How to Write a Resume

I’ve interviewed over 100 candidates over the last 2 years, and so I see a lot of different kinds of resumes.  A resume is supposed to be a written pitch for why you are the perfect fit for a role, but I think that most people fall into some archaic customs or try to hit keyword searches and end up doing themselves more harm than good.  I feel strongly on the subject, so here are my thoughts on what you should and shouldn’t do in a resume, and how I think you can write a killer one to get the role you want.

Common Mistakes

These are things that you’ve probably heard a thousand times, but they bear repeating because they are so commonly violated.

Make it short

A recruiter spends only 6 seconds looking at your resume.  That’s not per page, that’s in total.  The #1 worst thing I see in resumes is that they’re way too long.  The longest I’ve ever received was a whopping 17 pages!  Keep yours to 1 page unless you legitimately have a long career of amazing (and relevant!) diverse achievements.  Even then, it shouldn’t be more than 2 pages.  This is just being practical.  If someone needs more context, they’ll ask you.

Summarize what’s important

I commonly see a summary section that is close to half a page long (hardly a summary).  It’s generally full of vague statements like:

  • Over 7 years of Experience in Designing, Administration, Analysis, Management in the Business Intelligence Data warehousing, Client Server Technologies, Web-based Applications and Databases and Experience in industries such as  Retail, Financial, Accounting, Distribution, Logistics, Inventory, Manufacturing, Marketing, Services, Networking, and Engineering.

That’s a pretty empty statement since the topics are super generic and this candidate’s level of expertise is surely not equal across them.  What’s worse, the reader has to parse through lots of these kinds of bullet points to find the parts that actually matter.  I also doubt this candidate has any measurable value to add in all of those industries and more likely has built some reports or done small work for companies in those realms.  But don’t claim to be able to add value to a logistics chain just because you built a report one time.

Instead, you should word it like:

  • Over 7 years of experience in the full life cycle of BI, from design to building to supporting.
  • I’ve used a variety technologies, including formal training on MicroStrategy and self taught Tableau.
  • I’ve spent a lot of time understanding several different business areas, with Retail and Financial being my strongest.

Some people will always care about the “years” number, so go ahead and give it.  Most are foremost curious if you’re a 1-trick pony or if you’ve touched all of the areas of the stack.  In a summary, you can just say generally you’ve done it all as long as you back it up with examples in your relevant work experience.  Only list things that can’t be measured, like industry experience, if you actually think it matters because you know a lot about it.  Just because you built reports for a company doesn’t mean you have any value to add from a business perspective for that vertical.  It’s a tall claim to say that you do, so make sure you can back it up.

Another example on the opposite verbosity spectrum:

  • Good experience in Tableau Admin.

This also says nothing.  I think it’s best not to rate yourself, because what you think is a good level may not be what I think is a good level, or even the level I’m looking for.  Instead, quantify the experience you have:

  • 2 years installing, upgrading and maintaining a Tableau Server installation with 800 users.

This gives a couple of facts that give me a decent backstory of what your skill level probably is.  Again, you’d better back this up with better details in the work experience section, but you don’t have to back up your case in the summary.

Don’t lie or embellish

I commonly joke with my colleagues that after writing 1 line in some new language or opening and pushing one button in a new tool that I’ll put it on my resume as “guru”.  It’s funny, because it happens very frequently with resumes.

  • Don’t put that you know Java because you took a class in high school 8 years ago.  If you can’t write a basic stand alone program with minimal googling right now, you don’t know the language.  If you’re not proficient enough in a language or technology to be able to contribute with it today, right now, then it doesn’t belong on your resume.
  • Don’t claim to know Teradata because your BI tool was querying it but you’ve never actually logged into it yourself.  If you can’t articulate what differentiates Teradata from some other database platform, then you don’t know it.
  • Don’t list irrelevant technologies.  I always get a laugh when I still see things like Operating Systems or Microsoft Office under people’s skills.  These are a given in the world today and do nothing but take up space and clutter your message.
  • Don’t put that you have 2 years of experience with a technology because you used it once 2 years ago.  If you don’t use something regularly, then the clock stops.  And if it was so long ago that you can’t pick it up today and start contributing, then you don’t know it any more.

Make your job titles accurate

Companies all have different names for different roles.  I’ve been a Software Developer, BI Developer, BI Administrator, and even Consultant (which was an FTE role), but on my resume I list all of them as “MicroStrategy Architect” because I feel that it’s a more accurate description of what I did in those roles.  Again, don’t lie or embellish, but the point is to be more accurate.  A friend of mine worked at a bank where his title had VP in it, but there were thousands of VPs at this bank.  Any other company would call him a MicroStrategy Developer, so use common and descriptive names for your titles as opposed to Senior Developer, II.

General customs

Speak English … or whatever the appropriate language is for the company you’re applying to.  The two summary examples above are verbatim from resumes I’ve recently received.  They’re full of grammatical errors, improper capitalization, and clearly weren’t proofread by someone who cares about landing a role.  If the target language of the company you’re applying to isn’t your native language, have a friend or someone help you word it.  Nothing is a worse signal than giving someone the feeling that you care so little that you can’t be bothered to format your resume to be presentable or proofread it.

Years experience … Some people focus a lot on # of years experience (more on that later) and its actually the fault of liability.  Employers are trying to protect themselves in job postings by having concrete items they could disqualify someone with in case of a hiring lawsuit, but just because a job posting says “5yrs experience” doesn’t mean that it’s a hard requirement.  It’s more a proxy of things you probably can do if you’ve been using a tool or language for 5yrs, but everyone progresses at different rates.  It’s still a fine metric to include, but don’t hang your hat on it like it appears job postings do.

Specific versions …Most of the time with BI tools, the version isn’t a big deal.  There have been times when the difference between MicroStrategy 8 and 9 was so dramatic that it was worth calling out, but otherwise just list the current version you use and leave it at that.  Experience on a version from many years ago is irrelevant, and listing out every version you’ve touched is a huge waste.

Amazing Opportunities

These are things that I very rarely see anyone do, but when they do, they are always special people.

Include work samples

This is far and away the absolute, no question, #1 thing you can do.  The purpose of a resume is to sell yourself, and nothing sells like the product itself.  Obviously, the work we do at previous employers can’t be shared directly, but there are so many easy ways around this.

  • You could potentially show designs and blur/black out the data.  You may lose the vast majority of what you’re trying to communicate, so one thing I’ve done for presentations is just doctor an image where I copy one number or group of numbers and paste it over every other number.  With no context or data leaked, it still looks like a dashboard.
  • You could recreate a design or message using unrelated, public data, or better yet come up with a dashboard project on your own using public data.  There are near infinite examples on Tableau Public of this.  This also has the added bonus of not only showing your work, but also showing that you’re passionate about data enough to play with it in your spare time.
  • You can collect all of these samples in a portfolio on a social media profile that you reference.  This leads into the next tip …

Include relevant social media profiles

This one is also way more important that people probably realize.

You should have a LinkedIn account, and you should fill it out and include the link at the top of your resume.  Connect with as many past co-workers as you can, anyone you’ve done business with or met at conventions, and fill out all of the relevant experience in great detail (and add a picture!)  In addition to the flattering recruiter spam you’ll get, this is an incredibly useful tool for a hiring manager.  I always look people up on LinkedIn when I’m considering their resume or about to interview them and I’m looking for two things:

  1. How many degrees apart are we?  It’s a very small world, and if you and I are connected by 2 or 3 degrees, that’s most likely going to go in your favor.  Just like when you’re buying a consumer product, the best motivator to purchase is the recommendation of a trusted contact.  In the event that I can reach out to someone who worked with you 3 years ago and get a positive reference, that’s worth more than anything you could write on a resume.
  2. How well do you sell yourself?  This is something that I probably can already see in the resume itself, but it really matters how you sell yourself online.  Filling out an appropriate profile and keeping it up to date shows that you care.  It tells me that you take your career seriously, you’re not just looking for a job but an opportunity, and it gives me enough context to know what makes you tick and what I need to do to sell YOU on joining our team.

Other social networks are great too IF they’re related to your work.  Definitely don’t link to a personal Facebook profile if it has nothing to do with your work, or a Twitter account if you just tweet out jokes and celebrity opinions.

Publish your work

  • Put presentations or general thoughts and ideas on slideshare and link that to your LinkedIn profile.  They don’t have to be epic or long or anything, just a small presentation of your ideas.
  • Start a blog!  It doesn’t matter if no one reads it, it shows a tremendous amount of passion, dedication, documents exactly what you know and can do, and serves as a pretty handy self reference for when you forget how you did something.  I’m not really different from most of you reading this, I just happened to write it down.

Focus on Impact

Experience is cheap .. all you have to do is wait.  I have 9 years of MicroStrategy experience.  Does that mean that I’m “better” than someone who only has 7 years? 3 years? 6 months?  It’s an indicator, but what hiring managers really want to know is what kind of work you can do, not how long you’ve managed not to get fired.  For each place that you’ve been, instead of listing things you did, list why they mattered.

Bad Example:

“I built 20 flash widgets using Flex SDK 3.1 through 4.2 that we integrated with MicroStrategy 9.0.3 dashboards”

Good Example:

“When our design team wanted to use some fancy visualizations that MicroStrategy couldn’t produce, I took it upon myself to learn Flex and build out these custom widgets by hand.  This jazzed up our client facing dashboards and really wowed customers during sales calls.  The sales team called one of these dashboards The Closer because it was so incredibly gorgeous and functional that it often put the deal over the top.”

You don’t want your resume to just be a bullet list of keywords, but you also don’t want it to be a 17 page novel.  Include A FEW of the above type stories that are a couple of sentences.  The important thing is to focus on why it mattered and why you were instrumental in it happening.  What did the company / team gain by your contribution.  On your LinkedIn profile, blog or Facebook page, go to town and write billions of words if you’d like.  This gives me your best examples of impact and I know where to go if I want more.


Closing Thoughts

A resume is a tool to sell yourself, but don’t sell yourself short.  Don’t just write things on there that you think people are looking for, be true to yourself and what you have to offer.  If you embellish your way to an interview, you’ll be exposed and it’ll just be wasted time for everyone involved.  List the skills you have to contribute, and a few examples on how you’ve done it in the past.  Keep it short and to the point so that someone can consume it quickly.

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5 Responses

  1. Remya says:

    I was searching for MSTR based details and stumbled upon this page . I am just rewriting my resume summary now.. Thanks!!

  2. Nidhi Patel says:

    Can we just jot down the projects and domain we worked on ..??? As we are into BI Domain, we need to work on simultaneously on multiple projects…do we need to enter all this projects and its details or just the domain they are dependent on? My resume is lengthy just because i mentioned all projects and its details…..

    • bryan says:

      I’d keep it to a top few examples because I suspect the long tail of your project history gets repetitive. Pick a few unique things you’ve done that were high impact.

  3. Andrew says:

    There’s certainly no hard and fast rules. Its very subjective. What one recruiter thinks is an interview worthy candidate, the other may not. Having said that, one of the things that always works for my clients is I encourage them to split their career history into two different segments – list out your responsibilities, then offset them against achievements. Keeping it outcomes focused is the best way to go – in my experience anyway.

  1. May 19, 2014

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