How I Look at Resumes

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“Life,” William James once said, “is in the transitions.” He wasn’t talking about weddings and graduations, but the lonely moments before, when a decision still hangs in the balance, and irrelevant details are so vivid that they’ll stick in your mind for years to come: the melted-plastic smell of a U-Haul cab; the iron sound of a public mailbox swinging shut; a paper hospital cup; a flight of stairs; a metal door-knob; a sealed envelope.

“What Are You Typing There, Wes?”

Perhaps the most terrifying transition is the one between jobs. It embarrasses us all. I still remember, at 22, printing my resume in Kinko’s after midnight so no one would see me doing it. The resume felt like a letter to Kafka’s Castle: What is it, I always wondered, that these people want?

The answer, I fervently believed, was parchment-colored stock. While I picked out resume paper that was probably designed for D&D scrolls, my twin brother Wes – our mom told him to go with me for moral support — got on a clacky IBM Selectric and filled a page with the sentence “I am the Anti-Christ.”

We were caught out by a lovely, deeply Christian high-school classmate who had once asked me to a dance but was now coming into Kinko’s to get last-minute brunch inserts printed for her wedding. She learned I was unemployed & living with my parents. Then she changed the subject: “What are you typing there Wes?”

Premature Obituaries

Now when a friend sends over a resume for proofreading, which happens nearly every week these days, I remember how completely defenseless I felt at that moment.

Resumes are horrible documents, premature and unsentimental obituaries: our lives are rarely reduced to such a small number of facts. And writing a resume is a balancing act between feeling outrageously boastful and unimpressive. Some, like Seth Godin, have questioned whether you should even have a resume. I know many people who take whatever dreadful job happens their way just to avoid writing one.

That’s silly. No one has much experience preparing a resume, but it isn’t that hard: you just have to get out of the way of yourself so your accomplishments can speak for themselves. Having reviewed thousands of resumes, I now have a better idea of what the folks in Kafka’s Castle like to see:

Here’s What I Like:

  1. A direct style: use blunt, short words. Most resumes are scanned, not read.
  2. Looks: like a middle-aged man’s apartment. Nice and tidy.
  3. Objective: be direct; your objective is the job you’re applying for.
  4. Verbs ending in “d”: shipped, launched, built, sold.
  5. Results: not responsibilities or experience — but what responsibilities and experience helped you accomplish.
  6. Bullets: 3 – 4 results per job.
  7. Numbers: ­ increased traffic from Google 230%, decreased ad spending 40%.
  8. Grades: your GPA, even if it was ten years ago, if it’s over 3.5.
  9. Reviews: ratings from your last review, especially useful for Microsofties.
  10. Honors: we’ll interview an employee-of-the-quarter, every time.
  11. Promotions: if your role changes, highlight that as two jobs.
  12. LinkedIn endorsements: persuasive, even from your friends.
  13. A Link to Your Blog: a blog gives you online street cred. For some, it is your resume.
  14. Themes: whether you care about customer service or agile software, tell a consistent story from job to job.
  15. Hobbies: I always want to meet people with fun hobbies. And that’s all a resume is: a request for a meeting. At Plumtree, we received a resume from a Playboy model. A colleague forwarded it to me with a note reading, “I’ve never asked you for anything before…” I feel the same way about cyclists.
  16. Two page-max: if you’re under 30, one page.
  17. Anything you did that showed initiative or passion. Eagle Scout. Math Olympics.
  18. Email to the CEO: it takes chutzpah & resourcefulness to go straight to the top.
  19. Customization: tailor your resume & especially the cover letter to the job.
  20. Completed degrees: I’ve hired plenty of folks a few credits shy of a degree. Some were great; many couldn’t finish what they started. If you have time now, finish your degree.
  21. Gmail address: or your own domain. Nothing says “totally out of it” like an AOL address.

Here’s What I Don’t Like:

  1. Churn: stints at 2 or more employers of less than 2 years.
  2. List of generic skills: just show what you actually accomplished at each job.
  3. Typos or misspellings: About half the resumes I get are addressed to “RedFin.” For the other words, spell-check!
  4. Photos: my favorite was of a candidate in tennis whites with a racket.
  5. “Proven”: as in “proven leadership.” We all still have something to prove.
  6. Printed resumes: email a Word document, web page or PDF.
  7. Buzzwords: search bots love it, actual people don’t.
  8. Wordiness: yes, this is the pot calling the kettle black…

But this is just one person’s (very opinionated) opinion. There are plenty of people who have more experience than I do reviewing resumes. What do you like to see?

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Chief Executive Officer

Glenn is the CEO of Redfin. Prior to joining Redfin, he was a co-founder of Plumtree Software, a Sequoia-backed, publicly traded company that created the enterprise portal software market. Glenn was raised in Seattle and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. Redfin is a full-service real estate brokerage that uses modern technology to make clients smarter and faster. For more information about working with a Redfin real estate agent to buy or sell a home, visit our Why Redfin page.

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