The 5 Big Questions You Need to Ask about Your Resume

Through CareerCup's resume review, my time at Google and other companies, and the occasional favor for a friend, I've seen hundreds of resumes. Each time, I see the same mistakes. I'm not talking about subtle little wording tricks; I'm talking about the massive issues that all too many resumes have. Think your resume is "good enough?" Check it against these five big questions.

#1. Is your resume one page (or at most two pages for 10+ years of experience)?

Did you know that longer resumes usually make you look less experienced?

When you include just one page of content, you’re including, by definitely, the “top one page” of experience. Less impressive accomplishments just don’t make the cut. But when you expand into two or three pages of experience, the quality of the average item on your resume drops substantially.

And since resume screeners only skim your resume for 15 – 30 seconds, it’s the “average” that matters, not the sum of all your accomplishments.

(Still disagree? Read Less Is More: Eight Reasons Why You Need a One Page Resume.)

#2. Did you use a resume template, or did you build your own?

If you’re opening up a new page in Microsoft Word, bolding some headings for your job titles, and typing your accomplishments under them in bullets, you’re almost surely making a mistake.

Your resume will wind up looking sloppy and unprofessional. And, perhaps even worse, you’ll probably waste a lot of space. Resume formats are often designed to fit as much as possible on the screen while still being clean and well-organized.

Unless you’re a whiz with Word and with design, you should just use one of the many resume templates out there.

(Here are the two resume templates that I use.)

#3. Are your bullets too long?

As mentioned earlier, resume screeners don’t read your resume; they skim it. The process takes about 15 – 30 seconds per resume and is designed to decide on interview / no interview. Bullets that look like a paragraph are skipped in this process. They take too long to read and too long to really digest.

If you want to make sure your bullets are read, keep them to a mix of one line and two line bullets.

#4. Is your resume accomplishment-oriented or responsibility-oriented?

The work you were assigned to do is sort of, well, boring. I want to know what you actually accomplished.

Consider the difference between these two bullets for a Program Manager:

  1. Design features for Amazon S3 and oversee development of the features across software engineers and testers.
  2. Designed the SS Frontline feature, managed its development, and led its integration across three products, leading to a $100 million increase in revenue.

The first one doesn’t tell me much more than what I already knew from the job title. The second bullet, however, shows me that you had an impact.

#5. What did you not include?

When I’m reviewing a resume, one question I like to ask is if there’s anything (major or minor, professional or academic, serious or “just for fun,” coding / PM / etc focused or not) that they didn’t include. All too often, the person cut something that’s pretty major – possibly what would have been the “wow” part of their portfolio.

Last month, I was reviewing the resume of a PM at Microsoft who had neglected to mention on her resume that she’d started a video gaming company “on the side,” where she hired and managed several testers and developers. Why didn’t she mention it? Because they hadn’t launched yet.

The belief that you can only list something on resume if some requirement or other is met is common.

When I reviewed resumes after the PennApps hackathon, about half of the CS students left out a major project. Of those, half thought that they couldn’t mention a project because it was for class, and the other half thought that they couldn’t mention a project because it wasn’t for a class.

Ultimately, forget the rules of what does and doesn’t belong on a resume. If it makes you look better, include it.


Want more guidance on how to improve your resume and land a job at a great tech company? Read The Google Resume: How to Prepare for a Career and Land a Job at Apple, Microsoft, Google, or any Top Tech Company.