There is no one right way to construct a resume. Different nonprofit sectors can favor different resume formats, and our general advice is:
- Use a standard reverse chronological format that has separate sections for:
- professional employment
- volunteer activities (optional)
- publications/exhibitions/research/performances (optional)
- awards & honors (optional)
- languages (optional)
- If you want a thematic statement on the resume, then we advise keeping it short (1 or 2 sentences). Long paragraphs at the beginning of resumes are often interpreted negatively.
- Ensure that each experience is described to help readers answer three questions:
- What competencies & knowledge do you possess?
- At what scale did you work (budget, sales volumes, headcount, etc)?
- What did you change or accomplish, and what impact did you have? If you include a percentage change in some number, please include the number itself. If a role involved coordination among different people then it is important to highlight what was accomplished.
- You may include entries that are about your values (like volunteering for a nonprofit), recognition (awards), thought leadership (published articles), etc. There are some fields, particularly academic fields and the arts, where the number of publications or exhibitions, performances, speeches, awards, committee service, etc. can be extensive and might be included as an addendum or be integrated into a resume. Ask yourself whether particular entries will cause a Search Committee to interview you. If you like a sport, have a hobby, want to describe your family situation, etc. you can include that information. Ask yourself whether an entry belongs on a resume.
- Formatting should be simple: one-inch margins top and bottom, one font, one font size at about 11pt (maybe your name on the first page header is larger), one font color; include an address; no picture, lines, shading, embedded graphics, boxes, fancy bullet styles, etc. Snazzy resumes or resumes that look like a cluttered and jam-packed space are the ones that are rejected first by Search Committees. Keep bullets, indenting, etc. consistent, and please check spelling – it is surprising how often people make small mistakes that a client will interpret negatively.
- A short cover letter tells others a) how to read your resume, and b) why they should consider you for a position. Save everything else for the interview. Cover letters are not absolutely necessary, but some individuals find them to be useful. Personal narratives in resumes and CVs should be avoided. Cover letters longer than 1.5 pages or that feel cluttered with detail are generally not read by clients.
- Never assume that information omitted from a resume will be known. It is important to be accurate, to be brief yet not hide accomplishments or give short shrift to parts of a career history.
- We advise using active verbs when applicable, ensuring that the word describes what really transpired. “Managed”, “implemented”, “drove”, “developed”, “designed” are examples of active verbs. It is not necessary to provide every point in narrative form or even in whole sentences – bullet points are generally fine and often preferred.
While we do not construct resumes for others, we freely support senior executives as they shape their own material. Call us and we’ll help.