Office Hours: Get Your Resume Startup Ready

This post originally appeared on Medium

It’s cliched but it’s true—when looking for a new job, your resume really is your first chance to make a first impression. The average hiring manager spends only a few seconds scanning before deciding if you have enough of the right experience to make them slow down and read more carefully.

A lot of resume advice focuses on the formatting so we won’t delve into that here. While formatting is important, what matters even more is the content. If you have a great looking resume that says basically nothing, you’ve gotten the hiring manager’s attention only to waste their time. Instead, we’re going to help you craft a stronger resume that better conveys who you are, what you bring to the table, and why a busy exec at a startup should care.

If you still have formatting questions, you should also check out our step-by-step startup resume formatting guide here.

In this post, we’re going to focus on the content of a strong resume—showing you what to include and how to make every line on your resume work harder for you.

Let’s start with a fictional example from an Operations Manager at VFA.

 

Venture For America, Operations Manager 2016 – Present

  • Act as People Operations lead
  • Plan company outings, lead Open Forum, and manage employee engagement survey process
  • Researched new office supplies vendors and reduced associated costs by 25%
  • Revamped new hire onboarding procedure

 

Looks pretty good right? It has all of the basic info—name of the company, dates they worked there, title. One of the bullet points even has a metric! So what else is there to do? Plenty.

This covers the basics but doesn’t tell a story or really sell this candidate. Our improvements below will show you exactly how to do that.

Give More Context

The thing that often trips up job seekers is giving the appropriate context for their work. Don’t assume that the hiring manager is familiar with the company where you worked or that they will look it up on their own if not. Also, don’t assume the title you had at one company means the same to another. Tell them.

One or two short sentences immediately after the basic job information can go a long way towards keeping that startup exec engaged and even impressing them. Use this space to tell them what the company is, what they do, and the kind of work you did there.

 

Venture For America, Operations Manager 2016 – Present

VFA is a 30-person startup non-profit that operates an entrepreneurship fellowship program for ~200 recent graduates each year. I lead People Operations, focusing on maintaining a strong team culture and ensuring smooth office operations.

  • Plan company outings, lead Open Forum, and manage employee engagement survey process
  • Researched new office supplies vendors and reduced associated costs by 25%
  • Revamped new hire onboarding procedure

 

This job is already starting to come across more clearly. By adding context, you’re helping the reader understand how your specific role fits into the company’s bigger picture.

Show Don’t Tell

The bullet points in your resume are your chance to tell the hiring manager not what you did, but what that meant for the company. Your focus here is on the impact over the action. Everything you do at work has an impact—on the product, on customers, on other employees, and on the team as a whole. If your projects didn’t, there would be no reason for you to do them.

Again, don’t assume that the hiring manager will understand the context and nuance of your role and why your work was important. Tell them with clear bullet points. We love Lazlo Bock’s formula –

“Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y] by doing [Z]”

Another way to think of that is Result + Context + How. Writing your bullet points this way makes sure that you show what you achieved, why that was important, and how you did it.

You can apply this formula to any activity to immediately make it stronger. For example, “Planned annual club bake sale” is weak. “Planned annual bake sale that raised $1,000 in revenue (+45% increase versus the previous year) and engaged 50 out of 67 club members” is strong. It tells the reader exactly what you achieved and why it was important.

Let’s look at the Operations Manager again and see how we can improve those bullet points.

 

Venture For America, Operations Manager 2016 – Present

VFA is a 30-person non-profit that operates an entrepreneurship fellowship program for ~200 recent graduates each year. I lead People Operations, focusing on maintaining a strong team culture and ensuring smooth office operations.

  • Reduced and held employee attrition to <5% annually (compared to industry average of 10%) by implementing engagement surveys, regular team outings, and creating a new forum to discuss challenges & improvements to team processes
  • Negotiated 25% reduction in office supplies cost by researching new vendors and establishing a new bidding out procedure for contracts, funneling an additional $5,000 per year towards Fellow programming
  • Redesigned onboarding procedure resulting in all new hires (12 employees) reporting that they felt well prepared for their jobs in 90 day new hire surveys

 

Compared to the earlier version, this makes it incredibly clear why this person did the things they did, what they are good at, and what kind of results you might expect by bringing them onto the team. This is the person you want making sure that the rest of your employees are happy.

 

Include the Relevant Experience 

Your resume is meant to show your experience relevant to the job that you’re applying for. But that doesn’t necessarily mean only paid work is relevant. Your college extracurriculars, service jobs, volunteer activities, or side projects can all be relevant to a job you’re applying for.

If you are a STEM major in school but took on a communications role in your sorority and achieved impressive results, you should absolutely include that. If you’ve been active in your local community as a volunteer that lead initiatives, include that as well.

The key here for each job is to ask yourself “what in my background makes me prepared to do what this job is asking for?”

Any job or experience that helps you answer that question should go on your resume. Using our bullet point formula from above, it will immediately become clear to the hiring manager why you chose to include your volunteer run club or job delivering pizzas.

Just one note: skip the high school stuff. Past your sophomore year of college, it’s no longer relevant, even if you did get a really high score on the SATs.

Add a Dash of Personality

If you’ve kept your bullet points focused on the impact, the person reviewing your resume should have a really good sense of what you bring to the table professionally. You also want them to feel like they know a bit about who you are as a person.

When you’re just starting out on your career, you likely only have a few really relevant professional experiences. With tightly written bullet points, you might actually end up with a bit of extra white space. Use that to show a bit of your personality. You can include interests that you’re really passionate about, special skills, hobbies you’ve taken up, other languages spoken or any impressive accomplishments that don’t directly speak to your professional capabilities. Just make sure that you’re ready to speak about them if asked—anything you put on your resume is fair game for an interviewer.

Pay Attention to Detail

Now that you’ve pulled together a compelling resume that shows the hiring manager who you are, what you can do, and what that will mean for their business, don’t let sloppy mistakes trip you up.

  • Customize for each job. Take a look at the job description and rewrite your bullet points to highlight the aspects that are relevant to this job. Don’t submit a resume focused on digital marketing when the job at hand wants someone who knows how to manage PR.
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread. Check for typos and grammar mistakes, don’t just rely on the red squiggly line to catch them for you. Have a friend give it a once over for you to edit.
  • Fill in your placeholders. We’ve all written things and meant to come back to finish them later but don’t be the person to submit a resume for a job that says “reduced customer attrition by X%.” This is where having a friend proofread can really help.
  • PDF it. Keep that formatting the way you laid it out by converting to PDF. Almost every applicant tracking system and hiring portal will accept a PDF file.
  • Use an appropriate file name. Don’t submit “John Smith SEOversite Resume.pdf” to a job you’re applying for at LeagueSide. It sounds small but we’ve seen this mistake derail otherwise promising candidates.
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