How We Think About Resumes

Every candidate wants feedback on their resume.

Resumes are excruciating to write. It’s a daunting, time-consuming exercise. You’re relentlessly reevaluating: What should I say? Is this what the company is looking for? Whose advice should I follow? The advice contradicts? NOW WHAT?!

Resume writing tips
Why is writing a resume so hard?

There is a lot of resume advice out there - Some good, some questionable, most of it bland and peppered with “do this” or “don’t do that” imperatives.

Let’s skip this advice altogether. I’d like to rethink the entire resume writing paradigm that produces these long dry documents of blah.

To begin, I’d like to ask: What’s the goal of writing a resume?

To get a job? Well, not directly. The true goal of your resume is to effectively communicate who you are.

This mindshift is important. Without it, we often lose sight of genuine self representation and end up over-optimizing for keywords or including fluff because we think it’s what someone wants to see.

Remember the resume is about YOU! Here’s how to keep it that way:

Step 1: Know your value

Before we go any further, we need to get one thing out of the way. You are awesome!

Now, think deeply about the one thing that makes you awesome.

Are you a hustler where no task is too small and no mountain too big? Are you a Picasso or maybe the anti-Picasso of user experience and design? Are you a wizard at finding insights in data?

You might even solicit feedback from managers and colleagues, but try to distill what makes you awesome into one common theme. Whatever that is, write that down. Know it. Value it.

Now that you know why you're excellent at what you do, let’s talk about how to let others onto the secret as well.

Step 2: Have a headline!

A resume should start with a headline. An effective headline should spark a reader’s curiosity, drawing them into wanting to learn more about you.

It’s your first impression, so make it count. Here are a few examples of headlines that have stood out to us:

  • I’m a doer.
  • Experienced sales manager with a knack for turning guppies into sharks that always beat quota.
  • I seek to make information accessible to individuals, organizations, and societies.

These headlines are effective because they are unique, descriptive but concise, and relevant to their domains (product management, sales, and information architecture, respectively). These qualities make them memorable. Here are some tips on how to make yourself stand out:

  1. Keep it brief. Two sentences max. It’s tempting to pack your headline with a lot of information. Don’t lose your message by over-communicating.
  2. Let your voice shine. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re serious, be serious. While some of the examples above are provocative, this doesn’t mean you have to be as well. This isn’t about shock factor, it’s about being authentic, so use language you are comfortable using.
  3. Avoid generic terms such as "good", "great", "big results", etc.. Choose descriptive adjectives that stand out.  
Step 3: Tell your story

There are two components in telling your story: a compelling narrative (your content) and flow (how your resume is organized/structured).

For content, you will want to help the reader visualize how you can help their team by focusing bullet points on what you have delivered in the past. Here’s a post I did about writing compelling resume bullet points, which includes some examples.

Finally, ensure that the structure/organization of your resume doesn’t distract from the story you are trying to tell.  

This means structuring your information so that it’s logical to follow, anticipates questions someone might have, and is visually easy to read. Remember, you just spent an exorbitant amount of time writing your resume. Don’t let it all go to waste because you got overly fancy.


Final thought:

You’re awesome. Let people know it.

Related Resources

Category: Starting a Job Search

Resumes: Tell Your Story

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