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I have spent a lot of hours reviewing and refining my resume. As a result, I have spent a lot of time helping others with their resumes and have a polished, professional resume.

Throughout the past years, I have reviewed many resumes which simply strike me as, well, bad - poor formatting, too many words, etc - sometimes in completely different fields. Interestingly, this often includes examples/templates people have from universities or other places. This leads me to wonder if my personal perspective can be applied to these other industries (which I may not be familiar with).

I do not want to provide advice which is great within the technical fields but unknowingly is terrible for another person.

My question is:

  • To what extent do attributes making a resume "good" generalize across industries?

I am looking for an answer satisfying criteria for a good subjective answer, and specifically interested in resumes (not CVs or portfolios) in the United States.

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I think using some version of "To what extent do attributes making a resume 'good' generalize across industries?" would be a better title, since that's precisely what you're asking, and the title you have, when parsed, is actually a different question. Haven't edited it myself, as you might be intending something different than I've interpreted. –  jcmeloni Jan 1 '13 at 20:33
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I can imagine various characteristics that make for a bad resume, however, the absence of the bad doesn't imply a good resume would be my challenge here. –  JB King Jan 2 '13 at 0:38
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I'd make the same generic comment about CVs too; around 60-80% of the CVs I have seen have been very low quality in a variety of ways. I've seen this across several broad industry categories - the best ones tend to be from people who have been involved in recruiting staff as part of their role(!) The worst ones tend to be full of opinions (goals/statements) and job descriptions, as opposed to facts and achievments. There seems to be a general failure to understand that the goal of the document is to make it easier to put you in the "yes" pile for an interview for the role I have available. –  GuyM Jan 2 '13 at 3:50

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I'd say that some industries have unique templates, and of course the job experience worth mentioning will be highly individual. But the tricks that lend clarity to summaries, good organization, and qualities of being easy to read quickly if you are a subject matter expert in the same field would be largely generalizable.

Here's some things I'd think would translate. As personal experience, I keep both a performing arts style resume and an engineering manager resume and these seem to translate pretty well.

  • Make the contact info very, very easy to find and formatted with the standards of the country in which you are making the application - not every template for every job puts them in the same place, but put it in the standard place for you industry and make sure you have all the relevant information formatted in the way the reader will understand it. For the US there's a pretty common and consistent way of writing these things.
  • Good use of whitespace and headings - separate major changes in focus with more white space, items within a general category with some white space. Use standardized headings when showing major topics. For example, education and experience are fairly standard major areas, with schools or jobs in sublistings. For theater professionals "performances", and sometimes even a category for shows, TV and movies are separate categories with their own formats, but in all cases, you group the major items together and then usually sort by time - most recent to oldest.
  • spend your real estate wisely - highlight the best parts of your work/education, don't waste space on trivia, and relate interesting but less relevant information to the end. For all readers, the first paragraph is your sweet spot use it wisely
  • examples of yourself and your work are great addendums if and only if your work is good. Don't post websites with spelling mistakes, awful formatting, poorly written code, or badly performed YouTube videos - if you're going to say "this is my work" make sure that the average subject matter expert will say "WOW!"
  • comply with industry standards for samples of your work - whether you're providing a transcript, a writing sample, or a head shot - keep in line with some of the standards that are there for a reason.
  • have references who know they are your references and who are easy to contact. There may be different norms for how and when references are provided, but you never want a reference who picks up the phone and says "who? I don't know that guy!"
  • Do use terms that are commonly known in the industry, don't use jargon unique to a single place of employment. Double check yourself with peers and the almighty Google.
  • Your worth is measured by the depth of responsibility you took on in your last job (or most recent few jobs), the difficulty of the job, and credentials of the organization you worked with. Evidence that you continue to learn and develop yourself and that your skill set is relevant to current expectations is always important.

This has held true across at least two very different industries for me. When I started having to write and review dancer resumes (I'm the lead choreographer for a dance/theater troupe), I had to cross reference my expectations with other folks in the group because the comprehensive impression I got from some of the resumes was rather... engineer-ish. There is definitely a type of deeply technical tersness in an engineering resume while a dancer/actor/singer resume can look more superficial - for example, for most shows, saying "X role, X show, X theater company, X theater season" is quite enough information. You don't go into the depth of your work. Also - winning awards is a big deal and gets highlighted in a way that winning an internal company award in an engineering field does not.

Similarly, the context of work is different - engineers often try to show a solid 3 years on average in each job, because the learning curve is often that challenging. Performers may work a 3 month gig on average, and then be off to a new job as a regular way of life. But in both cases, when I interview, I make sure that the person has the resources work/life wise to dedicate to my project - for example, I make sure the engineer is aware of and able to meet my required work hours and is wililng to comply with any personal project/freelance restrictions. I make sure that the dancer is not working so many rehearsals a week that she won't be able to come to mine, and will be able to handle the few times at the end of the run where we may have to handle extra rehearsals. Either way - checking work/life balance is important, it's just different.

So what is important changes deeply, but how you highlight it doesn't.

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To what extent do attributes making a resume "good" generalize across industries?

Attributes fall into several categories, such as spelling, grammar, English, level of detail, amount of graphics, fonts, style, images, etc.

At a high level, I think that all of the above generalize across industries.

However, at lower levels, I also think that any or many may be more (or less) important depending on the industry. Obviously, English (assuming English here) is more important for an position with a lot of work on on-line content, when compared to a back-end position working on scheduling algorithms. Also, a position with a strong front end component will probably need to be stronger in presentation skills. So my answer is that all the skills are needed to some extent, but the same skills (but in depth knowledge) will be needed for different industries.

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I am having a hard time seeing how this provides an answer to my question. You say it is obviously important but it isn't to me. In fact the entire reason I posted this question is that it seems it should be obvious but does not seem to be that way in practice given all my (and others, from comments) experience. –  enderland Jan 2 '13 at 6:02

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