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How to write a good resume
Written by Sameer Kamat
What’s the best way to form a great first impression on an influential decision maker? Create an impactful curriculum vitae (CV). This applies to almost all situations where a resume will be used as one of the tools to filter a huge list of candidates. Whether you are creating an MBA resume format for Bschool applications or creating a CV for internships or jobs, there are a few basic things you can keep in mind to maximise the impact.
Let’s cover that in 3 stages: First we look at the process that a majority of applicants generally follow, then we change perspectives and look at the process that a reviewer is likely to follow. Once we have contrasted the two, the disconnect is easier to locate. Based on that you’d know what you should or should not be doing when you are creating your resume.
What is the typical way candidates write a resume?
- Most candidates start the process by searching for sample resumes and freely downloadable CV creation templates and samples. The focus is on getting the best looking CV. The font style and size, the margins, the spacing, the sections all become obsessively important.
- The second instinctive urge is to try and cram as much data as possible into the (implicitly or explicitly) imposed size limits. If there are no size limits, the freedom often gets abused.
I’ve seen resumes that run into 10+ pages, completely with pictures, designed borders and colours that’ll make the wild 60s look tame in comparison.
How would the resume reader review and evaluate your CV?
- In case you are applying for competitive positions (like applications to MBA programs, high-paying jobs), specially those with deadlines, your resume will probably go through multiple rounds of review. Very few applicants will have the pleasure and honour of discussing their CV with the reviewer over coffee while watching the sun set over the horizon.
- In the crazy rush to skim through the pile of resumes lying on the desk, the first level of review will probably be done not by the final decision maker, but by someone who’s more junior. The role of this first level reviewer will be quite simple. Spend as little time as possible to speed read each CV and either dump it or move it to the next level for further review.
- The ones that move to the next level would generally have some key attributes that need to stand out. The more of those parameters you have, the better your chances of getting promoted to the subsequent level(s) of review. In fact, it is common practice for the first level reviewers to just highlight or encircle the words and numbers that really matter on your resume (we’ll come to what these are soon)
- After the initial screening, when the pile of submitted CVs reaches a more manageable level, the decision makers will start getting involved. Each resume will get a little more time, for a complete and independent review by a more senior member of the selection team.
- If the final reviewer (admissions committee member or your future boss) is convinced that the traits she’s looking for are present to a large extent, then the coffee and sunset scenario becomes more likely.
If you’ve compared the two, the disconnect should become more apparent. If not, let’s get more specific about what you should be doing.
How should you go about writing a good resume?
- Highlight the important parameters
– - Brand names: Strong brands convey more than words. If you’ve studied in a top university or worked in top brand companies, ensure that those names stand out (make them bold).
– - If grades (your undergrad GPA or your postgrad percentage) and competitive test scores (like GMAT, TOEFL) include them. Many management consulting firms look at these numbers to filter out candidates.
– - Evaluate the mix of technical (using strategy frameworks, financial modelling, requirements analysis and design, risk management) and non-technical skills (e.g. leadership potential, managerial ability, people skills) that the reviewer is expecting in the resume. Ensure that your resume clearly mentions how and where you displayed those traits. The lesser the learning curve for you in the new role, the faster and more productive you will be. Convince your recruiter (or admissions committee) that you’d be able to pull your own weight.
- Use short sentences (bullet points work well) in describing your contribution in each role. Verbose text only acts as a filler and takes up important space on your CV, without conveying the important qualities. In fact, if you aren’t careful while writing the resume content, the strong points might get lost in the details.
- What you’ve done in the past is important. But how that has prepared you for the next role is more critical. So present your accomplishments in a way that makes the reviewer’s job easier. One way to do that is by using action verbs (managed, coordinated, led, planned, analyzed). More than just being verbs, it communicates the skill that your demonstrated.
- Rather than just a dry listing of what anybody in that previous role would’ve done, make it look more like your personal story.
- And try to do all of this in 1-page. If you think that’s not practical, maybe you can add another page. But that’s it. Don’t convert your resume into a novel. The length of your CV is inversely proportional to the attention span of the reviewer.
Bottomline is that the content in your resume is far more important than the CV format you use. Writing a short, crisp and impactful resume can be tougher than you think. So get a good format going and keep fine-tuning it over time. You’ll soon find a personalized CV format that works best for you compared to the thousands of sample resume formats available for free download on the internet.