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Context

I am a professional project/program manager. I'm working on looking for a new job in the next year (I know timing is bad). I have built a resume with resume.io, which produces beautiful, elegant resumes that are intrinsically readable. Resume.io asks for 10 years of employment history. This resume, with high level synopsis off jobs as we get further back in time, clocks in at 3 pages. And that's bare bones.

So I took this resume and ran it through the AI resume assistant with vmock. It had some good tips that I can address but it of course said:

..needs to be 2 pages. And you need to vastly expand the number of bullets you include on each job desc.

So we have here two conflicting views that represent an apparent trade-off. If I've only got 2 pages to highlight the "I saved the company $5M with my software" bullets that recruiters seem to lust over, what gives? The trade-off here seems to be to remove other sections, e.g. certifications, education, etc. in favor of these super-duper bullet points. But, given that everybody seems to always claim that they "saved the company $5M" or something like that, it really isn't a difference maker because claims like that are easy to make up and hard to verify.

I should add on 2 separate occasions I hired resume/career professionals (one in 2016 and the other in 2019) to write the resume for me. Neither one produced any job leads and was money down the hole. And they each had their own "system" i.e. "templates." One produced a resume that was about 5 pages long. The other produced a resume that was 2 pages but the formatting was so bad that it would make a UX designer gag.

I'm leaning towards the "nobody really knows what gets a job other than having connections already working for the employer" answer.

Questions

But assuming that the resume still makes sense, what's the optimal mix of content in the resume format? Does anybody really know? Has there ever been a business school professor that did a study on this topic and if so, can you point me to the reference?

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    You might find Lilienthal's answer on workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/62677/… a good explanation for why to get down to 2 pages and what to focus on – Caliver Jul 15 at 0:30
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    15 years old but still the most effective advice I've seen on the subject: manager-tools.com/2005/10/your-resume-stinks. They also did a whole series of reviewing actual peoples' resumes which helps demonstrate the advice in practice. – Kaz Jul 15 at 15:45
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    But seeing as I'm here: A very quick summary of the advice: A resume's purpose is not to get you hired. It's to get you to an interview. Nothing more, nothing less. It needs to highlight the most interesting, compelling parts of your history and leave out everything else. Quality is better than quantity. Recent achievements are more important than older ones (all else being equal). Anything beyond 5 years ago is mostly irrelevant, so keep the job titles/dates and ditch the rest. Qualifications are only useful if they are valuable/required/held in high regard. – Kaz Jul 15 at 15:49
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    One page is better than 2, but if you insist on 2, build a one-page resume first (it will force you to determine which information is the most important/compelling. And you can always fill in the other stuff afterwards and space it out a bit more to get to 2 pages. – Kaz Jul 15 at 15:51
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As someone who has also worked with resume professionals in the past, I will agree that they are mostly (almost always) a waste of time and money. Nobody really knows what gets the job. There can be studies with indicators, but you can't really "science" getting a job. Especially since, I took my resume and asked some of my very successful friends (people working at FAANG companies), and they disagreed almost categorically with every single thing I was told by a resume "professional". So don't listen to resume "professionals", don't listen to auto-builders (written by resume "professionals"), don't listen to AI tools or whatever.

Talk to hiring managers, if you're involved in recruiting (interviewing) then you can read applicants' resumes and get a feeling for what you like to see yourself. Chances are, if something annoys you when you read a resume, it probably annoys other people and you shouldn't do it in your own resume. If I could point to a few things which annoy me (not that this is advice of any particular weight, but this is my own anecdotal opinion/experience):

  1. 2 pages is the limit. No applicant is important enough to read a book about. Well, I guess if your applicant is Barack Obama or Donald Trump, maybe you should read their books (which they've written), but short of that, don't read a book.

  2. The most important things should be at the top. All lists should be in reverse-chronological order unless you have a very good reason for not doing so. Your most recent work experience is your most important because it's the most accessible reference to your current skills. Work history should be before education, should be above hobbies and minutiae, with exceptions (personally speaking I went to a very prestigious university for software engineering, so I have my education at the top to highlight it, and that tip was given to me by a couple successful friends from the same school, one of whom owns his own company and does a lot of hiring).

  3. Unless you need to fill space, your description of each job should be no more than 5-6 lines, and should be point-form. If you write too much, it looks like you are trying to fill space and you have nothing really interesting to say. If you have many different projects, outline them all in point form; you will be asked for details in the interview if the interviewer is interested. Important things include a brief (3-4 words) description of each project, and if it had any quantitative results then outline those. Don't write an essay about each project, nobody cares (and if they do care then they will ask you in the interview).

  4. Spelling/grammar errors. Here's a good summary of what not to do. If I see someone write "loose" on their resume and it doesn't refer to a rope, I'm instantly throwing that resume in the garbage.

That's about all I've got. There are no rules, and anyone who says there are is probably lying. There is advice and recommendations, but getting an interview is not science and shouldn't be treated as such.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks, I'll upvote this. It's really, really difficult to summarize a $1M+ effort in 3-4 words and be an effective communicator though. What could I possibly say about a project with 3-4 words that would have any meaning? I guess maybe budget but that would make for an ugly resume. Food for thought though, appreciate it. – jdb1a1 Jul 14 at 18:27
  • @jdb1a1 As I said: There are no hard and fast rules. If you want another opinion, write out what you want to write, and give it to a friend who works in a similar, but not exactly the same, line of work to your own and see what they say. If they say "this is too long, it's boring", then that's an indicator of what the hiring manager is thinking also. – Ertai87 Jul 14 at 18:48
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    If you're having trouble with the 3-4 word limit, you can go into moderate detail on 1-2 of the most important and relevant projects, and stick to brief descriptions for the rest. – Caliver Jul 15 at 0:35
  • As a corollary to your first point: If somebody is important enough to warrant a 3-page resume, they're impressive enough to only need 3 bullet points. – Kaz Jul 15 at 15:56
  • I guess I'll mark this as the answer. The other comments linked to a podcast where the host would say things like "get rid of white space, take it down to 10pt font" etc. But he's a "resume pro" or whatever and I think the basic premise is that nobody really knows, which you confirm hence my selection of you as the answer. I love life determinants that are subjected to intrinsic randomness! – jdb1a1 Jul 15 at 19:03

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