How to Build Your Best Resume

May 8, 2015

For the modern employee, the traditional resume no longer works.

Professional resume writer and UA alumnus Geoff Coon earlier this year shared his advice during a webinar, held in partnership with the UA Alumni Association, on how to produce a strong resume.

Coon will offer another webinar focusing on ways to expand a professional network and create a LinkedIn profile that attracts recruiters. The session will be held May 20, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. MST, and registration information is available online.

During his resume-writing workshop, Coon spoke about the common myths associated with resumes, and also offered suggestions on how to produce a strong, modern resume.

Why do we need resumes?

The curriculum vitae is used almost exclusively in academia, where applicants may have multiple programs and projects running simultaneously over a period of time. In that case, multipage documents are perfectly acceptable, Coon said. 

For most everyone else, the resume is the way to go.  But even for those who are producing a standard resume, it is perfectly acceptable to write beyond one page, Coon said. In fact, "99 percent of the time" it won't be a problem at all. However, job seekers should keep text to two pages.

Coon warns: If you have it in mind that a resume's sole purpose is to land you a job, rethink its function.

"If you are getting interviews and call-backs, then the resume is working for you," Coon said.

What about having multiple resumes?

"The short answer is no," he said.

"Having a good summary section will allow you to have a good base and a foundation from which to build. It's always good to tweak on a case-by-case basis," he said, "but really, the goal will be one resume that you can use confidently use for all of the jobs you are targeting."

This is especially important. Coon said that while the perception in industry is that you have 15 to 30 seconds to impress a recruiter or hiring manager, you actually have only about six seconds. For that reason, be attentive to the resume's real estate.

"It shouldn't leave out or limit any achievements," Coon said.

Building a resume

First, determine your goals, Coon suggests.

"It is important to determine before you go into it what you want out get out of it, and out of the process. If it is done correctly, it will be more successful for you in the long run," Coon said.

Think about a career and not just a job, he said. To start, keep a list of "what you love about your current job and what you hate about your current job." Also, keep a list of what skills you would like to develop.

These lists should help identify the best jobs while you are on the market. "This is really going to help you determine what you want to do," Coon said.

Each resume should have a headline, summary paragraph, key accomplishments, core skills with a list of core competencies (bulleted), professional experience, a list of accomplishments and, lastly, education.

If you do not have the requisite skills, or are making a career change, consider focusing on your transferable skills, or those abilities that easily translate to other positions, Coon said. He also suggests looking at your job requirements and touching upon them in ways that translate into skills.

"Think about quantifiable," he said. For example, if you manage projects under budget or ahead of schedule, this can be translated into achievements.

For students, Coon recommends taking applied classroom experiences and projects and translating them as professional experiences, broken down by skill set or area of focus.

About those applicant tracking systems

Applicant tracking systems, which rank applications, can ruin your chance for landing an interview.

Coon said it is best not to get too creative with section titles. For example, call work experience what it is, "work experience," and accomplishments "accomplishments."

"It is important that your resume is formatted so that ATS programs can extract all the information," Coon said.

That means no text boxes, no tables and minimal graphics overall.

What to keep, what to toss

Coon says it's a myth that people should put every single job they have ever held on their resumes.

"For someone who might be more entry level, that could be the case. For someone who has 20 to 30 years of experience, it's impossible to believe you should include everything. The general rule of thumb would be 15 years."

What about a strong objective? Coon's advice: Don't write one. The objective has no place on a resume anymore.

"The real estate on the page is very valuable. Do not spend any time talking about the role you are applying for. Talk about how you align with the role," Coon said.

That's why every resume must have a strong summary section, detailing not only a person's individual experience but also which skills listed in the job posting that a person possesses.

The summary paragraph is an "elevator pitch on paper," he said. "Show in six seconds the value you are adding to the company, what separates you from all of the other applicants and how closely you align with the role."

Analyze the job posting, looking for the core aspect of the role, and look for trends between job postings and if you see the same key phrase. That probably indicates a transferable skill.

Don't know how to address gaps? Coon says it depends on the amount of time — a month for about every $10,000 you make. Thus, if you were making $50,000, it is acceptable that it took you five months to find a job. You can also add training and consulting work to fill in those gaps.

Keep in mind:

  • Not everything put in a job posting is vital for you to focus on.
  • Don't copy and paste from a job description — that's a red flag.
  • When applying for a job, keep the core responsibilities in mind, and compare your role to those responsibilities as a baseline.
  • Don't just apply for 20 or 30 jobs. Identify jobs that are a good fit, and apply to those.
  • You don't need to list your month of employment, but if you are applying via an online service, be sure to include that information so that it is captured by applicant tracking systems.
  • Don't just list your job description. Show results of your work. 
  • It's OK to use fonts such as Calibri and Arial (Times New Roman is not required). It varies with each font, but 10 point is usually the minimum font size.
  • Don't rely on resume templates. Build your own.
  • Don't add the street address for jobs.
  • Don't list your reasons for leaving current or prior positions.
  • Don't add your former manager's name and/or contact information, or references. If employers want that information, they can ask for it.
  • Having a LinkedIn profile is just as important as having a strong resume, but ensure that the two are not identical.

More information about the Alumni Association's online career workshops is available online. Also, the UA's Career Services offers resume support for students and alumni. More information is available online.

You can find more advice via a blog maintained by Coon and his colleagues: http://www.resumeplatform.com/.

Geoff Coon, who earned his creative writing degree from the UA in 2007, is professional resume writer and a LinkedIn expert who has worked with thousands of clients to provide targeted career services and career marketing documents. Coon holds the Certified Professional Resume Writer designation through the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, and the Certified Advanced Resume Writer designation from Career Directors International. In 2008, Coon founded Resume Platform and has built the company into a full-service resume writing and career marketing firm. Coon also earned a master's degree in new media from DePaul University. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.