What Is The Difference Between a Good, Great, and Effective Resume?
All resumes provide you an opportunity to be on the center stage, under the spotlight, in front of a captivated audience. Having a captivated audience can be a good thing, but it can also be disastrous if your resume isn’t telling the proper story.
Merriam-Webster defines a resume as ‘a short account of one’s career and qualifications’. Similarly, Oxford Languages defines a resume as ‘a brief account of a person’s education, qualifications, and previous experience, typically sent with a job application’.
Oh my…if that is how you view your resume, you are making a grave error. A resume should be much more than an account of your education and qualifications. And while writing a resume can be a daunting task, it can be one of the best investments you make when it comes to progressing your career.
Before we dig into what makes an effective resume, let’s be sure we are in agreement of the real point of the resume. It is my opinion that the point of the resume is to win an interview.
After all, why would you send out hundreds of copies of your resume to potential employers if you weren’t interested in actually speaking to them?
Now that we have established that gaining the hiring manager’s attention in order to win an interview is the key point of submitting your resume, shouldn’t you ensure your calling card is an effective resume?
You can have a well written resume which outlines your experiences and accomplishments…but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is an effectively written one.
Let’s discuss how you can create an effective resume versus just a well written one (and why it is important to know the difference).
Be Cognizant Of The Story Your Resume Is Telling
…versus the story you want your resume to tell.
Whether you intend it to or not, every resume tells a story. An effective resume will show readers that you have established career goals and taken specific steps to obtain them. Most recruiters and hiring managers call this being ‘in control of your career’.
Keep in mind that you may be telling a story of being ‘out of control of your career’ if your resume doesn’t show clear direction, can’t articulate your ambition as it relates to achieving a specific purpose or goal, or doesn’t represent a progressive growth within your chosen field.
Why is it important to show that you are in control of your career? There isn’t a hiring manager alive who doesn’t want to believe that you have hand selected their company / their position / their project. If you look desperate (aka ‘out of control’), you will be seen as a flight risk. Hiring managers want to onboard people who want to work with them, not those who just need a job.
Here is how an effective resume can tell a story of you being in control of your career.
Start with a Professional Summary.
Note that a professional summary is completely different from an objective, and while we recommend you refrain from crafting an objective, a professional summary is a terrific addition to a well written, effective resume. Since a career summary is additive but not the meat of the resume, be sure to keep it short and sweet by clearly stating your relevant experience and accomplishments.
You will also want to ensure your summary is tailored to the job you are applying for (which means you should consider tailoring it every time you send out your resume).
Not sure where to start? Here are some examples to help.
Be Selective of The Positions You Add to Your Resume.
…per application. While you may not want to add all short term positions, or positions which may be perceived to be outside of your current career path, some of these positions may help support your story. Therefore, be sure to assess all of your previous positions in order to determine which should be included on your resume.
For example, perhaps you were a school teacher before becoming a CRA. Consider the soft skills you had to learn and employ to be successful as a school teacher. In this example, you honed your teaching skills, fine tuned the ability to motivate others, learned how to handle and resolve conflict, and improved your negotiation skills.
Wouldn’t all of these soft skills make you a much better CRA? As you outline those relevant short term positions, or positions that may be considered outside of your current career path, clearly articulate the relevant skills you learned in each position which has helped you move towards obtaining your career objective of becoming an effective CRA.
As a side note, when you do decide to leave off certain irrelevant short term positions (or positions outside of your chosen industry), do not stretch the dates of other relevant positions to hide the gap. Having to explain a gap is okay. But hiding the gap by changing start and/or end dates of other employment isn’t…that is an act of fraudulence and will likely ruin the relationships you are hoping to foster.
Provide Proof of Competency
A typical resume will show your education and the years’ experience obtained in each role. However, the number of years’ experience you have in a particular role, skill or function doesn’t always equate to proficiency or competency. An effective resume will provide evidence of your expertise and capabilities.
Here are some ways to exhibit proof of competency on your resume:
List relevant certifications and accreditations.
An industry certification or accreditation is a terrific way to show proof of competency in a particular role or industry. For example, industry CRAs should consider obtaining GCP or other industry certifications (ACRP, SOCRA, or IAOCR as examples). Representing active certifications and/or accreditations on your resume will help the hiring manager or recruiter feel confident in your level of expertise or proficiency in that particular area because a recognized authority has already confirmed it!
Outline industry specific continual education.
Many of our industry sponsors and CROs offer continual education programs to their clinical research professionals. If you have an opportunity to enroll and participate in any of these industry programs, I highly recommend it. Why? Providing a list of continual education activities will not only show your initiative and ambition, it is another great way to show your proficiency and competency.
Speak to relevant accomplishments and achievements.
An additional way to make your resume shine is to change the commonly used term “responsibilities included” to “accomplishments and/or achievements”. An effective resume will show an inventory of accomplishments and achievements instead of a simple list of tasks. And this inventory will help hiring managers visualize your work ethic and capabilities, thus showing your potential value to the team or project.
Exhibit How You Are A Match For The Position
Always evaluate the job description and tailor your resume in a way that addresses what the company is looking for. Where possible and appropriate, echo the company’s language when tailoring your resume. Here’s how:
Identify keywords used in the job description.
Why? Because an effective resume will include keywords and keyword phrases that relate to the job description. You may not realize it, but most employers and recruiting agencies use applicant tracking systems to scan your resume for the specific keywords the hiring manager cares about most. The goal is for the tool to identify a short list of candidates based solely on matching the keywords listed in the resumes to the keywords listed in the job description.
Yes, that does mean you may be overlooked if your resume doesn’t include the keywords employers may be looking for.
Doesn’t sound fair? Listen folks, resume scanning systems are here to stay. If you want to get through the first level of screening for almost every position posted, learn how to leverage the resume scanning systems many companies employ.
For example, if you are applying for a CRA position to monitor a Phase I Leukemia study, be sure to use “Phase I” and “Leukemia” as keywords within your resume (assuming you have Phase I and experience monitoring Leukemia projects, of course).
But be careful.
While the goal is for you to tailor your resume based on the job description, there is a difference in tailoring your resume by speaking to the skills and qualities you have that match the job description versus just copying the job description into your resume.
When you are successful in passing the resume scanning system, you will want the first human who reads your resume to be impressed with you. Your individual skills. Your unique accomplishments. Your career goals and resulting path. Your passion and ambition. Using a generic resume or copying the generic job description isn’t going to accomplish that objective.
Other Logistics To Consider
Always provide basic address information.
A resume without a physical address is a peeve of mine. I do understand why you may want to refrain from providing your complete address, but you should at least include your city, state and zip code.
Why? Even if a position is fully remote, hiring managers still want to know your general location. After 30 years in the industry, I can honestly state that I have never (never) found a company or hiring manager who didn’t require at least basic address information…even for fully remote positions.
Use clean, organized, and simple formatting.
Don’t forget the point of your resume; which means that you shouldn’t get crazy (or lazy) with your formatting. The last thing you want is a negative distraction to the beautifully crafted and polished content you have worked so hard to create.
Crazy formatting is one of the quickest killers when it comes to keeping your resume readable. All the fancy tables, grids, and graphics are a quick way to get your resume passed up (unless you are applying for a graphic design job, of course). Additionally, resume scanning systems may not be able to pick up keywords from images, so be careful with how many images, graphics and tables you use in your resume.
Present yourself as a serious, solid candidate sans the bells and whistles, as your resume content should be the only bells and whistles needed.
Lazy formatting is just as damaging. Be consistent in the formatting, ensuring the size, type and color of the font for employment, titles, start and end dates match across all positions listed. If you are using bullets, make sure you use the same bullet format throughout. If you need help with the formatting, hire someone who can clean up your resume, but don’t submit something that doesn’t represent a quality product.
Additionally, always ensure the resume you submit is in PDF format. I do want to note that recruitment agencies may request a Word version of your resume later. This is so the agency can put your resume on their letterhead for representation purposes. However, even if the recruitment agency requests a Word version later, sending a PDF version at the onset will ensure the formatting doesn’t adjust based on the viewer’s software.
Tailor your resume…every single time.
I know I already mentioned this…but it bears repeating. Always tailor your resume to the position for which you are applying…every single time. Additionally, never underestimate the value of a well written cover letter describing how you have hand selected this job opportunity and why you believe you are a perfect match for the position and for the company.
But don’t make it all about you as your job application isn’t just about you. Remember to consider what the company is looking for and why they should hire you. Meaning…be able to articulate what you can do for them rather than only outlining what you hope they can do for you.
Stay tuned for the next article in our series on Effective Resume Writing where we discuss how many jobs you should include in your resume.