Résumé – Critical Thinking Approach

Over the past few years I’ve designed countless résumés for myself and for others. This past weekend I spent the 4th of July helping my father design a résumé and seek employment. There are three things about what I’ve said thus far that I want you to pay careful attention to:

  1. Critical Thinking – This point is the most important. You must think critically about what you include in the résumé for each application you apply for.
  2. Design – I did not say “write” a résumé but rather “design”. This is an important distinction because simply put writing is only one step. You want your résumé to be an advertisement for yourself. Consistency, spelling, grammar, formatting, layout, the use of space – all of it makes a difference.
  3. Résumé – this is the correct word. We are not resuming anything so don’t use “resume.” Companies want to see that you pay attention to detail.

I will now do my best to elaborate and show clear examples of what works and what does not work. I want to take a minute to emphasize though that I am not a recruiter. I am a designer, a copywriter and am an extremely rational and critical person. Read the content I point out but then make your own critical decisions.

Critical Thinking
There is an old and well known saying that form follows function (“Form ever follows function” is the original quote and is attributed to American architect Louis Sullivan in 1896). Well as you see point 2 above (and in detail below) is the form. Here is the function. Each element must be a selling point for your skills, abilities and/or character otherwise it has little purpose in being on your résumé to begin with.  Let’s see a quick example or two:

Actual segment of a résumé I helped fix up:

COO, Company X — 2005 – Present

Company X delivers low cost companion pet vaccines and wellness care through local community clinics and introduced pet care as concierge medical services in the Orlando metro area. It operated at a profit from the onset with break-even at 17% below traditional walk in veterinary clinics.  I employ three veterinarians and support staff in a state of the art mobile facility, which includes laboratory, pharmacy and on board surgical suites.

The problem with the above is that it is talking about The Company rather than The Individual. It is highlighting things that the company did and explaining what the company is for the most part. You must be selling your skills! The résumé is essentially a promotional ad for you, not for your company.

COO, Company X – 2005 – Present

  • Employs and manages a staff of 3 veterinarians and 11 support staff.
  • Developed a business model that allows service costs 17% below market competition.
  • Negotiates as Purchasing Agent for highly technical medical equipment with a budget of $35,000 annually.

This revision highlights the same content as the original but does so in a way to make it about the individual and not the company. It further sells the product (the person) by giving specifics about not just what the person did but how well they did it. Think of an ad, do you want your ad to say “Affordable Cheeseburger” or to say “$0.99 Cheeseburger”. Your résumé is no different. Another important part is to not repeat the same skill on more than one bullet from a given set. This is just a matter of being really critical of your writing and editing it out.

Read each bullet carefully and note down what fundamental skill it shows that you have, if the same fundamental skill comes up twice in the same job then fix it. Combine the two bullet points, remove one of the bullet points or rewrite one to emphasize a different skill. An example could be:

Graphic Designer, Company X – 2009 to 2011

  • Designed approximately 12 advertisements each week for companies to place in industry directories.
  • Designed marketing materials to promote six annual publications.

Those are both tasks that I do, but those show the same skill – designing a promotional piece. It would be better to say something along the lines of:

Graphic Designer, Company X – 2009 to 2011

  • Designed approximately 12 advertisements each week for companies to place in industry directories.
  • Marketed multiple publications through e-mail campaigns, trade shows, Internet advertising and print advertising.

Say it with me: “God is in the details” (originator unknown).
When designing your résumé consistency is the most important thing to remember. This is an advertisement, this is a piece of visual communication. Humans search for order because of the way our vision works. If two blocks of text appear to have a similar format, we want them to be identical. More importantly you want it to be identical for your benefit. Not only does it show attention to detail and consistency but it will make your résumé easier to remember. A few tips:

  1. When e-mailing your résumé save a copy as a .doc, .odt, .docx or any other editable file type you want for yourself. Then save (or export) a copy as .pdf file to e-mail. Unless the job posting specifically states to send as a particular format the .pdf will be your best option. The reason is as a .pdf the format is preserved so there is far less chance of things not appearing how you intended.
  2. Grammar is important but consistency is equally important. Two examples I often see in copy are lists and quotes. Take a look above at number 2 and number 3 in the first list on this page. Do you notice anything? I’ll reveal the answer later.
  3. Layout and format of things such as dates and locations must be consistent. Don’t put Jun 25, 2010 on one part and then put February 12th, 2010 on another part. Or in location putting Orlando, FL and then Orlando FL. Pick one method and stick to it.
  4. Mind your tenses and parts of speech! If you are talking about a job you do not have any longer then the past tense is the correct option. If you are talking about your current job then it could vary. For example in the first résumé sample above (about the COO) the last point stated “Negotiates,” but could have just as easily stated “Negotiated for.” It comes down to what did the COO purchase and are there ongoing purchases or was it just a one time task?

Okay before we go any further did you find the problem in that first list? Hopefully you did but it is difficult. The punctuation differs:

  • “design”.
  •  ”resume.”

Which is correct? That is actually a debate as far as I know, but please comment if you think otherwise. My understanding is because these are single word quotes I can do it either way. There are also differences between UK English and US English. So which way to do it? Whichever way you want, but again pick one method and stick to it.

I hope this helps some of you in considering what to put on your résumé and how to format it. When it doubt remember to be consistent with your format, grammar, spelling and everything else. For content remember to do your homework and identify the fundamental skill that each bullet shows. Even better would be to make a checklist of the fundamental skills the job posting is seeking and then check off which bullet shows which skill.

If you agree or disagree I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a comment below.

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