Writing the Best Resume During Coronavirus

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

he job market has shrunk and competition for those jobs that are out there has increased substantially. So how do you craft a resume that will rise to the top of the “virtual” pile and get you noticed? How you present yourself in your resume matters and, while it takes some effort to write a great resume, it is not as hard as it may seem on the surface. There are many tips, resources, and best practices that I will share in this article to help you create a winning resume.

First, a bit about myself. I have been a hiring manager for over 25 years. I’ve worked for successful companies but I’ve also worked for companies that filed for bankruptcy, liquidated assets, and/or were acquired by other companies. I was laid off from my job in the financial industry during the crash of 2009 and had to reinvent myself and find a new job — landing in higher education. A strong resume has always been the key to open that next door.

This is the first in a series of articles that I am writing about job hunting. This article is focused on your resume. Subsequent articles will discuss networking, where to search for jobs, interviewing and landing your next job offer. So let’s get started.

Assess your skills and the outcomes that you have achieved.

As you approach writing your resume, or updating an existing one, you should first take stock of your skills. Think about and jot down what you consider to be your strengths, and don’t be shy about it. I’ve had the pleasure over the years of teaching a professional development class for employees. This is the first activity that we do. I sometimes see participants list two or three strengths/skills. Everyone has more than that number. Dig deep and make a good list.

Once you have your list, don’t stop there. Get feedback from others. Talk to your prior supervisor, your work colleagues, your university professor. Think back to previous performance reviews that you have received. What do people come to you and ask you to help with because you are “good at that”? Some of these skills you will have been practicing for years and have a high level of comfort performing. Some of these might be new skills that you are acquiring and beginning to demonstrate. Both types count for this exercise. Add to your list as needed.

Employers not only want to know what skills you have but also how you have utilized them to accomplish goals.

Maybe you designed and implemented a new process that shaved 20% off of the time it takes to assemble a product. Or perhaps you performed marketing research that led to the launch of a new campaign that increased sales by 30%. Maybe you are an administrative assistant who has handled a high volume of phone calls while keeping everyone around you organized and on-time. Or perhaps you are a teacher who is now learning to excel at delivering relevant content and engaging your students online. The resume you craft will showcase your skills and how you have applied them to better serve customers, solve problems, and move the ball forward.

And with all of these hours at home, now is a great time to learn new skills and brush up on those that you already have. Want to refresh your French? There’s a way to do that online. Want to learn Excel? Go ahead. Or you could improve your carpentry or your baking skills. Although with so many people posting their home-baked goods online, I know many of you already have that one covered.

Write/Update your resume

Speaking of baking, think of your resume as your signature dish. You should use your best ingredients. It should have delicious layers and special seasoning. It should be rich yet perfectly proportioned. And once you taste it — it should leave you wanting more.

Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash

First, a few basics. It’s hard to believe that I have to say this, but of the hundreds of resumes that I look at every year, I always come across a small percentage with spelling and/or grammatical errors. Don’t be one of those people! It’s sloppy and it will set you back. Proofread your resume. Run it through the spelling and grammar checks you may have on your computer. Ask someone you trust to proofread it. Then set your resume aside and read it through again the next day.

As to length, if you are just starting out, a one page resume is just fine. For most people, a two page resume is a good length. If you are far along in your career, or if you have special things that you need to list (like you are an academic with many publications) then three pages will work.

If you want tips on formatting a resume, then search for “sample resumes” on your computer. This will give you lots of ideas on style. You will find different styles for students and those earlier in their careers, for job changers, for those returning to the workforce after a long leave, and for those in the mid to latter parts of their careers. Pick a format that you like and then apply it to our own resume.

Bullets with action verbs make your achievements stand out.

No matter the format, I like to see a resume with bullets and action verbs. Occasionally I see paragraphs of skills and responsibilities. These can come across as dense and stodgy. Pick strong action verbs to describe each of your responsibilities and accomplishments. For example, what have you: Organized? Designed? Developed? Led? Coordinated? Look at the sample resumes that you pulled up on your computer. Lift the verbiage that you like, tailoring it to reflect your own skill set and achievements. Make your resume come alive to the reader.

Lastly, there is no such thing as one resume.

What you need is a resume that will serve as your base when applying for jobs. When you do identify jobs that you wish to apply for, read the job posting/job description closely.

You may need to move the order of items on your resume around to better focus attention on the skills and experience that the job is seeking. Maybe you need to pull a few bullets out and add a few others in to better address the requirements of the position. Some companies/organizations only allow you to upload one resume that is permanently stored and used for any positions to which you may apply. In that case, your base resume is your “go to”. But when you are able to submit an individual resume for a position, make sure it speaks to the job for which you are applying.

And should you submit a cover letter? Yes. Yes, you should always submit a cover letter if given the option. Use your cover letter to further outline how your skills, background, and experience make you the best choice for the position as described. To be honest, as a hiring manager I always look at the resume first to decide if I might be interested in the candidate. If I am, then I go to the cover letter to confirm and find out more about what I thought was interesting in the resume. I won’t necessarily discount a candidate if they have a knockout resume but no cover letter, but the resume then needs to truly be knockout. I’ll also wonder why the candidate couldn’t be bothered to take the time to customize a cover letter for me.

final comment about your resume. A resume should not be static; a resume is a living document. It grows and changes and evolves as you grow and change and evolve. It is a best reflection of you — what you have accomplished and what you have the potential to accomplish. Let it tell your story, and let it be your tool to write your next chapter!

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Mary O’Connell is a professional with 25+ years of work experience in public and private companies, for-profits and not-for-profits, global and domestic.

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Mary O'Connell

Mary O’Connell is a professional with 25+ years of work experience in public and private companies, for-profits and not-for-profits, global and domestic.