There’s a lot of advice out there about your resume: Keep it to one page, change your duties to accomplishments, and tailor it to the job you’re applying for—just to name a few. But none of it really goes into what the meat of your resume should be.
It all gets especially confusing once you realize that your official job description doesn’t even begin to describe what you actually do. So, when it comes time to write or update a resume, how do you know what is important enough to include and what probably isn’t necessary?
To help you figure out what makes the cut, here are three questions to ask yourself.
1. Is it Kind of a Big Deal?
You don’t have a ton of space on your resume, so resist wasting it by copying all your bullets from your job description. Instead focus on the big stuff—things that could be considered impressive achievements. Did you meet or surpass an ambitious sales goal? Were you given an award for stellar customer service?
Remember: Your goal is to stand out among the other dozens of people who are applying for the same job and who, presumably, have similar experience. That means your bullets should read something like, “presented with Unsung Hero award for behind-the-scenes contributions to annual conference,” or “increased number of conference attendees by 20%,” not “responsible for conference logistics.”
2. Did You Make an Impact?
It can be a little tricky to know if something is a “big deal” or not, so this next question is more tangible. Simply put, did you make something better? Maybe you saved time and money on a project or created something all new that your team sorely needed. The idea here is that you didn’t just up the head count at your company, you solved problems. Anything that falls in this category should make the cut.
To really highlight the impact you made, use numbers—think, “cut processing time down by 3 days,” or “designed and implemented new interface, improving employee efficiency by 30%.” Numbers give context, making it easier to illustrate the difference you made. (If you need some help quantifying what you do, try these tips.)
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3. Is it Common Sense to Include?
Let’s be realistic for a moment. Your resume isn’t going to just be made up of awards and numbers. Some things need to be included because they are such a significant part of your responsibilities that it almost feels like lying to omit them. If you’re a staff writer but all your bullets focus on the awards you got for video editing—that’s not okay. Save some room for your core duties.
Another thing that’s pretty common sense is including things that are directly relevant to the position you’re applying for. It may not be a huge accomplishment, but if it’s in the job description, you should probably describe your experience with it on your resume. Yes, you want to project success and competence, but anything that easily explains why you might be applying for this new position will help the hiring manager see why you’re the right candidate.
Go through your bullet points and see if they meet these criteria. If you have one that doesn’t include an achievement, impact you made, or something super obvious—off to the chopping block it goes! It won’t feel great while you’re doing it, but in the end you’ll have a much stronger resume.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author