Creating a great resume

(This is part of Ask the Community Guy, an ongoing series of questions posed by readers for Jake, the Community Guy)

Dovetailing the conversation about Community Management jobs, I thought it was a good time to also discuss creating a great resume. I have this conversation regularly with people of all ages, skill levels, and backgrounds. In fact, I had this very conversation last night! I should have written down some notes to make writing this post easier!

A great resume is a great story.

Let me repeat that for effect: Your resume tells a story about who you are, what you know, how you think, what kind of a person you are. Like so many things in life, first impressions matter, and your resume is very often your first impression to a potential employer.

Over the years I’ve seen literally hundreds of resumes, and hired somewhere around 50 people. I’m always shocked how many people simply don’t think much about their resume. Basic, obvious, glaring errors:

  • Using the default Microsoft Word resume template without any changes
  • Significant and/or numerous misspellings (One guy spelled his first name wrong one time. Seriously.)
  • Comic Sans font
  • Funky color, canned stock art/images
  • Every character on the page being the same 12pt size

The list goes on, but you get the point. The story these resumes told was: “I’m a lazy, uninspired potential employee”. Not exactly the makings of a must-have employee. You’re the foremost expert on you

So then what story should a resume tell? That’s easy:

  • I’m smart, and I can do anything you put in front of me.
  • I have enough experience in life that it more than makes up for any short comings in industry specific experience.
  • I understand what you’re looking for.
  • All those other losers might as well go home, I’m the one you want.

Here’s a fun exercise: ask some friends for their resumes, download some off the web, and open up a few of the default Word templates. Print them all out, shuffle them, then haphazardly spread them out on an open surface. Blurs into a sad mess of black and white nothingness, doesn’t it? How do you ensure your document stands out? Add some design elements!

CAUTION: If you’re not a designer, hire one. Do NOT attempt to design on your own if you don’t know what you’re doing. No design elements are better than bad design elements every time. There are plenty of designers around that can help you out for relatively little money. Ask them for a nice header graphic, a standardized font treatment suggestion, and/or a simple logo. Simple.


  • Watch your weight – The relative size (weight) of the various sections of your resume (including your name) aren’t created equal. Your name deserves more weight than your section headers. Your section headers deserve more weight than the content below them.
  • Add some color – Adding a well design splash of color can really make the resume pop, but should be contained within the header. The color of your content should be dark gray or black. Period.
  • Consider the printer – If I had to guess, I’d say that 85% of the people you’ll send your resume to will print it out. If you’re lucky, you have a 50/50 chance that they’ll print in color. Make sure that your design looks as good when printed in black and white as it does in full color on your computer screen.
  • Don’t get funky with the margins – Assume that everyone that views your resume will print it and that their printer won’t handle non-standard margins. Also check how your header and footer print out on several different printers.
  • Use your space intelligently – Space is limited (more on this below), so think about the best way to use the header and footer areas for additional content. Can you, for instance, move your contact info into the header area?

The last point on design is perhaps the most crucial. Your resume should be one page. No more, no less. One page. Seriously. I don’t care how much experience you have or how much you want to share, if you can’t tell your story in one page, you need to rethink your story. You’re not writing your auto-biography, you’re trying to create a marketing piece that drives a potential employer to invite you into their office to share further details.

One page.

If you’re going to keep it to one page, let’s look at what shouldn’t be include first.

  • College details – Unless you’re applying for your first job after graduation, nobody is interested in what your GPA was or how many years you served on the student council. Once you’ve graduated, including this type of content screams “I don’t have anything else to talk about!”
  • Intern positions – Unless you’ve only been at one post-graduation job, don’t include your internships. Wrap up your accomplishments into the rest of the document. (More on this below)
  • Personal interests – Save it for the interview, slick. And even then, go easy. If they ask what you do in your spare time, share the thing furthest from the job you’re applying for. Shows you’re well rounded and whatnot.
  • Old, old jobs – If you’re last three jobs cover two decades of career activity, drop the rest. Or if you include them, do so as nothing more than a one sentence reference saying “Previous experience: XYZ Company, etc.” Don’t do this unless you can include 3 or more positions.
  • Objective – Yeah, yeah, we get it. You’re looking for a great position that will help build your career. Skip the obvious, it’s a waste of space. This kind of content is wonderful fodder for your amazing cover letter.
  • Skills section – Well, you won’t be dropping this as much as retooling it… keep reading.

Telling a great story has little to do with relaying dates and facts. It’s about emotion, excitement, amazement. Your goal isn’t to lull your potential employer into a soft sleep with your accurate retelling of the times and dates of our career. No, it’s to make them excited, giddy about picking up the phone to setup your interview.

Build your resume around your accomplishments. Focus on what you learned, what you were responsible for, what kind of projects you completed successfully. Break down your content into three areas:

  • Key statements – develop 3-6 core statements about what you’ve done, what you are known for, why you’re a bad ass. These lead off your document. Put your biggest accomplishments right up front, don’t hide them in the content later on.
  • Professional Experience – List out your latest jobs, just like normal. The difference is that you want to share details about what you actually did, not what you were in charge of. Pick the best 5 or 10 projects and/or accomplishments for each role. Don’t list any more than three jobs, and weight them where you put much more information in the current position and far less in the position that was longest ago.
  • Additional Experience – In a couple of sentences at most, lay out any extra stuff that you’re just dying to put in. If you have a series of older, cooler jobs at great companies then just list the companies. Include a brief mention of roles you’ve played in industry associations, and maybe a brief mention of a “normal” hobby.

Personally, I’ve only done minor tweaking to the resume for specific interviews. Instead, I design it to clearly represent my career and then write the best cover letter possible. Andy agrees that the cover letter is crucial.

Other stuff
Here’s a few other random suggestions to keep in mind:

  • Save as PDF file, never a Word .doc file. If you have the skillz, you can actually see all the changes made to a .doc file. Lord knows you don’t want your potential employer to see that you padded your resume in the first version then decided against it. Don’t believe me? Check out these examples, or learn more about Word and security.
  • For employers or job boards that require Word documents, pay special attention to what you’re actually submitting. There are potential problems with track changes, private data, and more. I’ll actually copy and paste content from my working document into a new, fresh document. This nearly guarantees that legacy content issues aren’t a problem.
  • Use a useful file name so that your potential employer can easily find it on their cluttered computer desktop or in a file folder somewhere.
  • Consider your email address (and domain name). Nobody’s interested in hiring Nor do they want visit to learn more about you.

For information about my Community Consulting, Training and Speaker services, or to find out more about Dinner5, my unique community for community builders, contact me today.

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