What Should You Look for in a Resume?

If you’ve ever been in the position of hiring someone, then you know that reading through resumes can be a challenge. I recall reading through a good 30+ resumes to fill one tech writing at a defense contractor within the DC Beltway. The experience of the applicants ranged from young people fresh out of college to people with 30+ years of experience. Your mileage could vary, but this is how I sift through resumes.

  • Quality and organization of the content: Yes, I admit it: I’m one of those people who judge others by their ability to spell correctly. Of course if I’m hiring a writer, that should go without saying, right? But really, given spell check and careful reading, there is no reason a resume should have a spelling error. I’m also looking at things like fonts, layout, consistent formatting, and all that good technical writer stuff. If you can present your resume neatly, that bodes well for the sort of work I can expect.
  • Directly relevant experience: Have they done the specific job you’re hiring for in the (recent) past? I’ve seen people with a career in sales send in resumes for technical writing positions and thought, “Really?” Sometimes you won’t get any resumes that meet all of your qualifications: wrong industry, wrong type of education, what have you. In that case, you have to start reconsidering your job “requirements” and thinking about what  you really want your new hire to do. How much do they need to bring to the table and how much can you train them with a minimum of fuss?

    Related to this question is the quantity of someone’s experience, and here I have to tread carefully. I am NOT a human resources person, but I understand the implications of age-related discrimination. Some folks, just by the length of (or dates on) their resume, convey the obvious fact that they’re a certain age. However, if the applicant’s experience, accomplishments, and references are exactly what you need, you’d be foolish not to interview them. On the flip side of that, if you’re hiring for an entry-level position, the concern always comes up: Will they be satisfied with the salary this job is offering? If they’re looking for any work that pays the bills, they’re probably well aware of the salary range; that’s not for you to judge. You just need to gauge their willingness to do this job. Another thing to consider: having an experienced person on the staff offers advantages that include a broader network, more extensive background, and a keener sense of the tricks of the trade.

    Taking this in the other direction, a younger person comes in with fewer preconceived notions of “how things should be done” and usually has lower salary requirements. However, they will probably require more on-the-job training.

  • Accomplishments: Not everyone includes accomplishments in their resume, but they should. I even included a master’s thesis on my resume for a while just to show that I got something out of grad school besides another diploma. Accomplishments, of course, are just little brags that show the impact you’ve made in the places you’ve worked. A quick way to determine if something in your work history is an accomplishment is to ask if: a) the thing you did made or saved money or b) anyone in that position has ever done what you did before. (Mind you, these should be positive things.)
  • Education: I’m not as snobby as I used to be about getting English majors for writing projects–or even communications or public relations majors. Usually most tech writing positions require a college degree, so that’s more a matter of checking a box. More important than the degree is how well you can write.

The goal of a hiring manager should be to hire the best candidate you can for the salary you’re able to offer. And I have to add this because I’ve seen situations where it was a problem: you should be willing to hire people who are smarter or better than you in some areas. Smarter employees are not a threat to your job, they’re an opportunity for you to learn from them and for the organization to benefit from their abilities. If anything, you could look at a smart(er) employee as part of your succession plan: if you get promoted, what sort of person would you like to succeed you? Just some food for thought. Happy hiring!

(By the way, my apologies for the late posting. The time just got away from me this week.)

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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