Constructing a Good Resume
A resume is a sales tool designed to get you the next job, nothing more and nothing less.
The key is to show the potential employer that you have already done the job it is offering, or at least parts of it.
Packaging and content are equally important.
- Remember it is elected officials who will hire you - target them as you write the resume.
- Research what the potential employer is looking for and tailor your resume accordingly.
- As a general rule your resume should be easy to read.
- Use white space to present a pleasing appearance. Cluttered or densely packed resumes will not impress. Bullet points make it easier to read.
- Use different fonts (type faces, highlights, and sizes) as a way to break up the material, but do not overdo it (too much variation can be distracting). You can also use color as long as it is subtle. Burgundy and navy blue are appropriate. Bright red or lime green are probably not.
- Remember that many of the elected officials who will read your resume are not young. That means he/she will probably be using reading glasses and a small type font will not be so use a font which is relatively easy to read. For example, Times New Roman 12 point works well while 10 point is too small.
- Provide some detail about the organizations which have employed you. When evaluating credentials, it is important for the reviewer to know, for example, how large the organization(s) is/were that you worked for (employees, budget, direct reports, span of control, etc.). It provides the necessary context so your credentials can be evaluated.
- Clarify your duties. Ideally you will have already done most or all of the duties expected in the job you are applying for. The more you have already done, the more comfortable the potential employer will be that you will be able to do the job. Then you become a lower risk for them to hire.
- Show progression. Demonstrate that you have taken on more responsibility in each new position as your career progressed. If you have been promoted, point that out.
- Show achievements. Duties only show what you were expected to have done. The person who gets the interview is the person who shows she/he has done the job well. Strong achievements help you get that interview.
- Show them you can hold onto a job. When someone leaves an organization, it is sometimes traumatic for those who remain and who have to keep the organization running smoothly. They are uncertain about who the next person will be and how easy it will be to work with them. They are uncomfortable because they do not want to repeat the experience in the near future. So, when they are looking at applicants, they will look for someone who has demonstrated longevity in their prior positions.
- Put some personal information in to show your human side - married, two kids, hobbies..
- Show you not only can build things - balance the budget and get projects done - but also that you can deal with individual citizens, citizen's groups and the media. If you are able to do the latter very well, you help make the lives of elected officials' more pleasant.
Types of Resumes
- Traditional. Experience in reverse chronological order.
- Functional. Functional resumes highlight areas of expertise and list experience by functional areas rather than by employer. People generally use them when they are trying to change fields. I tend to think functional resumes are not particularly effective, at least in the public sector.
- Long form. Long resumes should not be more than four pages - five if you have a summary page.
- Short form. Short resumes are very useful when you see a job you know you could do but anticipate that there will likely be others who have a great deal more experience in that particular area than you do. The best way to handle these is to cut your resume to one page and only include particular experiences directly relevant to the position you are applying for. The reader will realize that you had to leave out a great deal of your experience. What he/she will not necessarily realize is that the "great deal more" is not specifically relevant to the job you are applying for. So, the short resume may get you the interview you would not have gotten otherwise. Of course you still have to demonstrate you are capable of doing the job.
What the reviewer is looking for and wants to see
- That you have included the right experience - that is, shown that you can do (or better yet, have already done) the job that I am offering.
- That you have included relevant achievements. Demonstrate that you have not just done what was expected of you, but that you have excelled in doing your prior job(s).
- That you have quantified the elements of your job and achievements whenever possible. This provides context. Numbers and how you present them are important. "Managed New Smyrna Beach, a city with a population of 30,000 and 300 employees," means more than saying "Served as the City Manager of New Smyrna Beach." Alternatively, "Cut the budget a lot," does not mean much. "Cut the budget by 10% while maintaining the current level of service," is much more impressive.
When presenting data, consider what looks more impressive and present it that way. Cutting $10,000 out of $100,000 budget may require quite a bit of work and be quite an achievement but it does not sound as impressive as saying you cut the budget by 10%. By the same token, if you cut $1,000,000 out of a $10,000,000 budget, we recommend you say that you reduced the budget by $1,000,000.
Occasionally you will find that it is difficult or impossible to know exactly what the number is. Did I reduce executive level customer complaints by 85% or was it 90%? In such cases, we suggest the numbers you quote be accurate (i.e. close to reality) but not absolutely precise. How do you know what is accurate? The test is, if someone were to call your boss for a reference and asked him/her if you really cut executive level complaints by 90%, would she/he be comfortable saying, "Yes, that sounds about right." If not, then the number is not accurate.
- That you have shown examples of cases where you have worked with the public and/or individuals. It is impressive that you have overseen the construction of buildings and cut the budget, but elected officials also want to know you can work with residents and community groups to solve problems.
- That you have shown longevity in your prior positions (bearing in mind the communities and positions you have worked in).
Tricks of the Trade
- Never lie, but be creative in how you show your strengths.
- Minimize or do not show your weaknesses.
- The maximum length is four pages. At least subconsciously most reviewers assume, if you write more, it just shows you do not know how to prioritize and/or you cannot separate the important from the unimportant.
- Remember too that the potential employer will be focused on what you did most recently; so one way to reduce the length is not to include much detail from jobs early in your career (for example, when you were working you way through college as a part-time bus boy or waitress).
- List the most relevant material first. Reviewers want to know you can do their job!
- You must show your years of employment but you do not have to show months. In this profession, you may have been fired or laid off and have gaps in employment. It happens and it is normal but, if you show the months, it will highlight those gaps.
- If you have had several jobs with one employer, list them together under one heading. Otherwise someone giving a resume a quick read may think you are a job hopper when, in reality, you have been promoted regularly because of your outstanding work.
- Remember most reviewers only spend one to two minutes per resume on their first pass through the stack of resumes. Their goal is cut people out and reduce the stack to a reasonable number. So make it easy for them to find what you want them to see.
- It is acceptable, under some circumstances to combine jobs and even employers, as long as all the information is shown.
- You do not have to list all your experience - call the experience section, "Relevant Experience". Then you can be completely truthful in leaving out things that will not help you get a job.
- This approach may be particularly helpful to candidates who have taken a detour in their career. Say you went into the private sector for 10 years and now want to get back into the public sector. If you list your private sector experience first, many reviewers may never get to page 2 where your public sector experience is listed. So call it "Relevant Experience" and put the public sector experience first. Then call the next section, "Other Professional Experience", and briefly outline your other employment.
- Some older candidates we know use this approach to avoid making their age readily apparent and risking age discrimination. After all, how relevant is something you did 40 years ago?
- Find a good proof reader and have them go over your resume or if you can't, read it backwards one section at a time. You would be surprised at the errors you will catch.
- List no more than five professional organizations (on five lines). If you show more than five or six, you might appear to be a social butterfly instead of a person who is serious about doing the job.
- Adding just a little personal information makes you more human - e.g. married for 28 years, three children, hobbies include running, scuba and reading.
- For a younger person, just starting out, it is helpful to show you are well read. For example, you read the local newspaper (say the Orlando Sentinel) and a national paper (like the Wall Street Journal).
- Of course, if you say you read them, you had better read them because you need to be prepared if someone asks about a particular article.
Note: Some of the rules for a private sector resume are different.
- It is not necessary to use your exact job title as long as what you use accurately reflects the job you performed.