What did you do?

There are only 3 kinds of resumes, and 2 of them aren't very good. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Maybe you’re looking for a job.

Maybe you’re not looking for a job, but you have a loved one or a friend who might be looking for one.

Maybe you’re not looking, and you can’t think offhand of someone who is, but you’re looking to hire other people.

Have I covered all the bases?

Not long ago, I wrote about how Google recruiters prefer applicants whose resumes use the X-Y-Z formula to describe their experiences—and why job seekers who don't use that formula greatly diminish their chances of getting an offer.

People liked that advice, even more than I might have predicted. I got a lot of replies.

However, there’s more to discuss. Writing for Business Insider, Rachel Premack interviewed Amazon's top recruiting manager for university programs, Celeste Joy Diaz, about what she thinks is the single biggest mistake that Amazon applicants make.

It all came down to resumes—and a basic misconception about what a resume is supposed to do (and therefore what successful applicants choose to include).

It turns out that almost all professional resumes can be placed in one of three categories, and that one of the three stands head and shoulders above the rest.

1. Headline resumes.

The first type of resume is at title-based or headline-based resume.

These are the ones that, as Diaz put it, list the places you worked and the job titles you had, but provide little information about what you actually did in those positions: "Titles are great, but we want to understand what was the project you owned, what was the scope of a project, and what did you accomplish.”

Perhaps the charitable explanation for this mistake is that people slavishly try to keep their resumes to one page. Or else, maybe applicants assume that their former positions are so well-understood that further exposition isn't needed.

However, doing this makes applicants risk looking like seat-fillers at their previous jobs, and suggests that the pinnacle of their achievement was simply getting hired.

None of these is a good look. And none is likely to result in an offer.

2. Responsibility resumes.

A step up from title-based or headline-based resumes are responsibility-based ones. Here, at least, applicants explain what the roles they held at previous companies entailed.

However, we've all known people who were theoretically responsible for things but didn't actually live up to the responsibility. At best, a responsibility-based resume brands you as a middling, average, “yep, I did what was required" player.

Here are a few bullet points, written in the responsibility resume style. If you're on the fence, anything that starts with the words "responsible for" or similar language probably falls into this category:

  • Responsible for audience growth for three newly launched websites.

  • In charge of managing five other workers at a remote location during business hours.

  • Tasked with assessing different vendor offers and making sound decisions to help the company achieve its goals.

  • Assigned to assist customers who called in to support to better understand our products, solve problems, and increase future sales.

You can see where this is going. Basically, responsibility-based resumes are a list of cut-and-paste job descriptions.

3. Achievement resumes.

When written correctly, achievement-based resumes are the ones that get applicants noticed. These are the ones written with a recruiter or hiring manager or future boss in mind, because they provide clear, measurable descriptions of your outcomes.

It’s also what Google is really getting at when their top recruiters suggest: "Accomplished [X], as measured by [Y], by doing [Z]."

Let's just rewrite those four examples from above to show this format in action.

You'll notice that for readability's sake, sometimes this will actually come across as Y-X-Z or Z-Y-X or other combinations. The key is simply to include all three elements:

  • Grew website digital audiences from zero to 15 million visitors per month by running effective marketing campaigns and recruiting 45 new high-performing writers.

  • Saved the company $9 million in five months by reviewing current technology vendors, renegotiating five neglected contracts, and replacing two legacy vendors.

  • Increased sales by 9 percent MOM for the seven months I was in charge of a five-person team, by implementing advance scheduling and friendly internal competition to improve team's morale.

  • Achieved 98.5 percent customer service "5-star" reviews by rewriting call scripts and empowering team members to make any "good faith adjustment" under $50 without escalation.

The applicant's goal in these cases is to leave a hiring manager thinking something along the lines of, "Wow, if she increased sales by 9 percent at her previous company, I wonder if she could do the same thing here?"

Juxtapose that against the other formats' inevitable questions: What the heck did she actually do there?

And you can see why Format 3 will always be the winner.

Again, maybe you’re not looking for a job. (Maybe you are, in which case I can stop justifying.)

But I’ll bet at least once in your life, someone who is looking for work will ask you: Hey, can you take a look at my resume?

Now, at least, you’ll know what to look for.

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7 other things worth your time

  • “Nearly five years after Joe Arpaio was voted out as sheriff of Arizona's most populous county, taxpayers are covering one of the last major bills from the thousands of lawsuits the lawman's headline-grabbing tactics inspired—and the overall legal tab has hit $100 million.” (NPR)

  • How ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ became an open secret (actually, not much of a secret) code phrase for people who hate President Biden to share their disdain, from sporting event crowds to some politicians. (AP)

  • Scientific reasons why you might hate candy corn, the most maligned of Halloween treats. (My Recipes)


Thanks for reading, as always. Photo credit. I wrote about some of this before for Inc.com. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.