Resume Tips from the Professionals
(Originally posted 11/28/12)
Lord, and when I get the paper I read it through and through
I, my girl never fail to see if there is any work for me
I got to go back to the house, hear that woman's mouth
Preachin' and a cryin' tell me that I'm lyin' about a job
That I never could find
Neil Young -- "Get A Job"
I frequently get asked by students to read their resumes and provide feedback. I have my own biases as to what a good resume contains (which I will interject below), but I thought this was a topic worthy of getting some professional advice to pass along. Without further ado, here's your all star cast of resume advisors:
Joe Bean, Human Resources Manager, Teichert Construction
Sue Dyson, Human Resources Manager, Swinerton Incorporated
Nicole Sunseri, Human Resources Manager, Rosendin Electric
Each of these people have extensive experience hiring CM students for full-time positions and internships, so they know what they're talking about. I called each of them to get their feedback regarding the good, bad, and ugly issues with resumes. Ignore their advice at your own peril.
First things first, all of the all stars agreed on this: your resume is a tool to get you an interview, not a job. Don't think your resume alone will get you a job. That won't happen nor is that the point. Use your resume and cover letter to get a job interview.
If you're thinking "what's a cover letter?", it's the letter that accompanies your resume. It's a narrative that explains who you are, why you're interested in a career in construction, and why the company you sent your cover letter and resume to should hire you. Both should be brief and to the point. The resume is bullet points that lay out your professional experience while the cover letter is the narrative. The two should complement each other. However, the cover letter plays an additional role: it shows how well you can communicate with the written word. You don't need to be Shakespeare, but your cover letter should demonstrate your written communication skills. For both the resume and cover letter (cover letter on top), typos, grammatical errors, and misspellings are detrimental to your job acquisition effort. Let me repeat that: TYPOS, GRAMMATICAL ERRORS, AND MISSPELLINGS PRETTY MUCH KILL YOUR CHANCES OF GAINING EMPLOYMENT. Have someone proofread your cover letter and resume. I have never turned down this request, assuming you give me enough time and I'm not slammed with other work.
Another important point: tailor your cover letter and resume to each company you send it to. You might be thinking "Wow, I have to print out different cover letters and resumes for each company I meet with, which means I will have to research each company and tailor how my experience will benefit them? That sounds like a lot of work." Yes, it is, but that's part of the process. Nothing worth having comes easy, so prepare to put the work into this process.
There's one other document you need to consider. If you are fortunate to get an interview, send a note thanking the interviewer for their time. This serves three purposes: 1) it shows you're considerate and that you were raised with good manners; 2) it's a chance to reiterate what your strengths are and how you would be a good hire for the company you interviewed with; and 3) it shows that you want the job. This last point can be amplified. 99% of the time, people want an offer after an interview (or series of interviews). That's a given, assuming you like the company. But how you thank someone shows how much you want the job. Anyone can send an e-mail. That's the minimum that's expected. Now, if you send a hand-written letter, that show's you really want the job. It takes effort to write a sincere letter, address it, and put it in the mailbox (compared to writing an e-mail). And that's exactly the point. Writing letters is not a quaint practice from a foregone era, it's a show of respect and desire. Former students of the CM department told me that they have done this, and guess what? They got the dream jobs they wanted.
There is one way to screw the thank you note: sending a text. First, texting is social, not professional. Secondly, if you send a text like "Thx for the interview. Ur company seems like a g8 place 2 work" you will never get a job that isn't located in a mall and pays minimum wage. To become a professional, act like a professional.
Ok, now for some resume-specific advice:
Going in order of how your resume will be read (top to bottom), let's start with your contact info. PUT YOUR CONTACT INFO ON YOUR RESUME! One of the all stars told me it's very common for people to forget this. Don't be the person that doesn't get an interview because it was impossible to get a hold of you! Also, get a normal email address that contains your name. if your email is email@example.com, you will look like a tool to HR professionals. It's fine to use an address like that with your homies, but take the 5 minutes to set up an address like firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next, have a objective statement, but it should be one sentence and be customized for the company you're going to give your resume to (nothing kills your chances like handing a resume to someone at Turner that says you're trying to get a job at DPR...). This sentence doesn't have to sound like it was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but it does need to express if you're looking for a full-time position or an internship with the specific company you're handing your resume to. If you're looking for a specific non-PE or intern job (e.g. scheduler, BIM engineer, etc.), then you want to make that clear, but be brief.
What comes next depends on what your strengths are, but whatever your strengths are, put them near the top of the resume (don't make people hunt for the reasons that set you apart!). When listing your strong suits, use more bullet points and fewer (preferably no) paragraphs. For those of you with construction work experience, start with this and put it in chronological order with the most recent experience first. Make sure you list the dates of your employment (one all star stated that the right side of the resume is best). In terms of describing your experience, one all start said "be accurate, brief, and clear." In other words, describe what you DID, don't describe the project. Clearly describe the actions you took, the impacts of those actions, and the ultimate results. Use numbers to tell the story. Even if all you did as part of an internship was process RFI's, say "I processed 10,000 RFI's in a ten-week period, ensuring that all were received and processed by the appropriate party on time." Showing that you performed specific tasks well, no matter how mundane, is important. (BTW, most HR pros know that some internships can be mundane exercises in pushing paper or other menial tasks. Just show that you did whatever tasks you were given well. There's no need to convince them your job was sexier than it really was.)
If you don't have any work experience in the construction industry, then lead with your education. Hopefully, you can draw some attention to academic achievement (Dean's list, scholarships received, etc.). Some of you likely have work experience that's outside of the construction industry and want to highlight that. I hate to rain on your parade, but it was pretty unanimous that such experience matters very little to construction HR managers. It's not that it's bad, it just has very little relevance. A lot of people like to list non-construction experience to show that they worked while carrying a full load of classes at Sac State. Well, that lumps you in with pretty much everyone else on campus, so it's not much of a differentiator. However, in the absence of any construction experience, if you put non-construction experience on your resume, the same rules above apply. Use numbers to show that your actions led to measurable results. If you were in a management position, definitely state that. Use that experience to show you have the skills that can translate to construction. Resist every effort to state that you worked at Jamba Juice for 6 months if you don't have anything really good to say about that experience.
Regardless of where you put your education experience (before or after your work experience), include a graduation date or expected graduation date.
Next, list your accomplishments and activities. Again, be specific and show actions and results. List only the important accomplishments and activities and the time of your involvement/accomplishment. If you are/were on a Reno team, state what your role was. If you are an officer in a club, describe that role and your accomplishments. Listing that you were a member of CMSA or a Reno team does not help your cause (it probably hurts it--everyone is a member of CMSA and 100 students are a part of Reno teams, so if you list those simply as accomplishments, you look pretty unaccomplished). If you are an alternate on a Reno team, describe the position you were a backup for:
Don't list hobbies. This was considered normal when I was a student, but the all stars said this is no longer very relevant (one emphatically said to not include them!). Unless your hobbies include pouring concrete or digging holes with backhoes. But if that's the case, you really need psychiatric help.
One thing I asked each of the HR all stars about was including a picture (head shot) on your resume. I thought this was a good idea, as your resume will likely end up in a pile with hundreds others and the picture will remind interviewers as to who you are. Well, it turns out it's a bad idea. The HR all stars like it in concept, but unfortunately, pictures can trigger biases and prejudices, so they ask that students not include pictures of themselves on resumes. It's a legal issue, so don't put a potential employer in a bad position.
One last issue that needs to be discussed in depth: the proper length of a resume. Two of the all stars were pretty firm on the one-page limit (and I wholeheartedly agree with them). The three of us separately came to the conclusion that if a PX can summarize his/her experience on one page for a project proposal, so can you. The other all star said two pages is ok, but only if your experience is worthy of two pages. Content is key. If the second page is random job experience or accomplishments that have no bearing on your ability to work in construction management, it's hurting your cause as opposed to helping it.
So let's summarize the basic resume tips:
So how do you really make your resume stand out? Here are some hints:
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I teach people who will be building our country's infrastructure.