Matthew W Ford
Northern Kentucky University College of Business



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Thoughts on Resumes (Updated 09/20/2007 03:45 PM )

There's a lot of advice out there about resume design.  Ask 10 different 'experts' and you'll get 10 different opinions about resume content and organization.  Although that may be frustrating, it indicates that there's more than one way to craft an effective resume.

That said, what I'm sharing on this page is what has worked for me--both as someone looking for a job and (perhaps more importantly) as someone who has looked at hundreds (thousands?) of resumes in a hiring capacity.  Here are a few general thoughts:

Substance AND Style...

An effective resume is a combination of content and format.  Your content needs to set you apart from the dozens (hundreds) of other resumes in a stack.  Format is just as, or perhaps more, important.  Many people do a terrible job of organizing and presenting their 'talent package.'  You want a document that has excellent eye appeal and professional polish.  Believe me, this alone will set you apart in many circumstances.

Education vs. Experience?

For students just graduating from college with undergrad degrees and looking to start their careers, education usually comes first on a resume.  In fact, most students should embellish their college careers much more than they typically do.  After all, it's that degree that's going to separate you from others.  You should promote your college career in order to convince that prospective employer that your degree matters.

Action Verbs and Results Orientation

When describing education or experience details, use action verbs like achieved, implemented, led, obtained, reduced, improved, etc to help the reader visualize what you've done.  Make your achievements quantitative as well.  For example, how many people did you supervise?  How many dollars did that idea save the company?  What percentage did you reduce complaints based on you work?  Don't overdo it, as too many numbers can make a reader's eyes glaze over.  But selectively adding metrics to your record will show results orientation--a characteristic many (most) employers like to see.


Include them!  Readers are curious about who is willing to step up and say good things about you.  References with impressive positions and affiliations will work to your advantage.  Odds are that your references will never be contacted--recruiters just want to get an idea of the strength of your personal network.  Make sure that you obtain approval from your references before you use them!

One Page!

For most students seeking business positions, you want to keep your resume to one page.  Recruiters like the concise, compact one page package.  Plus they're looking to see whether you can prioritize and organize!  I should mention that certain career fields do encourage multi-page resumes.  One field is academia--my current resume, for example (called a 'curriculum vita' in academic speak), is about five pages long (I've seen them 4 times that length) and violates most of the rules noted above (coming from the business world, I'm not quite comfortable with this detailed, multi-page format yet)!

Some Examples

I've operationalized the above thoughts as well as some others in this sample resume.  It's not the only way to go, but I've tried to capture the things I look for in an excellent resume.

In addition, I've been working with a lot of students on resume content and style.  A few have graciously permitted me to share the development process with you.  In the table below are some examples of what can happen when you give more thought to content and layout in your resume.  (Note: names and other details have been altered to preserve the anonymity of the students.)

Also note that I have included my comments in these sample documents.  If you can't see those comments, try either Tools>Options>View>Screentips OR View>Markup (depends on the version of Microsoft software you have).

Student Example Resume Progression (Follow the improvement from left>>>right)
1 Version 1         Version 2         Version 3       
2 Version 1         Version 2

Final Thought: Resume as Planning Tool

Most people don't think about developing a resume until they're ready to look for a job.  I think that's a big mistake.  For one, it's usually NOT a resume that gets you hired--most great jobs are obtained thru personal contacts and networking--not thru mass distribution of resumes).  

Instead, you should create your resume far ahead of a job search--the earlier the better.  By writing it down you'll see the 'gaps'--slots that need filling with more education accomplishments, work experience, affiliations, etc.  As such, a resume is an excellent planning tool.  It will encourage you to chart your future--by helping you 'visualize' what you need to do in school, work, and play that will add value to your 'talent package'.  Modern word processing software make developing a 'working draft' of your resume a piece of cake.  Once you have it down on paper, you can revisit it periodically (monthly or quarterly) to record your accomplishments and to 'see' what more you can do to make it better.  Get that resume down on paper and then chart a course in life that will help you be successful in the Market for Talent.


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