I belong to the .001% of the world’s population that thinks about abstract resume principles in its spare time. But while working with a student I came across a simple way to explain something that usually takes me more words than it should.
As any qualified resume writer/expert knows, there is no resume template that fits more than one individual. Every resume written should highlight its subject’s unique strengths and capabilities. For example, a recent college graduate may want to highlight her recently earned degree while an executive level job searcher will want to highlight his relevant experience.
The question is then, “How is the puzzle solved? How can the most relevant components of a resume be consistently recognized?”
To put it simply: Best things first. The most relevant information, the best things, should be put at the top and most prevalent parts of the page. In English, we read left to right and top to bottom. Do not assume that because something is on a resume that it will be read and processed. According to a famous study done by TheLadders.com, resume readers spend 6 seconds to determine the ability of a candidate to fill a job opening. Therefore, the majority of resumes do not get read in their entirety.
Knowing what has been explained above, someone would have to be crazy or misinformed to lead off with anything other than his most relevant and impressive accomplishment relative to the position being applied for.
What’s awesome about the “best things first” principle is that it applies to every element of the resume. Every section, every subsection, and every bullet point is affected by “best things first.”
Suppose you graduated with a law degree from BYU. There’s a job you want with a big law firm that usually only hires Harvard graduates. When listing the degree, it would be wise to list the name of the degree before the university. The degree is more likely to help you get that job than the name of the school you graduated from. The inverse of this is true if you graduated from Harvard Law School. The name of the university would help you more than the name of the degree.The two scenarios would look like this:
Harvard Law School
Brigham Young University
Now let’s say you’re interested in a HR internship and business marketing internship. Two bullet points of a given experience look like this:
- Created LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest accounts to increase influence (2100+ followers)
- Assembled an excellent team of interns by co-managing the hiring process for the Fall 2016 semester
Depending on the position, these bullet points should be arranged in order of most relevance. I would put the social media bullet point first for the marketing internship. I’d also put the hiring bullet point first for the HR internship.
When applying for an organization like the Red Cross or the Salvation Army, a volunteering section may be the most appropriate section to list first on the resume. For a recent graduate, education should probably be listed first. Every section should be evaluated by its relevance to the position being applied for and ordered according to that evaluation.
Dealing with reverse chronological formatting in relation to the best things first principle.
Though one day it is likely that reverse chronological order will go by the wayside as it matters less and less to employers, most industries expect to see information within sections put into reverse chronological order (most recent events first). In order to apply the best things first principle we should deal creatively with sections. Let’s use an example to explain this concept:
You are applying to be the CEO of the Red Cross. You used to be the CEO of the Salvation Army but recently took a job as the VP of Ticket Sales for the New England Patriots. You became sickened with the world of professional sports and are dying to get back into the nonprofit sector.
In my opinion, your CEO experience with the Red Cross should appear as close to the top of the resume as possible. Unfortunately, because of the reverse chronological formatting standard, if you include both of your positions in the same experience section, the VP of Ticket Sales position will be listed first.
To get around this, we should divide our lone experience section into a Nonprofit Experience section and a Private Sector Experience section. This way, you can list your CEO position with the Red Cross before your VP of Ticket Sales position with the New England Patriots.
Best things first establishes a fundamental structure to evaluating and writing resumes. By abiding by this principle, resume writing will become easier and more organized.