A resume and cover letter are the most important parts of the job search process. This blog post is a starting point for thinking about Format, Length and Content of a resume.

I. Format: Should be simple and straightforward

  • Use a basic, clean font like Times New Roman or Arial (10-12pt) to make the resume look professional
  • Pay attention to margins, eliminate white spaces and do not justify
  • Save as .pdf, so the formatting won’t get messed up in the reader’s view
  • Properly name your resume (Ali Nawab – Resume, not just Resume)

II. Length: 1 page or 2 max (see resume sample here)

III. Content: see below for 4 tips

1 – Follow the CAR framework. Based on the Context – Action – Result principle, where:

Context – why was this needed / background

Action – what things did you specifically do

Result – what was the outcome (preferably quantified)

2 – Make it One Line / Skill. Each line of the CV should show a unique skill e.g. analytics, team work, product/platform expertise, problem solving.

3 – Align Resume bullet points to Job Description. Try to figure out what the job description is asking for, and then tailor your resume accordingly. Each line of the resume should align to each line of the job description of the desired role.

Hiring managers regularly spot such things as it shows structured thinking and makes it easy for them to match your skills to the requirements. So if job description says skills required:

  • Technical fluency in IBM Websphere BI
  • Strong communication skills
  • Strong team work
  • Strong problem solving skills

Then resume lines for your last role (at least) should follow the same format

  • Line showing IBM Websphere BI technical skill using CAR (Context, Action, Result)
  • Line showing strong communication skills using CAR
  • Line showing strong teamwork using CAR
  • Line showing strong problem solving skills using CAR

4 – Linkedin, Github and other relevant profiles updated

Include working links to updated LinkedIn, Github, and/or any other profiles a hiring manager can find on the web, especially in this day and age where most resumes are being submitted electronically through email or ATS’s (Lever, Greenhouse, etc.). A 1 to 2-paged resume isn’t enough cover everything you can offer so having these supplements can help hiring managers see if you are a good fit.

Cover letter

A one-page (yup, keep it to one page only) letter that is very important in making your application stand out from the candidate pile. In a cover letter, you can explain certain parts of your resume that you want the hiring managers to focus on. Here’s a sample cover letter I used in 2013.

It also allows you to address a specific individual in the company (the hiring manager or Head of HR, perhaps? and not the generic “To Whom it may Concern”) can show how much you are committed to getting the job because you clearly did your research. And while you’re at it, make sure to take the cover letter as an opportunity to tie yourself to the company — learn about their goals, mission and vision, etc. and connect it to your experiences. It should answer questions like: Why this field? ~ why consulting / marketing / engineering? Why this company?

What’s important in writing this letter is that you make it simpler to read. You have to assume the reader is an idiot, so don’t leave anything for readers to make connections / speculations on their own. In other words, don’t make them think at all, just do the thinking for them and spell it out. You don’t have to spill everything, just highlight a few relevant details to make them interested and want to learn more about you to give you an interview.

Alternatively, you can send an email to someone with a potential opportunity.

Sending out your resume

Before you send out your perfectly formatted CVs, don’t forget to:

  1. Proofread
  2. Proofread
  3. Proofread

While spell check and grammar check tools are helpful, don’t rely 100% on them, have your family and friends to look at your resume and cover letter for you for a fresh set of eyes.

And another quick tip: whenever you send in your resume to someone, try to write an email 2 to 4-sentence summary of your application, as it helps them understand your profile without opening any attachments. The summary can briefly include: what you did, where you went to school, what kind of roles you would be great at, what type of person you want to work for. It is similar to a cover letter, but much much shorter, aim for the highest number of insights with the least number of words.