I'm hiring two positions at work at the moment: a summer internship for a college student and a permanent position for someone with roughly 2-5 years of relevant experience (analytics, finance, marketing, etc.) The result is that I've been spending a lot of time reading resumes. I think I've gone through about 100 in the last couple weeks.
I don't pretend to be any great expert, but allow me to offer my basic advice on how to write the kind of resume that is one of the 20% that I ask HR to follow up with and do a quick pre-screen.
The big challenge in reading resumes for the internship is that I don't really expect the applicants to have any relevant job experience. I've got people majoring in Business, Finance, Economics and Mathematics in my stack, and any one of these would be a perfectly decent background for the summer internship. (I'd be fine with other fields as well, but only students from those fields have applied.) Job experience tends to be inapplicable: food service, cleaning, yard and painting work, etc.
Given that, the keys to getting contacted are:
- Be clean and organized: With so little experience a sprawling and messy resume looks like a bad sign.
- Write a good cover letter: For more experienced candidates I don't find the cover letter all that interesting, but here it's a good way to show that you can write clear and forceful prose. 2-3 short paragraphs explaining why you'd be great for the job. Go for genuine over trying to fake business-ese. I read real business-ese all the time.
- Have a hook: This is the trickiest one, since doing it will be pretty individual, but either in the resume or in the cover letter convey something that's interesting and individual. It doesn't actually have to be relevant to the job, because with an internship in which the candidates don't have much of any relevant except their class work, there's not much you can do to stand out there. The key is just to sound like someone it would be interesting to talk to.
Analyst: 2-5 Years Experience
Here, the keys seem more obvious, so I'm a bit surprised that they aren't more consistently followed:
- Keep your cover letter (if any) to 2-3 short paragraphs which make it clear that you've read the job description and explain in not-overly-grandiose terms why you think you'd be a good fit for it. This is your chance to relate experience that may be a little different from the job you're applying to the job description. (Otherwise I'm left to figure out why someone whose experience is in retail fashion merchandizing is applying for a finance job at a lawn and garden company.)
- Proofread. Lots. If you can't write a coherent cover letter and resume, I'm unlikely to interview you.
- Keep your resume short. Try to describe each of your jobs in three bullet points and never more than five. Your full resume should never be more than two single sided pages. I kid you not, I got a six page resume.
- Formatting matters. When I'm reading through a stack of resumes and get to one that's hard to read, I won't want to read it. This also tells me about your ability to put together an attractive presentation. If you can't bother to do it on your resume, why would I expect you to do it after your have the job and you're putting together a PowerPoint deck for me on a deadline? I'm not wedded to any one format. But some key things are:
-- Make it easy to distinguish your name and the sections (different jobs you've had, education from jobs, etc.) Use dividing lines and whitespace as necessary to achieve this.
-- Provide some kind of a description right near the top. I'm not personally crazy about having this as a "goal" because these often sound silly or forced, but a tagline is good. Mine, for instance, says rather generically "An experienced marketing professional with a track record of analytical problem solving."
-- Include a "Key Strengths" section which summarizes the skills that you want the hiring manager to know you have. This is your chance to draw out the elements from your job descriptions which you think are most relevant and state them in a way that sounds like the job description of the position you're applying for.
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