I have a quick thought experiment for you.
Think about your resume. Now, forget about all those experiences that would seemingly make your resume perfect (4.0, president leadership roles, brand-name internships, etc.)
Focus on what experience you do have.
What would you rate your resume with the experiences you have out of 10?
While your resume is not the most important document in the world, it is a manifestation of your life’s professional experiences and is worthy of your time/effort. The goal of a great resume is to put your best self forward -- a 10/10 for the experiences you have.
Your resume is the first line of defense against recruiters and hiring managers. When your resume is under review by a prospective employer, there are 3 main factors that go into their decision to give you an interview:
The quality and fit of your experiences + How well these experiences are conveyed to the resume screener + Your network & referrals In simpler terms:(1) The truth of your experiences + (2) How they are perceived + (3) Who you know
Let’s break these apart to see what you can do right now to improve your recruiting prospects.
- (1) We’d all like a higher GPA, big-brand internships, and better quality experiences. But this will only change over the medium/long term.
- (3) You should always be networking before applying to jobs. This is something you can do right now to drastically improve your chances of landing interviews. I’ve written an extensive guide on how to do this here.
- (2) This leaves the second option... how can you change how your experiences are perceived? The answer: write a killer resume. This is something many students do not consider as much as they should.
Students often fall into the trap of obsessing over improving their resume experiences (better GPA, another internship, etc.) when in reality networking and writing a high-quality resume could be enough to land the most sought-after interview.
I’ve covered networking before, so let’s talk about writing a killer resume and how to turn yours into a solid 10/10.
Some important factors of a 10/10 resume include:
- Impact-driven bullets
- Appropriate use of job-specific jargon
- Relevant sections and content
- Eye-catching interests
- Specific skills
For this post, we will talk about the most important factor...
Resume readers scan your resume for less than 30 seconds. And trust me, that is 100% true at many companies. With hundreds or thousands of high-quality resumes per job, resume readers just don’t have the time to give each one the care and dedication they deserve.
Welcome to the real world.
In fact, many resume readers just skim the bolded headlines and first few words of each bullet.
With poorly written bullets, the reader will not be interested in your experience. Conversely, well-written and impact-driven bullets will entice the reader into your experiences.
The first few words of every bullet should be highly action-oriented.
- “Reduced customer service response time by 10%...”
- “Spearheaded $5M cost-savings strategy…”
- “Increased customer engagement by 5% ($300k annually) by…”
When skimming these bullets, the reader immediately thinks “wow this person gets shit done.” That’s the exact response you want to elicit.
So how do you write a fantastic bullets?
Quick Bullet Guide
- For each internship or leadership experience, you should have 2-3 substantial bullets. You can use sub bullets if you’d like -- just be consistent with your format.
- Length of the bullet does not matter. It’s funny how some students will bend over backwards to put together a bullet that is perfectly 1 line. Often these bullets are weak because it’s difficult to explain impact or why in 1 line
- Aim for each bullet to take up 2 lines, and max don’t go past 3. Sometimes 3 feels like a run-on, but there are situations (hefty projects) where it is appropriate.
- Don’t fuss over getting a bullet to hit the other side of the page perfectly. It’s okay if it takes up half a line (ie. a bullet that takes 1.5 or 2.5 lines is OK)
- Use strong, action-oriented verbs and job-specific jargon to describe the work you did. After writing your resume, go through every verb and use this chart from Stanford’s School of Business to replace existing verbs with strong ones.
- Resumes are often screened through an automatic software to weed out people who have very little experience. Sprinkle in a little jargon from the job description to increase your chances of making it past the software.
- Explain your impact. People aren’t interested in what you did, they’re interested in your impact. Make sure each bullet explains the impact or “so what” of your work. (See frameworks below)
- Never let your resume get longer than a page. It doesn’t matter if you’ve solved world hunger or led an expedition to mars. A student’s (or recent student’s) resume should never be multiple pages. (Note: this rule may not apply for research positions/science-intensive roles)
- Always submit your resume as a PDF. When you send your resume as a word document, it gets distorted on the reader’s computer due to Microsoft Word version issues. It is best practice to always send a resume as a PDF
Now that we have the general advice out of the way, let’s get into concrete bullet-writing tips.
I use 2 frameworks. Each has its own advantage in helping structure an experience you have. I find it helpful to keep both in your toolbox and apply as you see fit.
Framework 1: Impact-What
Start your bullet with the impact or outcome followed by what you did. This is the reverse of what most students do.
Ideally, try to quantify the impact into a percentage or dollar figure. I realize this is hard -- it’s okay to take liberties with how you calculate the percent or dollar impact. Just don’t lie.
Typical student-written bullet (tells reader what he/she did):
- Utilized proprietary analytics platform to identify assumptions and drivers for security market to locate 7 new sales opportunities
High-quality impact-driven bullet (Quantifies impact of what he/she did):
- Identified $150,000 in new sales opportunities through a market analysis of the consumer security market using SQL, Excel and proprietary analytics platforms
A few takeaways:
- The second bullet catches your attention immediately. Wow… $150,000 in sales… tell me more. All this person did was convert “7 new sales opportunities” to an estimated dollar value.
- Make your analysis clearly relatable to the jobs you are applying to. Saying “identify assumptions and drivers for security market” leaves me wondering what assumptions and drivers were identified? Instead, the phrase “market analysis of consumer security market,” uses transferable language that is well known to professionals in business strategy (which this person was applying to)
- Similarly, it’s important to make your skills stand out as easily transferable to the job you are applying to. “Utilized proprietary analytics platform” doesn’t mean much to a new employer. Firstly, they don’t know what you did. Did you write lines of code and run complex analysis or click a button and use an automated software to do the heavy lifting? Secondly, if the analytics platform is proprietary, why would your future employer care about it? By simply adding “SQL and Excel” (two popular data analysis tools), this bullet better conveys the skill of the applicant.
Framework 2: Why-first
This framework aims to accomplish a similar goal as the Impact-What framework by restructuring your bullets to capture the “why” in the first few words.
Typical student-written bullet (tells reader what he/she did):
- Developed metrics, dashboards, and strategy for customer success team by analyzing database
High-quality, why-first bullet (shows reader the “so what?” of what he/she did):
- Reduced customer service response time by 60% and net customer complaints by analyzing database of customer feedback using Excel and developing actionable metrics, dashboards, and strategic recommendations for customer success team
Here’s a worksheet I put together to help you craft why-first bullets.
A few takeaways:
- The first bullet is flat and boring. It doesn’t explain the why. If you’re having trouble coming up with the why, explain what you did in your internship or project out loud and ask yourself so what? What was the impact? Why did you do what you did? How was this helpful to your manager/team/company? (try to quantify the why)
- The green texts adds context about how this person accomplished what they did. This is especially helpful when you are applying to jobs with specific skill requirements (business strategy jobs use a lot of excel and data analysis).
- While this bullet is on the long side, I think it is robust and thoroughly explains the work this person did, the skills he/she used, and their impact. I always prefer a robust yet slightly longer bullet than a weak 1-liner.
I strongly encourage you to go through your resume line-by-line and revamp each bullet. This can make a tremendous difference in your ability to land interviews and project yourself as a top-notch candidate.
Quick story to illustrate the profound impact of strong resume writing:
Last year I helped a friend with her resume (she was a first-semester sophomore with 1 internship).
We rebuilt her resume from the ground up with a new format, content, interests, and most importantly, revamped bullets. We transformed each bullet from what-driven to impact-driven, and changed the entire feel of her resume.
If you skimmed her resume in 30 seconds, I guarantee the first thought that pops into your head is “wow this girl gets shit done.” And she does… it just wasn’t communicated well before we overhauled her resume.
She went from getting very few interviews to landing almost every one she applied for. This one change propelled her to be one of the highest-performing sophomores I’ve seen, and she ended up landing a summer internship with a major consulting firm (typically an internship only meant for juniors).
That’s why writing a 10/10 resume is important. You put years of work into landing amazing internships and doing well in school… spend a few hours making sure you show yourself in the best light possible.
Given the importance and difficulty of resume writing, I’m thinking of starting a resume review service and putting together a formal guide on how to write a 10/10 resume. If this sounds interesting to you, reply back with "I'm interested" or "Yes!" to let me know! If enough people reply I'll invest in building these resources for you.
And remember… always send your resume in PDF format!! (Can you tell I hate when people send around word docs?)
Update: I did a trial run of the resume review services, and while they went well, I decided to focus on building resources that are more scalable. For in-depth tips on resume writing, check out my 19-page resume guide (I send it in the first email after signing up to my email list).