What to Include
A resume is not a collection of your past achievements. It's a representation of your professional persona and the skills you will bring into a specific job.
Imagine you are going on a backpacking camping trip. Before you leave, your traveling buddy will check your backpack at the door and determine whether you're able to go (she's a strict friend). You don't need your fancy watch. Don't bring your laptop or huge speakers either. Only bring what's necessary and valuable for that particular trip.
The bag is your resume, and everything in your house is the collection of experiences and skills you have acquired over the years. Your traveling buddy is the person reviewing your resume. She will be stuck with you in an office, probably, so she wants to make sure you're suitable for the job. Therefore, the most important thing you can do before building your resume is to research what the company is about and what your role will entail. Then tailor your resume to highlight those skills and experiences that are relevant for that position.
Then, if you have space, feel free to add information that might not be as relevant to the job but speak about your overall working skills and character.
While the interview is the best moment for you to express your personality, your resume should tell them something about yourself. Employers with the most interesting jobs don't want robots. If you want that interesting job, you need to inject some personality in a way that is relevant to your employer.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
For the most part, you can assume that whoever is looking at your resume is scanning for attributes similar to the following:
Fine Tuning your Message
Now that you have the basics covered and you have determined not only what's important for the job but also what's important to an employee looking at your resume, how do you phrase your message in a way that highlights those important skills? There are many ways, some better than others. Here's two methods I've seen work best, especially when combined.
First, be specific. This usually translates to quantifying what you can. If you managed people, how many? If you managed funds, how much money? If you helped develop a product, what were the results of releasing such product?
Second, focus on skills and achievements. Most resumes focus on tasks: "Developed this", "Managed that". Those are actions, which show you did something. That's good. What's missing is the quality of the action and the outcome. "Procured materials and supervised deliveries of equipment" could have been done poorly, well or excellently. Therefore, go beyond a task and focus on the skill you acquired and (if applicable) give evidence of the benefits from having such skill (a.k.a. achievements).
The example below shows the progression from the focus on task (#1) to skill (#2), to both skill and achievement (#3):
I'm an engineer and I like equations. So here's an equation for you:
Skill = [accomplished X] + [which we measured with Y] + [by doing Z]
Similarly, here's another example:
Remember, you want to show them not only what you did, but that you did it well, and if you have evidence to back that up then use it.
Maybe Try This?
A couple of last tips you may want to try out. They have worked for me.
One is to highlight or underline parts of your resume that are the most relevant to that position. It helps guide the attention of the reviewer to the most important parts. Use your judgement (and maybe that of friends) so you don't overdo it.
Another tip, especially if you're in college or fresh out of, is to include a "Projects" section. There is a lot of work you put into your studies. Sometimes in the form of challenging semester-long projects. While those did not occur in a professional setting, there's many skills and knowledge that come from those projects, such as learning how to work with groups and how to set and meet internal deadlines. The Projects section is a place where you can include any interesting and challenging projects that can set you apart.
Remember that your resume is not a collection of all your past endeavors. It's a concise way of communicating that you have the skills for that specific job. To make it not stand out in a bad way remember the basic dos and don'ts. To make it stand out positively, make it a reflection of your personality, to a reasonable degree. Remember to research the company and put yourself in the reviewer's shoes to learn what skills and experience they may be looking for. Focus on those. The best way to do so is by being specific (quantifying) and by structuring sentences that communicate skills and achievements, rather than tasks.
If you have any comments or questions feel free to leave a comment. If you found this useful, please share! Thanks for reading.
Recently, I was invited to present a Resume Workshop at The University of Texas at Austin. Thanks to Jaqueline Martinez and her group for the opportunity.