How to Write a Compelling Resume

By Shahrukh Moin Khan

August 05, 2020

“This is not just a resume, but the evolution of passion throughout the years of diligent work on the way to becoming an expert.”

If you are somewhat studious and hail from a middle-class family of Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, in most of the cases, you would be forced to prepare for the Civil Services Exam (CSE). Succumbing to such parental pressure, I also prepared for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) CSE during my graduation days at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee. Since I was resolute about it, I did not participate in the process of placement, and, at that time, I never got an opportunity to create a resume. However, due to turn of events, I ended up in Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Calcutta. Within the first fifteen days of joining the institution, I was asked to make a four-page-long master CV. Being unaware of the process of writing a CV, my first draft had just eight lines. With time and constant efforts, eventually, I was able to draft a perfect CV and later narrowed it down to a quality resume. This article is my humble attempt to help candidates in their journey of writing a resume.

Before getting down to the nitty-gritty of writing a resume, let us first understand the difference between a CV and a resume. Curriculum vitae—Latin for “course of life”—is a complete record of a candidate’s life journey. It is a detailed description of all the achievements of the candidate ranging from academics to cocurricular and extracurricular activities. On the other hand, a resume is a crisp, one/two-page version of a CV.

The first step of the recruitment process involves evaluation of the resume to get a glimpse of the candidate’s profile. It is the most essential piece of paper containing information that the interviewer has about someone. A well-written and aesthetically pleasing resume certainly leaves a good impression on the interviewer about the candidate, and can sometimes last throughout the interview. Grammatical mistakes, both in terms of spellings and construction, in the resume may lead to rejection even before the commencement of the interview. The quality of work or the magnitude of an achievement that is perceived by the observer depends a lot on its presentation. Let us look at two sentences for a better understanding of the aforementioned point.
1. I ranked third in college.
2. Achieved a merit rank of 3 out of 5,000+ students across 14 engineering streams.

Here, both statements talk about the same achievement but the presentation of the second statement creates more impact on the reader.

Before creating a one-page resume, it is very important to draft a master CV. This master CV includes collection of all the possible achievements of a candidate. Different industries will focus on different sections of the resume; hence, this master CV acts as a pool of all the points from which desired points for the resume can be selected. Therefore, it is very important to generate a comprehensive master CV. In order to do so, the following sections can be used:

  • Academic and Cocurricular Achievements: This section contains information about the achievements directly or indirectly related to the academic sphere. Ranks achieved in schools and colleges can be mentioned in this section. The first rank in primary school may seem irrelevant in the CV that one is making fifteen years later, but still, it is important as it reflects one’s diligence since childhood. In addition, marks in certain subjects can be mentioned here. For example: Scored 100% marks in Mathematics in 10th and 12th standards. This point may add value in a resume submitted for a job that might require high quantitative aptitude. Apart from ranks in school and college, ranks in competitive exams and certain Olympiads can also be mentioned. These ranks may showcase one’s performance with respect to peers across the nation or maybe even the world. Therefore, a person should not hesitate to mention their CAT percentile, GMAT score, JEE rank, etc. Beside marks and scores, in this section, achievements regarding winning case competitions, paper presentation, quiz competitions, etc., can also be mentioned. These pointers also highlight the academic inclination of the candidate. In addition, to highlight skills acquired beyond the fixed curriculum, certification courses can be mentioned along with scholarships awarded at any stage of life. Examples of academic and cocurricular achievements are as follows:

    • Granted assistantship of INR 98,000 to pursue MTech on clearing GATE taken by 11,407 candidates

    • Awarded Distinction by University of XYZ in International Assessment for Mathematics

    • Awarded Gold Medal for scoring the highest (100%) in Physics and Chemistry in X (99.9 percentile) in the state

    • Ranked amongst 612 out of 34,311 to qualify the KVPY (Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana) exam

    • Felicitated by the Governor of Haryana; only one to be awarded XYZ Scholarship

  • Internships and Projects: This section is particularly important to showcase one’s depth of conceptual knowledge. While writing about projects, topic or agenda of the projects should be communicated clearly to catch the attention of the reader. While writing the details of a project, one must try to ensure that enough emphasis is placed on the analysis done in the project, as it communicates the person’s technical abilities. Also, initiatives, recommendations, and collaborations during the project should be mentioned to showcase one’s results-driven approach and to highlight one’s accomplishments. Often these projects are of short duration and do not reach the full potential in that period but have high-impact potential in the future. So, providing details of the potential of the project increases the value of the work done. Also, it is very critical to strike a balance while framing the points—the points should be technical enough to be able to communicate one’s knowledge and simple enough for a non-technical person to understand the value of the work done. Examples of internships and projects are as follows:

    • Verified water tank designs by APC contractor and designed 40-litre capacity reservoirs

    • Identified issues faced on site and improved working techniques in a team of 25 postgraduate trainees

    • Developed model for Asset Allocation for HNI clients’ portfolios by optimizing risk-return metrics 

  • Work Experience: This is a crucial section as recruiters are generally keen to know more about the work done by the candidate in the previous organization. This section should showcase every positive aspect of a candidate’s professional career. While mentioning the details of the work, it is advisable to highlight certain aspects, such as leadership, innovation, results-driven approach, etc. To highlight these points, one must try to include details of any project/sub-project/team/sub-team that one has led or managed. Also, inclusion of points that can highlight interactions and collaborations with the seniors/juniors/clients helps to present the team-player side of an individual. One can mention points related to new things done at work that reduced cost, enhanced efficiency, etc., or that created something fresh, redesigned an existing system, etc., to highlight the person’s innovative side. In this section, one can also mention the additional responsibilities that one has undertaken, such as recruitment, business development, among others. Here, the candidate should also mention the awards and recognitions received, such as good ratings, on-spot award, appreciation e-mail, and many more. Examples of work experience are:

    • Led a team of 4 to build regulatory reporting dashboard for monitoring real-time IB business readiness

    • Realized savings of $20 million by deploying and tracking targets across 5 continents (cost arbitrage opportunities)

    • Implemented a test-versus-control experiment impacting 10,000 accounts and reducing credit limits by $2 million

    • Prevented potential loss of $0.5 million+ for the client by finding a corner-case bug in the design

    • Achieved 15% increase in efficiency by elimination of man movement and reduction in cycle time by 6 minutes

    • Mentored 2 new team members in transition and knowledge transfer of the product architecture

    • Received XYZ India Special contribution award (7 of 110); achieved 8% increase in customer base

  • Positions of Responsibility: This section highlights a candidate’s leadership abilities. A person who has handled responsibilities at school and college level has a higher chance of taking up leadership responsibilities as a professional. In this section, positions, such as student council president, placement representative, mess representative, etc., can be mentioned. Also, it is very important to highlight the work done during the tenure. One should certainly mention the day-to-day activities and responsibilities and the magnitude of the work done. Apart from the regular work, it is imperative to highlight the change or innovation that was brought during the period. The section should also have mention of a candidate’s position in a club, in a sports team, in a fest, among others. Under details of each position, it is necessary to highlight one’s leadership and decision-making skills. Examples of positions of responsibility are:

    • Captain, Cricket Team: Led team to victory in Inter-IIT Sports Meet 2013; IITK first-time overall winners in the history of 49 years

    • Head, Photography Club: Organized a photography exhibition and increased the footfall of the event by almost 20%

    • Core Member, NGO: Involved in fundraising initiatives with 100 donors supplying to 30 senior citizens in 2 old-age homes

    • Sponsorship Head, Fest: Led an 18-member team to raise INR 24 lakh as sponsorship amount from 9 big and 24 small organizations

  • Extracurricular Activities: This section portrays the fun, creative, and social side of a candidate. A lot of recruiters focus on this section to better know someone as a person. This section must comprise social services undertaken at any point in life that may include blood-donation camp, cloth-collection drive, feeding the hungry, teaching the underprivileged, working with an NGO, etc. While writing these points, one must try to focus on the magnitude of the impact created. Any achievement in the field of sports can also be mentioned here. Achievement can be as big as an international-level achievement or as small as a school-level achievement; it reflects one’s passion for the sport. Participation and winning accolades in cultural and literary activities can also be presented. Participation in other extracurricular activities, such as acting in a drama, reciting poetry, winning essay competition, etc., can be mentioned here. Apart from these, any part-time work or anything that does not fall into a fixed category can be included in this section. Examples of extracurricular activities are:

    • Stood first in volleyball and second in cricket (both among 8 teams) in inter-branch sports competition

    • Represented India at World Youth Championship, Spain; International ELO Rating 1802

    • Worked with UNIC, UNDP, UN Women, and World Bank on projects on water security and women’s security

    • Led a team of 40 actors to direct the Annual Street Play production on “Political Consciousness”

    • Created and implemented sustainable business models for underprivileged, as Associate-Enactus

For so long, we saw the areas that need to be covered to make an exhaustive master CV. Let us try to understand how we can impressively present the points. A few important considerations to be remembered while drafting each point are:

  • Usage of Personal Pronouns: If we look at various world-class templates, CVs are usually written in the third person. Personal pronouns are avoided while writing the points. For example,

    1. I, with my team, secured third prize in an event organized by my college.

    2. Secured third rank, as a part of a team, in an event organized by the college. The second statement is more acceptable than the first in CV formats.

  • Usage of Power Verbs: Each point in the CV should start with a power verb. Power verbs are action words that have positive meanings. When one uses a power verb, one can communicate one’s message more strongly and confidently than while using other verbs. For example,

    1. Worked with senior executives of clients for smooth delivery of the services.

    2. Collaborated with senior client executives for smooth delivery of the services. Though both the statements mean the same thing, still the second statement communicates the idea in a more impactful manner.

  • Quantification of Achievements: The magnitude of achievement is often best measured when it is well quantified. Hence, in a CV, it is often advised to quantify the achievements wherever possible. For example,

    1. Cleared XYZ exam in the first attempt.

    2. One among 100 out of 10,000+ students to clear the XYZ exam in the first attempt.In the second statement, the magnitude of the achievement can be seen. Even if the person does not know about the exam, still they can understand that it is a significant achievement.

  • Impact-Focused Points: There are two parts of the activity—first is the action done and second is the impact that it created. While writing points in a CV, people often just focus on the action and ignore the impact part of it. Recruiters, however, are mostly result-oriented and look for the impact. Therefore, while presenting the point, the focus should also be on the impact created. For example,

    1. Implemented XYZ technology in the team in collaboration with 5 teams.

    2. Reduced cost by 30% by implementing XYZ technology in the team in collaboration with 5 other teams.The second statement highlights the impact created by the individual whereas the first just talks about the work done.

  • Usage of Keywords: In the present day of technology, resumes are often shortlisted by algorithms, which search for certain keywords that are associated with the job requirement. Hence, one should introduce certain keywords accordingly. For example,

    1. Spent INR 10,000 in increasing the visibility of the brand by 50%.

    2. Handled a budget of INR 10,000; increased brand awareness by 50%.In the second statement, the introduction of keywords like budget and brand awareness will increase the chances of earning an interview call.

  • Usage of Correct Grammar: Often people are a bit careless about the grammar while writing the points. It is very important to ensure that there is no grammatical mistake in the CV. Appropriate usage of modifiers, semicolon, hyphens, etc., should be known before using them in the CV. For example,

    1. Secured 99.99 percentile in CAT 2019, out of 200,000+ students.

    2. Secured 99.99 percentile out of 2,00,000+ students in CAT 2019.In the first statement, it is implied that CAT 2019 was out of 200,000+ students. Hence, the usage is wrong.

Once the draft of the master CV is ready, it is time to discuss the selection of points for the one-page resume. Different sectors have different skillset requirements and hence, focus on different sections on the resume. However, in any case, every employer prefers to see all sections of the candidate’s resume. Let us discuss a few pointers to be kept in mind while drafting the one-page resume for different domains.

  • Finance: This sector requires high quantitative aptitude, sharp focus, and dedication. Hence, recruiters from the finance domain mostly focus on academic achievement, relevant work experience, and relevant projects and internships, etc.

  • Consulting and General Management: This sector requires an impressive personality, which means that the person should have strong networking abilities, good leadership skills, problem-solving skills, etc. Hence, recruiters look for a balanced resume; a person should have a decent number of points in all the sections. Also, aesthetics and presentation of the resume matter the most for this sector.

  • Marketing: This sector focuses on one’s creative side and does not care a lot about one’s academic achievements as it may not be related to one’s future work. Hence, recruiters in this sector look for good positions of responsibilities and extracurricular achievements. Also, if the work experience section has some points related to sales, business development, pitching, presenting, etc., it is a big plus.

  • Operations: This sector focuses on one’s problem-solving skills and one’s ability to work on the ground. Hence, the recruiters look for relevant work experience wherein the candidate has managed or delivered. Also, relevant projects or internships add value to the resume.

  • Technology: This sector requires one to be updated with the recent trends and prefers if one has hands-on experience. Hence, the recruiters mostly focus on the work experience section and look for relevant projects and internships. Also, one’s certifications are very important, as they tell the recruiter about how updated one is with the current technology.

Apart from the content present in the text, it is very important to format the resume perfectly. Each point should be of exactly one line, aligned perfectly, and should be of an optimum length to ensure that there is minimum white space. Also, the font, font size, bullet size, etc., should be consistent throughout the resume. After drafting the resume, one must check for the printable pdf version of the same and ensure that the format of the file is not distorted.

The above-mentioned pointers are based on my experience of reviewing and verifying resumes as a recruitment coordinator at IIM Calcutta, and my experience of conducting multiple resume-editing workshops at premier B-schools in India.

I hope the article helps you.

A consistent academic performer and an ex-placement representative at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, Shahrukh Moin Khan has been passionately mentoring aspirants and B-School students towards achieving their goals. At Breakspace, the Education Consulting division of Partha PD, in three years, he has mentored over 3,000 students across India. Before his MBA, while pursuing BTech at the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, he mentored 200 students for engineering entrance exams. Shahrukh’s love for football and cricket and his keen interest in Indian history and politics beautifully complement his critical approach towards everyday issues. His hometown is Kanpur, and he completed his secondary education at Meerut.

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