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How to Build a Resume (that doesn’t suck)

Resumes are like opinions, which are like something else: everybody’s got one. And if you don’t have one, then certain key functions are very hard to perform.  In this case, not having a resume makes the job-getting difficult.

We’ve talked about resumes, and even reviewed a few, on the show (here and here) and on blogs (here). Today I’m here to give you a few simple guidelines to make a decent, effective resume that wouldn’t piss me off. And that’s the real goal here.

Update: For a little live discussion on this very topic, see the 12/9/2011 episode of DBAs@Midnight, named “STOP!!!” (starting at minute 38). 

What to include

Contact: Name, phone, email. Address optional; some companies and recruiters will want this.

Job history: name of company, your title there, dates worked.  Bulleted list of duties while there, and 1 to 3 bullet points showing what a star you were (increased sales, solved problems, major projects).

Education and training: Degree and major (e.g.,  BA, Computer Programming), university, graduation year. Also applicable certifications.

What NOT to include

Contact: Forty zillion different ways to contact you. Keep It Simple.

Jobs: Salary, manager name, reason you left. Never convey salary information. And references and reasons should be covered in interviews.


The word “expert”.  No you’re not. Let me say that again: NO, you are not an expert. If you are an expert, this sentence won’t phase you (and you probably know better than to put “expert” on your resume anyway).

Things you don’t know anything about.  There’s a difference between playing up lesser  skills and outright lying. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t list it. (Side note: SQL SERVER 2003 DOESN’T EXIST. STOP THAT.)

Anything to do with your kids or plans to have/not to have them. It’s none of their business, and those prejudices are out there.

Anything cutesy. Judge the need for cutesy in the interview, not on your resume.

Anything negative. You’re putting your best foot forward here, with a smile and a handshake. Badmouthing yourself, jobs, coworkers, projects, or anything else on your resume is off-putting, and VERY bad practice. Don’t. Do. It.

References available on request. Seriously, no duh. They’ll ask if they want resumes.

Formatting and style

Keep it simple. Consistent headers, bullet points. It’s a good idea to download a basic resume template from Word (or online) and just use that. It takes a lot of the guesswork and fiddling out.

Bullet lists should all start with the same kind of word, and use the same tensethroughout. If you’re going with things you’ve done, then the list should look like this (emphasis added just for this article):

  • Documented XYZ project
  • Improved ABC metric by N%
  • Implemented MNO software, saving the company $X gazillionty annually

…not this:

  • In charge of documenting XYZ project
  • Improved ABC metric by N%
  • I also implemented MNO software, saving the company $X gazillionty annually

SPELLCHECK. Then proofread. Then have someone else proofread. Seriously, we  make fun of you if you misspell stuff on your own resume.

There are other things we could go over, of course. There are debates on the skills list, personal notes, various ways to approach presenting job duties, and keeping different versions of resumes. But that’s the intermediate class. 

To sum up today’s lesson:

  • Include:
    • Contact: Basic info.
    • Job history: company, title, dates, duties, a couple of WINs.
    • Education and training: Degrees and certs.
  • Leave out:
    • Extraneous contact info.
    • Too much information in regards to jobs and personal life.
    • The word “expert”.
    • Stuff you don’t know.
    • Cutsey-ness. Negativity.
  • Format:
    • Use a basic template
    • Use consistent wording and tense
    • SPELLCHECK and proofread.

Happy days,
Jen McCown

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