How to Decide What to Include in Your Resume

Writing your resume can be daunting – especially if you’ve had quite a long career or achieved a lot in each of your positions. I know many people find it hard to know what to include. How do you sift through all those years of experience, all those challenges, all those results, and come up with a concise job description and a few bullet points for each position?

Some people give up and just include everything, winding up with a resume that is 3, 4 or even 5 pages long. The problem of course, is that no-one will read all that information, so even the most salient points will be lost.

In all but the most extreme cases, your resume should be no more than 2 pages long and this means you do have to make hard choices.

So how do you do it? There are a few methods I use when writing resumes for my clients, and I thought you would find them helpful.

  1. First, I look at job postings. I choose positions that are similar to the ones my client is targeting and I look for the commonalities. Yes, different companies look for different things, but there are always common themes that run across all job postings. When I find those, I make note of them. The resume I create needs to directly address them.
  2. Next I consider the type of company my client wants to work for. Does she prefer to work within large, corporate entities that are process-driven, or is she accustomed to small, entrepreneurial environments where things are constantly changing. If she is most comfortable in start-up or rapid growth companies, then I need to select content that emphasizes her past success in similar situations and I can eliminate anything that doesn’t do that.
  3. Next, I think about my client’s unique value proposition. What makes them different from other people seeking the same position? What makes them suited to work for the types of companies they have chosen in the positions they are targeting? By the time I come to write the resume, I will have a very clear idea of this and this means I can select content that emphasizes their unique value. For example, perhaps my client is looking to sell IT solutions and has a prior background in engineering combined with more recent sales experience. His unique value proposition may be his ability to relate to clients on a technical level and we can choose accomplishments that show how he has used this ability to close sales. Information that doesn’t relate to this can be omitted without damaging his chances of interview.
  4. If I still have a resume that runs over two pages, I read every sentence again and ask myself: “is it possible that omitting this sentence will prevent my client from getting an interview?” If the answer is yes, the content stays but you’d be surprised how often the answer is ‘no.’
  5. Finally, there is one additional problem you might run into, one that doesn’t affect me … because you are writing about your own career history, you have personal associations with each part of your history and those associations can blind you to what makes the most sense. As an example, I recently worked with a client who had made a career change mid-career. She had worked in technology marketing for the last 7 years and planned to continue in that field. However, her prior experience was in real estate working for large retail corporations. In one of these positions, she had been extremely effective. Given that she was targeting technology marketing positions, I knew it was important to play down this unrelated early history in order to tell a clear, consistent story of marketing success. But my client was very proud of that early experience and it was hard for her to accept that it shouldn’t be the focal point of the resume. It’s important to distance yourself from your feelings about any stage of your career and instead focus on one thing; what does my target employer need and how can I show that I can provide it?

If you follow the steps I laid out above, you’ll be able to write a resume that does just that.

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