As our roles become more technical and specialized, it is becoming more and more difficult to create a personal marketing piece (resume / LinkedIn / bio) that speaks to a broad audience. While this is an issue that effects a wide range of roles, it is especially true for professionals in IT and those transitioning from military / government roles into the “civilian” sector. If you stick to the following guidelines, you should be able to come up with a resume that is more readable, engaging and effective.
Focus on impact, not on process – Speaking to achievements on your job search documents and LinkedIn profile is resume writing 101. Too often, I see resumes that go into extensive details about the process – paragraphs of narrative outlining the minutiae (Project Managers and Developers, I’m talking to you). Don’t be afraid to simply share the outcome and impact. Readers will ask themselves “how did she do that?” Those curiosity gaps are a compelling reason to bring you in for an interview.
Don’t get too technical, even if you are in tech – One of the biggest issues I see are resumes that are so dense with technical language, tools and acronyms that they are almost impossible to decipher. When it comes to technical fields, don’t be afraid to move technologies to a “Select Technical Expertise” section or a “Technical Environment” line following each role. This allows you to share these technologies without over complicating your accomplishment-focused bullet points.
When in doubt, leave it out– If you question whether or not something is relevant, it likely isn’t. This can mean leaving off anything from minor accomplishments to cutting certain roles (especially extremely short term positions). Remember, the more you provide the less likely it is that readers will focus on those aspects of your background that matter most. Remove the distractions so that your most relevant roles and powerful accomplishments shine through.
Keep it short – Nobody wants to read a detailed account of your work history. And who has the time?! Keep your resume and LinkedIn profile to highlights – those aspects of your background that are most likely to pique a reader’s interest. The best way to eliminate unnecessary bulk is to omit (or just briefly mention) positions that are more than 10 years old. Challenge yourself to include no more than five accomplishments for each role, keep each bullet point to no more than two lines and only provide high-level overview of each role.
Get an outsider’s perspective – Sometimes you just know too much. Being an expert is an asset, but the “curse of knowledge” can make it impossible to see your information objectively. What you believe everyone will understand can leave many readers scratching their heads. Connecting with a professional or peer who is not an expert in your field is critical. They can point out information that is overly complex, difficult to understand or that will not resonate with a broad audience.
Remember, not everyone who reads your resume will share your expertise. Every once in awhile I hear “I don’t want to dumb things down just because HR doesn’t understand what I do.” The above tips are not about dumbing down your resume or writing specifically for HR. Communicating what you do clearly and in broadly understood language appeals to readers throughout the hiring process, including hiring managers. Excellent communication skills are something almost everybody claims to have but – all too often – that claim is belied by an overly-complicated and overwhelming resume.