Resume Tips

Your resume sucks. Mine did too. Here's how I made it suck less.

Resume Tips

A lot of people ask me for advice on finding a new job. One of the more common issues people face is the resume and cover letter. Here's a buncha stuff I've learned during my most recent job search. This is the result of 6 months of trial and error. I think it's all pretty solid, and helped me get some great interviews.


My public resume is here

It's generic. I change stuff around a little bit depending on what they're looking for, usually just in the summary section, self-study, and experience bullets.

Every resume I submit is tailored to the job and company. Usually the summary, experience bullets, and skills sections will get minor changes to help me better fit the position advertised.

The summary is three sentences, each targeting a different person. I stole the idea from this presentation by Peter Sergeant.

  1. Recruiter/HR Person: This is the initial screener. They usually know very little detail about the job. Use words and skills that match the job description so they can pass it up the line
  2. Hiring manager: This person actually understands the job, and probably has experience doing it. Mention something that indicates a deeper understanding of the job and it'll catch their attention
  3. Peers: These folks know the job, will be a part of the interviews, but probably aren't too skilled at reading resumés or asking interview questions. They're mostly just trying to make sure you're not a dick, because they'll have to work alongside you. This isn't an easy process for them, so make it easier by giving them something interesting to talk about (hopefully related to the profession)

The 'experience' sections are pretty simple. Don't bother with job descriptions, they should know what someone with your title does. Don't waste the precious space. I suggest focusing on specific things you did and the positive effect they had for the company or client. Have stories to back them up when interviewing. Also important, get rid of any qualifiers or caveats that may minimize these accomplishments. Kill all adverbs. It's their job to ask for clarification where needed, yours is only to sell yourself. Do it like you're Billy Mays selling OxiClean - give them reasons why you're great! (even if you're not quite convinced - I've had issues in this area)

Example projects and awards help a lot, especially if they're publicly accessible. I got a lot of attention and questions after I put the CA State Parks website on my resume, even though I consider it pretty basic. You never know what others will find interesting.

Self Study indicates a dedication to growth and professional improvement, and can give interviewers something to chat about when stuck. If you have the space, show them that you're on a growth path.

Cover Letters

I was told that this thing didn't matter. That I would spend too much time on each of these that would be better spent submitting a larger number of applications and increasing my odds. Others recommended using the same cover letter for everyone, but I just couldn't see the point of doing that. I found a few resources that indicated a personalized cover letter greatly improved responses, my experience has backed this up as well. I went from 1/10 response rate to 5/10 with custom cover letters attached, so I definitely recommend it. Here's an example of one that helped get me as far as an on-site interview. Cover Letter (pdf)

Here are the rules I use for my cover letters:

  • Format and design should be consistent with the resume. Resumonk is pretty good for this.
  • Try to get the name of the hiring manager, otherwise just address it to "Hiring Manager"
  • Show enthusiasm
  • Identify needs from the job description and match them with your skills.
  • Repeat the company name a couple times, at least.

Here's the template I use for the body content: Re: [POSITION NAME] position

I'm very excited to be applying for this position with [COMPANY NAME]. [Some statement showing why I like their company or think the job is cool.] I'm confident I would be a great match for this position.

[Qualifying statement similar to resume summary - e.g. "I have 4 years experience doing XXX with YYY"]

[Sentence or two matching your skills to the job description]

[Close with a humanizing statement that shows some character or indicates some way that you're aligned with the company or job.]


[Your Name]

Other Considerations

Above all, think about this process from their perspective. They want to find a match for this position. They want you to succeed so they can get back to "real" work, and hopefully get kudos for hiring such a kickass person. Craft your resume, cover letter, and interview responses from that perspective. Give them reasons to say "yes". Ask yourself what you would want to see on a resume if you were hiring. What questions would you ask? What would turn you toward/away from a candidate?

For me, the main problem was changing my mind to see myself as valuable and desirable. I have a kinda negative self image. My partner walked me through the following process to help me see aspects of myself as valuable.

  • First I made a list of things that make me unique (she tried for 'better', but I drew a blank on that).
  • Next we dug deeper by asking what good things those unique attributes allow me to do.
  • We then took each of those "good things" and tried to come up with a spin that I could use in interviews to prove why that makes me someone great to work with.
  • Finally I wrote down example stories from my professional experience to illustrate those things.


These videos were pretty good at helping me 'sell' myself. Like I said, it doesn't come naturally, but I had to spend countless hours talking about how great I am before I found a good position. Every bit of training helps:

How to Save Your Life in 60 Seconds - Tania DeSa

How to Sell Yourself With 1 Sentence - Magda Kay

Steve Jobs Insult Response - I like how he really turns this around, and uses it as a platform to talk about what he is good at doing.

Reach out to me at nathandcornell -at- gmail -dot- com if you'd like to chat more about the subject.