Tips on writing good resumes

Typically, a resume is meant to excite sufficient interest and open doors for you or get you an interview call. It is not meant to be too detailed but needs to point the reviewer to all the reasons why you should be noticed. For example,

  • Somebody may feel that their academic performance is the highlight of their background
  • Somebody may wish to highlight the institutions where they have been trained because the reputation of these institutions might be very high
  • Somebody else may wish to highlight certain specific achievements and recognitions/ awards
  • Somebody else may wish to highlight their leadership activities

Here is the exercise to do when evaluating whether a resume has shaped up well and will do its job for you:

  • Give your resume to somebody who does not know you (preferably somebody who is representative of the kind of people who might be evaluating your candidacy)
  • Give the person 30 seconds (max 60 seconds) to scan the resume
  • Take back the resume and ask the person to write down (or tell you) what ever they remember from the resume.
  • If they put down all the points that a) you wish to showcase and b) are your strengths or that make you stand out, then your resume is headed in the right direction.

While there are points you wish the reviewer to notice, there are also points which you do not want the reviewer to assume, and for this some precautions are necessary:

  • Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors indicate sloppiness, laziness, lack of attention to details and lack of thoroughness.
  • Poor english and poor style of writing indicate not only poor communication skills but also lack of experience and depth  in english communication.
  • Poor structuring and formatting of the resume indicate lack of ability to organise your thoughts, lack of comfort with document processing software and computers etc. To me it also sometimes indicates lack of attention to certain aspects which will save the reader some time. It also indicates an inability to “sell” one self.
  • For scientists and engineers, lack of attention to how scientific  references are quoted indicate incomplete higher education and poor research training. Similarly, lack of attention to units and metrics while stating achievements may indicate lack of in-depth understanding.
  • Hyperbolic claims (especially with certain superlatives) and an excessive focus on certain indicators of success (ex: h-index, financial success etc) can back-fire depending upon the audience.
  • Emphasis on the ” wrong”  points may indicate lack of perspective and/or understanding of the evaluator’s priorities. For example, over emphasis of sporting talents or religious interests for an academic program/job.

That said, it is sometimes important to put down aspects of one’s background which can be relevant. Here is where good judgement is required. For example,

  • If you have excelled in anything at all, it may be worthwhile mentioning it. When I see somebody who has excelled in anything — be it sports, music, art etc — I take that into account because it tells me that the person knows that it takes dedicated and continuous (sometimes for several years) efforts to excel, is capable of putting in the necessary efforts to excel and the person values excellence as a value.
  • If you have done something which showcases your leadership qualities esp in taking initiative, conceptualising and initiating activities, mobilising groups around what one considers important, pro-active efforts etc, it is a good idea to point that out. I find this a useful indicator of the person’s abilities and interests in leading efforts.

Sending resumes to people:

  • Try to write a professional (means, no “hi”, abbreviations, slangs, sms-type of language) cover letter or email
  • Keep the letter very specific by addressing it to a specific person and keep the letter specific. Do not send bulk mail. Do not send email templates with obvious cut-pastes from websites. Write your own letter or email —- avoid copying your friend’s letter or email.
  • Sincerity, simplicity and seriousness is always appreciated in the covering letters.
  • Highlight a few key points about yourself that stand out in the letter itself.
  • Be sensitive to the reader’s limitations when sending out attachments. Nowadays, many people  use mobile devices to read email. So, it may not be a good idea to send a word file as attachment. Send text over email or attachment as pdf.
  • Have a professional email address from which you send out resumes. Avoid strange or funny email addresses.