Form Follows Function: The Architecture of a Good Resume

by Caroline Carney

The American architect, Louis Sullivan coined the phrase “form follows function” in his 1896 paper considering the structure of the skyscraper. This well-worn phrase can be of use to you when you structure your resume. Writing a resume is much like constructing a building: every detail should be considered in light of the whole and it should realize its function without embellishment.

A resume’s function is to summarize your accomplishments in a way that makes them jump off the page. A daunting task, to be sure, but one we all must face and continue to face for the rest of our careers. As with a building, starting without a plan can be dangerous. The goal of this article is to provide a plan that is flexible enough to fit the needs of all job-seekers, but specific enough to actually get you started, putting pen to paper.

Lori Ioannone, Assistant Director of Student Affairs, Student Life, has seen many student resumes cross her desk. In the course of working with students, Lori has gained insight into what makes an excellent resume.  The resume must entice a potential employer to ask you in for an interview and Lori warns that have less than a minute to grab their attention before they add you resume to the pile of “so-so’s.” When you are ready to break ground on your resume, here are a few things to focus on:

  • Differentiation: find a way early in the resume, to hook the reader and provide contrast to the dozens of other resumes they’re paging through.
  • Impact: think about the desired impact on the reader and organize the information on your resume accordingly. This should determine which information you present and the order in which it is presented.
  • Relevance: write about your education and job experience with your potential employer in mind.
  • Tease: hint that there is much more to find out in person

If you follow these recommendations, your resume is likely to leave them wanting to know more about the fascinating person behind those words.

To allow for easy customization, Lori recommends having multiple resumes. The ‘master resume’ exhaustively lists and describes your accomplishments. Next, write the ‘succinct resume’ – a pared down version, with only the most impressive highlights. Finally, create a ‘tailored resume,’ which a new version of your resume for each time you apply for a position, taking care to modify it to that company, that job, and that audience.

As Lori explained, it is common to have a “hard time letting things go.” So even if its hard to delete that ‘homecoming-queen line’ from your resume, ask yourself if it will really appeal to the hiring manager. The resume is about highlighting, not all the things you have done in your life, but what you have accomplished.

Where and how you arrange the content in the resume will bring order to your life’s work. Chronological is the most typical format for those of us in the early stages of our careers. Lori is also “anti-template” because using one shows a lack of creativity and individuality—so think twice before grabbing one from Word. A resume is an opportunity to translate yourself onto paper, so come up with your own layout.

Having an activities section is also a good way to show individuality. Here is where you can list the road races you have run, your volunteer work, organizations you are a part of. Often, a potential employer will relate to one of the activities listed, so it can be a conversation starter during your interview.

Include a section listing specific skills, but also be sure to incorporate these skills into the job descriptions. This breathes life into your skills by putting them in context. If you have done extensive research or written articles, it would be beneficial to have separate sections for these as well. Of course, keep the audience in mind- will this company care that you wrote an article on resumes?

There are basics that must be followed when writing a resume. The font size should be between 10-12 and in a simple font such as Times New Roman. Use bullets for easy scanning, but make sure all indents and formats are the same throughout. Avoid overused phrases, such as ‘duties included’ and ‘responsible for.’ Instead of job descriptions, describe the skills you used and the accomplishments you made. The person reading your resume will have seen these a million times before. Read, reread, and have at least three other people read your resume. This will ensure it is free of spelling mistakes, tense inconsistencies, and formatting blips.

Winston Churchill coined another architectural phrase that applies to resumes: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” Each stage of your education and career will leave an imprint on the document, and in turn the document—if properly constructed—will help you land the next opportunity.

Once the resume is complete and ready to be sent out, you must keep in mind that the document will evolve over time. Lori recommends that you “keep it up to date so you’re ready, at any time, to apply for a job or internship.” You never know when you will hear about that dream job- so be poised to strike immediately.

The resume is a marketing tool that you must construct yourself, from the ground up, built on a foundation of your education, with skills and new achievements added story-by-story, all the while keeping in mind for whom this document is meant. You are trying to sell yourself to a potential employer. What is the first visual first impression? Is there consistency throughout? Does the content and tone communicate to the reader that you are the right person for the job? Lastly, right before hitting ‘send’, think of Winston and Louis.

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