be creative and keep it informal. ”When I saw your posting, I spilled coffee all over my desk in excitement! I knew I was perfect for the role, and here’s why…”
  17. Spelling errors are killers. Double-check your grammar and have a friend proofread.
  18. If your stated career objective is to work for me, I’m not going to hire you. Impress, don’t flatter!
  19. Career objectives are long-term goals. If it doesn’t align to the posting, don’t use it.
  20. Mention something about the job in your cover letter, but don’t echo back the job ad like a robot.
  21. If I can tell you’ve mail merged your cover letter, you might as well have not written it.
  22. Avoid junk titles. “Business solution advisor” means nothing to anybody.
  23. Eliminate acronyms like a ninja eliminating assassins.
  24. More than 10 jobs and you may look like a flake. Leave out non-relevant work experience, there’s no rule that says you have to include that time you spent at Bob’s Steakhouse.
  25. If you’ve got a college or university degree and are applying for a senior position, you can safely remove references to your high school diploma.
  26. Don’t say you’re familiar with old versions of Office, DOS or Windows. Ooh, OS/2! Handy.
  27. Nobody cares if you can type 90 wpm.
  28. List any speaking engagements or major conferences you’ve attended!
  29. Don’t fax your resume in, if possible. Email or hand deliver on fantastic paper.
  30. If you’re a techie applying for a non-tech job, reduce or remove the tech skills section.
  31. If you’re repeating parts of your resume on your cover letter, you’re not writing a very good cover letter.
  32. Show me what risks you’ve delivered for those who risked employing you.
  33. Sprinkle in short killer client or company quotes! “Bob is amazing!” – Former CEO
  34. Adding organizational logos against each job really pops, try it out.
  35. Demonstrate real results and outcomes. Don’t just say you’re a team player, show how and why.
  36. I don’t care who you were as much as what you did and what others let you do.
  37. Put the budget amounts to which you were responsible if you had ‘em.
  38. List your most proudest accomplishments! I love that section. Show me your passions!
  39. Did you ever start something from scratch or grow anything beyond expectations? Include!
  40. List those lame internal company training seminars and awards you received! They’re not lame at all, as it turns out.
  41. Skip the highlight reel at the beginning and organize your work experience simply by job title.
  42. If you’ve had 5 jobs in one company, list them as 5 different jobs, or in a way that shows your career growth.
  43. I know what they say, but not putting the year you graduated always looks fishy to me. Don’t be afraid to tell your full story.
  44. Don’t rely on position titles to explain your role. ‘Director’ means different things depending on the size of the company.
  45. Hobbies are cool, but don’t overdo it. Think strategically: Which ones highlight your personal character traits?
  46. Don’t be cheeky or sarcastic and avoid self-deprecating humour. Humour’s tricky, run any jokes past a couple people to check they work.
  47. If you’ve had direct reports, include that. Don’t confuse with “indirect” project teams or vendors, list those things separately.
  48. A project manager does not a manager of projects make.
  49. If you’re a designer, include a link to your design portfolio. Your work deserves more than a random collage on the back page. Oh, and, your resume should look extra wonderful.
  50. If you did consulting gigs, no need to namedrop obscure clients. List the biggies and summarize the rest with “.. plus 8 other leading financial/retail/tech organizations,” etc.

At the end of the day, look at your resume and ask yourself: “Is this me?” If the answer is “Meh, sort of… kinda… not really,” you may have more work to do. ūüôā

I feel like I should add here some sort of disclaimer like “my views aren’t policy anywhere and of course it goes without saying that these intangible design qualities will only help so much.” Ultimately, hiring managers use a rational scoring system to ensure a fair and equitable hiring process for all candidates. Don’t forget to read the job ad carefully as the top traits to be scored are usually represented!

Best of luck to all those polishing up their resumes,


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Jay S. Daughtry, ChatterBachs

Great pointers, Steven! I didn’t know that there would be so many! A few were quite new to me… I had never heard of using company logos on a resume. I may have to try that one out… especially since I have some good ones to use! Oh, and #32 should read… Show me what rewards you’ve delivered for those who risked employing you. Thanks for the insights, Steven.

Stephen Peteritas

Nice first post Steven, if you have more like this to cross post I look forward to reading them… I just added this post to our new-hire section of the site.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

Great tips Steven! And I’m glad to see a Canadian on GovLoop. I’m wondering if there is a similar blog for Canadian civil servants. Resumes will become more important now that we are getting rid of KSAs and questionnaires.

Michele Costanza

Hi Steven: I’ve actually read some articles on job boards advising people to leave off their education from their resumes, especially graduate degrees, if they appear overqualified (or over-aged). What is your opinion about leaving off education or credentials from a resume?

It reminds me of the advice given to Winona Ryder’s character Lelaina in the 1994 film Reality Bites, when her mother tells her to get a job at Burgerrama. Flabbergasted, Lelaina reminds her parents that she was her university’s valedictorian. Her father advises her not to put that little tidbit on her Burgerrama job application. What do you think? Good advice?

I myself witnessed the owner of an education consultant company throw away the application of a person with a doctorate because she didn’t think that person would be “happy” working for her.