I recently provided feedback on a friend’s boyfriend’s resume, as he applied for new jobs as a quality assurance (QA) manager and software project manager. My feedback for him applies to a lot of resumes I’ve seen as a hiring manager, so I wanted to share my [edited and anonymized] list here. Take a look at your resume and see if you’re making some of these mistakes yourself.
To be clear, this checklist won’t help if you have no experience to speak of. And it will definitely take you longer than 60 minutes if you need time to wordsmith each bullet point. But if you have a “C-” resume, I bet you can take it to a “B+” in just an hour.
Pros and cons: Reviewing a QA Manager’s resume
First, the strengths. He had lots of experience, including working with business stakeholders (not always true for technical people). He’d also worked on a variety of projects, using a variety of programming languages, which suggests he’s versatile and can learn quickly. Finally, from looking at a job posting he was considering, he had almost all of the “preferred” skills a company wants. Perfect.
But then the weaknesses. His three-page resume was dense and hard to understand. He listed a lot of responsibilities, without quantifying the results of his actions. He wasn’t getting many interviews, especially as he looked to relocate to Raleigh.
What to change in his resume (and maybe your resume!)
To get more interviews, I recommended he make some significant revisions — and you can use this as your checklist, too:
- Shorten your resume to 1-2 pages. At three pages, his resume was too long. You don’t have to collapse it to a single page, but I recommend a maximum of two pages. Otherwise, screeners will think you don’t understand that resumes should be fairly short. Over the years, I always had trouble deciding which bullets to delete from my own resumes, so that’s not unique to him or to you.
- Be ruthless in eliminating irrelevant content. As an exercise, eliminate the least-valuable bullets until you get down to perhaps three bullets per job. Also, he could probably collapse his 2000-2005 positions from 16 lines to 10 lines by putting those into a generic “Other Experience” section.
- Quantify accomplishments wherever possible. Use whatever metrics you can find. For instance, instead of “multi-million dollar,” he could say “$6 million” or however much.
- Provide context. I had to look up several acronyms on his resume, ranging from his employer’s name to projects he worked on to technologies he used. If a hiring manager (or a screener/recruiter) won’t know it, be sure to write it out in addition to using the acronym/initials. Exceptions would be terms from the job posting, or fairly common things that a layperson would know.
- Focus on results/benefits, in addition to actions/duties. He did this in several of his bullets (for instance, running a test suite that led to the program getting accredited), but you should try to do that in every bullet. And if you can’t and the bullet isn’t absolutely vital to match the job posting, it might be a good sign that you can delete it.
- Use an introductory summary to frame your resume. Initially, it wasn’t clear what he had to offer. For instance, seeing a list of programming languages and database experience, he might have been a programmer or a DBA, rather than a quality assurance manager. Eliminate confusion by saying what/who you are.
- Choose a “stake in the sand” headline. I like headlines coupled with the short intro about what you have to offer. For instance, I helped a friend redesign his resume as a front-end developer with expertise in user experience (UX). His headline eventually became something like “Front-End Developer with 5 Years’ UX Experience, Creating Open Source Sites for Clients like Intel, FedEx, and Wachovia.” Think about how you’d collapse your key experience and benefits into a line or two.
- Customize to address “WIIFM?” Hiring managers really just want to know “What’s in It for Me?” (that is, how do they benefit if they hire you?). I recommended that he have separate resumes for Quality Assurance (QA) job applications versus your Project Manager job applications. Some content will overlap, but managers want to see things presented in a way that’s relevant to them — it’s not about what’s easier or more convenient for you.
- List a Raleigh address. For my recent entry-level positions, I auto-rejected non-local candidates. For specialized positions, companies might consider relos, but you don’t want to cut yourself out of the running. Since his girlfriend lives in Raleigh and he’s definitely relocating here, I’d say it was fine for him to list her address. But he should address this in the cover letter, to avoid seeming disingenuous if a company asked him to interview tomorrow.
- Minimize confusion. In addition to explaining acronyms and localizing his address, he should eliminate anything else that’s confusing. For instance, it wasn’t clear if he was a government employee, government contractor, or long-term consultant in his latest job. And he didn’t reference whether he had a security clearance in his defense contracting position — not immediately relevant to his next job, but it couldn’t hurt.
Doing what it takes to get results
Ultimately, he had great content — he just had to present it better. To get more interviews, I recommended repackaging things and adding quantified details. And you know what? Last month, he got the new job in Raleigh!
You can repackage your resume, too. How does your latest resume stand up to my 10-point checklist?