I’ve reviewed a bunch of resumes by now, and many of them suffer from the same problems. I’ve consolidated many of the things that people can improve on to this checklist. I recommend going through it before submitting your resume for your application, or even to a consultant to review.
- Impact or results is included in all (or nearly all) of your experience/volunteer bullets
- Bullets follow a “Accomplished X by doing Y” structure
- GPA, as well as one of ACT, SAT, GMAT, or other major test score is included
- Awards, scholarships, and grants are benchmarked
- Contact information is included at the top
- Something interesting about you is included for easy conversation starter
- Font size of name at the top is relatively large
- Font size and style is consistent by type (headings are the same, bullets are the same, etc.)
- Months/dates are formatted consistently
- Periods are used consistently (or preferably, not used at all)
- Number of multi-line bullets is minimized
- Amount of space between lines and sections is consistent
- Everything that needs to be left or right aligned is left or right aligned
- Resume is 1 page long
- Divided sections for Education, Experience, and Personal are included (with optional Volunteer section)
- Each section lists experiences in reverse chronological order
- Organization of company name, description of company, and role at company is consistent throughout
- Each section has a minimum of 2 bullets (no sections with only 1 bullet)
- Each experience bullet starts with a past-tense verb
The toughest part of writing your resume will be identifying quantifiable results from the work that you’ve done. The best approach is to plan and organize your experiences around getting measurable results. However, most of your work will likely involve the tough work of identifying impact retroactively.
Because this is so difficult, you really stand out when you do it well in most contexts. Unfortunately, because consulting is so competitive, if you don’t do this well, your odds of an offer drastically decline.
Structure of results
Follow an “Accomplished X by doing Y” structure for your bullets. For example,
“Reduced costs by 20% by eliminating free ice cream day”
is better than
“Eliminated free ice cream day, reducing costs by 20%”
You want the reviewer to focus in on the results that you accomplished more than how you accomplished them, so give the most important part first, then add the color.
If you don’t apply to consulting, you might not need to include this. Consulting firms, however, typically expect you to include this. On that note, don’t be afraid to retake the ACT/SAT if your score from high school isn’t competitive, or consider taking the GMAT and landing a good score there.
If you got a full-ride scholarship, that’s great. If 100% of the students at your school get a full-ride, that’s a bit less impressive. Include some way of indicating how awesome you are for your award, such as “top 5% of applicants” or “highest scorer of 300 competitors”.
Formatting months and dates
You probably think this is obvious, but I have seen very (very) few resumes where I don’t find at least one instance of format mix. Use either 3-letter abbreviation for the month, or write out the whole month, but don’t do both. See a bad example below.
One page resume
If you have a lot of experience, you might get away with a multiple-page resume. If you’re coming out of undergrad, or even an MBA, you don’t have enough experience, so keep it to 1 page.
Even if you do have enough experience to warrant a multi-page resume, you’ll probably make the reviewer happier if you still keep it to one. Consultants value brevity.
Sections to have
You should certainly have a section for your education, as well as for your experience. I often recommend putting the education section first (for applicants coming right out of school), since the reviewers seem to filter on that information quickly and prefer not to need to search for it.
Most people create a separate section for volunteer work, but you can integrate that into your Experience section as well. Often, creating a Volunteer section simply enables you to keep your relevant professional experience near the top, even if you’ve done volunteer work more recently. It also helps highlight your greater involvement in the world more easily.
The Personal section can include skills, hobbies, awards, and interests. Try to include at least one line that can serve as an easy conversation starter in the interview. Many interviewers will use the personal section to come up with a question to ask you to start a more interesting conversation.
Reverse chronological order
It’s often tempting to change the order, but I recommend against that. Yes, your most recent experience might be fairly new, and as such have limited results, but that’s why you include the dates you were engaged in those experiences. Resume reviewers know that you won’t have as much to say about something you’ve worked on for the last month as something you worked on all last year.
Sometimes making use of the volunteer or other sections can enable you to move something less impressive down and keep more impressive work up top, but avoid doing anything too overt in that respect.
Most people put the company in bold, with the role italicized below. If the company is less well known, it can be helpful to add a dash or parentheses around the description. There’s room for variation in how you format this, but make sure you keep it consistent throughout the resume.
The bullets in your experience and volunteer sections should always start with a past-tense verb. Some common examples include: reduced, accomplished, earned, improved, identified, helped, prevented, prioritized, and developed. You don’t need to use any of the prior listed words, but make sure your bullet starts with a past-tense verb.
Check your resume
Make sure that you follow these guidelines when building your resume. You may choose not to follow them, but make sure you have a solid justification for why that makes sense for your field or situation. Abiding by these principles will help you build a clean, impressive resume.
Keep seeking truth.
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