Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Resume - I

My cousin just began his job search and he asked me to review his resume. I quickly noticed that he had a 2-page resume and I replied back saying "Dude! You have to reduce it to 1 page". He was a campus fresher and it was easy to give this advise. But it is not so easy when you are reviewing a resume of someone who is not a campus fresher. I began to wonder, is there some law, a convention, or a standard practice that dictates how long a resume would be and how it should be formatted. There are ofcourse a thousand resume books but none really give us a feeling of what's currently going on. So I thought I'd use the web 2.0 extravaganza and collect public/community perceptions on how they go about building their resume or give their thoughts on some good resume formats they have come across. In this blog post I will write abaout what I like/dislike about the resume styles that I have had so far and the resumes that I have seen so far. Readers could either write blog posts on this topic (please let me know and I can link your blog here) or leave comments on resume tips in the comments section.

The Length of the Resume

India and U.S have markedly different resume styles. The constant thing, I heard from my peers and seniors in the U.S was that "if you cant say your story in 1 page, then you don't deserve a job". I believed it when I first heard it, now I am not so sure. So my resume as a campus fresher at the undergrad or graduate level was limited to 1 page. It was 1 page when I was searching for a job with a couple of years of work experience. Now during this MBA campus job search with over N years of work experience it is strictly one page (school rule). The years of work experience has been condensed to 1 page of telegram sounding sentences. Most resumes that I have seen emanating out of the U.S has been one page (of course exceptions exist).

India has been a completely a different case overall. Resumes run long. Seriously, while there have been exceptions of concise resumes, most resume I have seen are 3-4 pages long. Even for people with less than 5 years experience. The emphasis was on providing as much data as possible. And what's more some resumes have things like Date of Birth, father's name, mother's name, number of siblings, and passport number in the last page. It looked like a sheet that you would send to Doordarshan's 'Missing People' program ("kaanamal Ponavargal arivippu") Some are most of these questions could be illegal to ask in this U.S. When I was asked to interview people in India, I found most of these irrelevant and never bothered to look beyond the first two pages. I always assumed that this resume was a consolidated data sheet for the HR (HR interviews in India involved questions about father/mother/sibling occupation etc - so candidates preemptively put stuff in their resume).

It is hard to pass a judgment on what's an appropriate length for a resume. I would assume that the shorter it is the better. If you edit poorly and keep it long, it might hurt you regardless of whether searching for a job in the U.S or India. However, one thing is certain no interviewer scans a resume for more than 30 seconds to 1 minute. Anything beyond that only means that he has seen something ( a project perhaps) in your resume that he has done before or is very interested in. Otherwise beyond certain keywords the scanner of your resume is not interested in seeing every detail in your resume let alone spot your spelling/formatting/punctuating mistakes and hold it against you (But that does not give you a license to goof off in your English). So it would suffice if the resume is sort of a trailer or a highlights package of your experience than a thesis of it. I understand that at some point your work experience would grow sufficiently large for you to move beyond 1 page regardless of where you are. I can't imagine anybody compressing 10 years of experience in 1 page. So there ought to be a tipping point where resumes would begin to span multiple pages. It is up to the individual to decide if (s)he has hit that tipping point. Even in these cases, your more recent experiences would typically be more relevant and so the emphasis and space spent on things beyond 5 years in the past would bee negligible.

The structure of the resume

Unlike the case with 'length' - you will not see a resume that is 4 or 5 standard deviations away from the mean as far as style/structure is concerned. In India, I have sometimes seen the resume with some data sheet on the first page. I usually assumed that the resume came through the head hunter and the headhunter prefixed their own data sheet to the resume.

The 'objective' part of the resume was something, I struggled with for a while before I dropped it eventually because it was perceived as superfluous. Data sheets, job application form, pre interview formalities usually take care of this part. Campus freshers who clearly want design, development over testing or vice versa write this preference (until they become desperate for a job :-) ). Otherwise it is the context of resume content + the job you are applying to - that takes care of your 'objective'. For more experienced people, who are laser precise about the job they want this section could be used to indicate the HR on what they want.

In most resumes I have seen a 'summary of skills' section. It sums up the key skills the person knows in different domains. Sometimes its technical skills and sometimes it is domain related skills. It potentially is a useful section. However, it has been abused to a large extent that it has become of little use to the resume scanner. Most people who have this section, have filled this up every possible skill that exists out there. For example 'programming skills summary' has 'C, C++, Java, C#, VB, ..." and the same person knows all the OS skills from 'BSD UNIX ....Windows .. Mac'. This has reduced the credibility of this section. I wonder if people still make judgement calls based on this section.

Usually 'Education' comes before work experience when you are applying via campus. I have heard that some people put education in the end when they are trying to switch jobs (i.e applying when you are working as opposed to when you are a student). However, I have seen education appearing before Work Experience of lateral hire resumes. My theory on this is that if a person had an education that he wanted to highlight then putting it at the beginning started the resume on a strong note. As much as people like to believe the opposite, I am pretty much convinced that strong brand names of educational institutions, distinctions, academic achievements GPA give an impression of the strength of the person candidacy. It impresses everybody who matters. However, the lack of all the above attributes does not significantly diminish your chances of an interview call. Its a good to show-off kind of a thing. In resumes the education section has the name of the university, place, graduation date (almost all recruiters guess your age based on this), in the next line is your specialization, GPA etc. Underneath each University/degree people highlight their achievements, awards, thesis topics etc. Each item occupying 1 bullet point. Resume's of non-campus freshers tend to drop their GPA etc and don't have any bullet points under academic achievements unless it is really really spectacular. GPAs and other academic achievements are typically forgotten after you graduate and become irrelevant.

Work Experience Resumes in India vastly differ from that in the U.S in this regard. In both places work experience is listed in reverse chronological order (most recent experience first). There are subsections to the work experience section. Each subsection is typically a job/designation you held in a company/across companies. Each change in designation, job either within the company or by moving to a new company results in a new section under work experience. The resumes I have seen in the U.S people have such sections demarcated by company-designation names in bold font. The header of these sections has one line bearing the company name, second line has their designation, business division. After this a series of bullet points follow written in sharp telegram sounding sentences (CAR - context Action Result - format). Each designation a person occupies in a company has a separate section and a set of bullet points. The CAR format is really effective. More effective if each bullet point is limited to 2-3 sentences. A quick glance would tell the recruiter succintly what this person has done. It is clear and less ambiguous. I would highly recommend the bullet point - CAR format to anybody.

In India many resume that I saw were radically different. This work experience section runs upto pages and the following format is extremely common and popular. For each company, the person lists the projects he/she has done for the company. The projects are explained in a descriptive format. First there is a descriptive paragraph containing a semi-detailed explanation of what the project is all about. It is not described in bullet points, it does not (yet) describe what the person did in the project. It describes the big picture of project in some detail. Then follows some bullet points of what the person did for the project. I have never understood this format but I was forced to build such a resume by my employer when they wanted to send my resume to clients. Most IT services companies have a specific format in which they require employees to build their resumes. This resume is used by managers to either pull a person to their group or send it to potential clients. I unnecessarily wrote 3 pages of thesis like resume content, knowing fully well that the client would never read much of it. From personal experience of being a 'client' I know that at least most US/UK based clients are perplexed to see volumnious resumes from IT services companies. I was very curious to find out the research these IT services companies had done to come to a conclusion on what the most 'client preferred' resume formats were. It is my opinion that no such research was done and maybe it was somebody's bright idea. The clients upon receiving such resumes, ofcourse, don't go through every word of it. They just scan pages to see if the skills they are looking for is mentioned. This trait of 'lets see if he got this' is true both in the U.S and India

For example if I were scanning resumes for a position that pertained to Linux driver development, I'd quickly look for projects that had such an experience. If such a project was mentioned, I'd look where this person did this project (Sometimes when your company sends you to scan resumes during career fairs, you have watch out good projects from dubious companies. I'd see an excellent device driver project done by the person when he was working for 'Shanthi Technology Solutions'. No mention of a client name. This means that chances are high that the project would be right out of a George Pajari book). If I am convinced that the project, its content and the person is legitimate on primafacie scan, I'd recommend that he/she be called for an interview. From talking to colleagues this is how shortlisting for interviews typically work. Projects that are not relevant to the job positions are usually overlooked until the interview stage.

The bottomline is such projects, which decide a call for an interview become very crucial. The more clear and powerful your experience is, the higher your chances of being called for an interview is. For example if your generic description of the project is impressive but your personal contribution is vague - you kill your chances of getting an interview call.

I have listed my opinions and my experiences with building resumes or scanning resumes. It is possible that I may have over generalized or incorrectly stated certain assumptions. This is the reason for writing such a blog post. I want myself and many others like me to be disabused of certain resume-related notions and benefit from public contributions on this topic. So if you have a different opinion on resume content/style and you have different experiences regarding shortlisting scanning resumes, please share them either in your blog post or in the comments section.

18 comments:

Babs said...

In addition to the well summerised Resume tips, here are few more points

- When writing your work-ex in bullet points make sure you ask yourself this question "So What", if u can answer that then put that point in for example "Verified the SPI block in MPC8560" -so what? then u wud correct that to "Verified SPI block and successfully found 3 logic and 4 testbench bugs"

- Numbers are quite important instead of saying "Implemented blah strategy and saved millions" u say "saved company 3 Million USD".

- Avoid using I in your resume and highlight any awards or papers published, its as good as putting your Education first.

Everybody knows projects are team work but Resumes are only highlighting individual contribution which shows u r betta team player.

U most not spend less than a week to build ur resume from scratch be it fresher or exp'd

Make sure you tailor ur resume for each jobs....that means after applying you save them as Jblogg_Microsoft_xbox_div.doc so u can refer back when they call u for an interview.

Some ppl use notepad to write a resume which implies content matters more than looks to most....but look does matter to some eyes (esp HR) :-)

Deepa said...

I've seen resumes where people mention the number of kids (ofcourse in India).

Nilu said...

'ingotha kezha boltu

B a l a said...

Writing resume has been a tedious task..infact I was constantly forced to change my resume since I get to hear lot of pre-conceived notions about resume formats. When you send your resume to US/UK client for onsite coordinator position, the manager in India asks to list the projects and other nonsense stuff..I see a reason here that in India , typically service companies want "All in All Azhagu Raja"...they look for exp in noo.of yrs..but not on the quality...In US / UK, they want to know how you contribute to the team and project..so as you said CAR is a good type of format..as of now too much of information is nauseating..I normally prefer my resume and even other resumes while I interview for the below sections
1. Summary - how experienced, in what domain and industry (whether services or product dev or testing)..what are the technologies in broader sense
2. Work experience
3. Skill set
4. Education
5. Project & Assignments
Mostly the 5th section shrinks and expands as per the requirement by the HR who is scanning the resume..some want a expansive section..while others don't really care..
Mostly you work in a domain for nearly 1 year over 2-3 projects , which leaves you with sameness of technology..so we can restrict the sameness of technology for each project...As crisp way is to mention the name of the project and say what was ur role and what you did in it..

This is good I think since the recruiter will not get lost in reading the desc of project..rather read what you have done and if something really catches his attention then he might call for the interview and ask to explain during the interview time.

AK Menon said...

hi-must admit you have dealt with it very well-as a hiring manager and as a candidate.

As a third party recruiter, I feel resuem writing is a science as much as it is an art too! I have tried to summarise my thoughts -please visit
http://joboptions.blogspot.com/2007/01/tips-for-writing-good-resume.html

Anand said...

There are no good or bad resumes. The key word is 'effective'.

Fact # 1 : A resume is meant for someone else to read and must not be a self-satisfying exercise at articulating one's story. Imagine that the person assigned to the task of cherry-picking a CV is as fickle as a viewer of the idiot box. This individual will at first glance skim your resume.

Advice : Be honest,state facts. Truth shines always !

Avoid : Spelling mistakes,clumsy construction of sentences and incoherent expression.

A resume is only a means to an end. If you have the credentials you will likely get invited to a discussion in which you could either convince or blow the chance.

Improving a resume does not mean fabrication. It is an attempt to make your case stand out for consideration in the clutter.

Use any style as long as you follow these principles.

At the end of the day an impressive resume may not cut ice unless it is backed by solid stuff (knowledge,skills and experience).

Hawkeye said...

babs,

thanks so mch for the points.

awesome points. i think the moment people start being vague about the numbers/results it will be obvious that they havent done much!

saving files in appropriate names is a damn good idea :-)

Hawkeye said...

deepa,

they are asked all these things during HR interview

Hawkeye said...

nilu,

neeyum thaan kaha-bolt

Hawkeye said...

bala & menon,

the points u have mentioned are very useful. thanks for spending the time.

Hawkeye said...

anand,

thanks for the interesting list of points. nice blog u have there. interesting set of music videos

cerisecarnations said...

r u sure about one page limit in the US?

Dave Freireich said...

You have put good thought into this. I am a headhunter with 5 years experience placing the top C++ software talent in the US.

Your resume is just like your clothes. Important, and they communicate something about you. But employers want people who produce. The resume is used only to give them an idea of if you do or not.

Keep it to one page if you are fresh out of school, but let it grow as your experiences do.

More interviewing tips on our blog: www.coresearchgroup.blogspot.com

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Ramya said...

I primarily landed in ur blog while googling for a aarohanam, avarohanam. Your classical ilarayas articles are very very interesting for a music enthusiast like me. Happened to find this article at the right time. I am really confused abt my resume preparation as am trying to prepare my resume after 1 yr brk with 2.5 yrs exp n varied skillsets. I am wondering whether to stick to one skillset n prepare my resume accordingly or write the facts n mess up with my hunt. Plz reply.

Senthil Thyagarajan said...

Just out of curiosity would like to get my resume reviewed by you who's written this article.

jyoti said...

I stumbled upon this blog while trying to figure out stuff about US Bschools..and couldn't resist reading all the posts..it is such an eyeopener..and I feel I am dying for some help and advice from u..hope u would!plz do!i topped my school in 10th but it went all downhill from there..am totally lost and as u said,its because i chose to not do the right things at the right time.but,i am totally committed to redeeming myself!but,since I am from Patna,Bihar i don't have anybody to actually tell me what are the Right Things(what skills etc are appreciated to get into the top 10 engg. Or Bschool)..plz enlighten me.. My email id: jyotikalash26@gmail.com plz just email me once,i will tell u my story..to know what i can do now!