How to Write a Great User Experience Resume

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I look at a lot of resumes…

…and not just for people that I interview. I’ve seen a couple hundred in the last year, mostly because I work at Jobvite, I figure out how they parse and look at better ways of displaying them. Resumes are the first things most recruiters and hiring managers look at to see if you are qualified for a job (I tend to look at a portfolio first).

Because of my day job and my constant banter with recruiters I talk to during job interviews, I do a lot of research about the hiring process. Now is a good time to start looking (new budgets, improving economy and cool start-ups on the Jobvite Facebook application).

I can’t speak to everyone’s preferences but in this post I’ll describe some of the patterns I see over and over again regarding what recruiters want and a few tips to avoid the pitfalls of getting the wrong job interviews. This stuff isn’t rocket science and getting a job shouldn’t be. First and foremost, make sure that your resume and LinkedIn profile are in tip top shape.

Include the basics

Your odds go up exponentially if there’s a way to contact you.

Even the SAT test awards you 200 points for writing your name correctly. Consider the basics as an extra bonus point. The following items are required at the very top of your resume:

  • Name
  • Email Address
  • Phone Number
  • LinkedIn Profile

Optionally, I would include a Twitter Feed and Blog addresses, if you have them. They should be work related (i.e. not 35 photos of you getting drunk in Tijuana).

Including only an email address is annoying when I have to get a quick clarification on your background. Picking up the phone is still the best way of reaching people (sorry,  millennials). Most hiring managers use the phone as a primary means of communication.

This information should be a standard format (periods between numbers in a phone number don’t parse well). Applicant tracking systems that parse email addresses and phone numbers are looking for patterns, not creativity.

Also, make sure hyperlinks go to the right place. I sent my resume format to a friend, and I was getting her emails because one of the systems parsed out my email address in a hyperlink and used it as her primary email address.

Don’t be cute

Just because you can design an infographic doesn’t mean it belongs in a resume.

Most companies use applicant tracking systems, which keep track of candidates in the interview process. These systems are parsing your resume so they are searchable, so if you upload the resume with tons of graphics, it’s not going to parse. The wackier the layout, the worse the text is going to appear in the system. Combine that with how PDFs can be structured (or not, if a designer uses a PNG that can’t be parsed at all), and you get the idea.

My resume has a very top down approach that’s similar to the inverted pyramid: the most important information is listed at the top, next the positions and then other relevant information. Inverted pyramids work well for the web (ask Jakob, take a drink). They also parse well and are great for search engine optimization (SEO).

Do not include any wacky graphics or some over-designed timeline that is a hopeless copy of Facebook’s timeline.  When I interview people, I might want to see a gracefully designed infographic if you’re a visual designer. However, unless you’re Nicholas Felton, you probably don’t have the skills to come up with something that’s going to wow them. Leave that to your portfolio.

In a pinch, I would have a resume formatted in plain text so it looks good even in a plain text email.

List skills and who you’ve worked with first

I list Previous Clients and my Skill Set before the position so recruiters and hiring managers don’t have to read further down the resume. That’s an instant winner, winner, chicken dinner.

Most people don’t really understand what User Experience is. At all.

Here’s what they equate it to: Wireframes, Usability Testing and Personas. Throw in some HTML/CSS prototyping, and voila, you’re a user experience designer.

If you have the skills at the very top of your resume, the recruiter will know exactly what you can do. They will copy and paste that list into an email straight to the hiring manager. The person viewing your resume might look at a couple of the most recent positions, but they have to know that your skill-set matches something that the hiring manager has told them. The very best recruiters will understand.

Frankly, it will also help you avoid jobs you don’t want, like if they’re looking for someone who can also code Java (Drink).

Even better, list some of the brands you’ve worked with at the very top because it works. When recruiters and hiring managers have to ask who you’ve worked with and what projects you’ve been on because they can’t find it, your resume has failed.

Don’t list every position

I summarize who I’ve worked with as a consultant and use a bullet point for previous client I want to focus on. Brief and to the point.

User experience designers tend to have a lot of contract gigs, which make for very long resumes.

One of my favorites is Karl Smith in the United Kingdom, because I use him as an extreme use case for Jobvite. He tends to work a lot of short stints because he’s a high level consultant, and it’s important to his clients that they see the breadth of his experience.

If you aren’t Karl, that can work against you, especially if you’re under five years of experience.

I compress the contract gigs that I’ve worked at under “being a consultant” because that was what I was: brought in to work on very specific projects with a contained time frame to achieve a specific result. I list what I did in condensed format, and what I accomplished. It gives the recruiters and hiring managers a good overview of your experience without overwhelming them with information.

Going forward, It’s also best to work on projects that launch. When you’re choosing your contracts, you’ll have to use your spidey sense (we all have it), if the founders are nuts or if the idea will result only in poor execution. There’s nothing worse than having a resume full of projects that fail (I interviewed someone that was on three failed projects in a row) because that reflects directly on your skills.

List projects with URLs

The first thing I want to do is see your work. I can only do that if I have URLs.

Sometimes that’s not possible, because you’re working at Cisco on an internal project, or the project was killed either before or after launch (I have a couple of projects that went by the wayside). But it’s always interesting to compare the wireframes and user research to the final product.

This is also really effective if you’ve worked at the same company a long time (defined as over three years in my mind) and need to show more than one or two positions on your resume. You can also list the projects as separate entries under the same job position to show breadth of experience.

Use real numbers whenever possible

Each position highlights my responsibilities and the real numbers behind them.

The best thing about this job is when we’re done, we should have something to show.  

Wireframes, research and other artifacts — most of those play well in Peoria with hiring managers.  The next best thing is that if you are able to do a great job, you’ll be able to say, “Hey, resume went up 300 percent because of my changes.”  If you have numbers, use them. That’s the best way to back up you know what you’re doing.

Because our field is so new, there are a lot of snake oil salespeople that don’t have the skills to back up what they say. If you have something to back up your work, it’s awesome. I list what my responsibilities were, and how it translated into real results.

Don’t lie

User experience design is a very small field, and there’s a good chance you’re going to run into someone. It’s even better not to lie, because someone will call you on it.

True story: one place I worked at, I was interviewing a candidate. During the interview, I figured out that a previous hiring manager was someone that worked with me, and we “made the introduction.” We didn’t hire the candidate.

And then their significant other submitted the same portfolio.

Another true story: Two separate project managers I was considering managed the same project at the same time. There’s no possible way I could interview either of them.

Be honest about your impact on projects. It’s fine to say you were on a team, but don’t tell people you are the lead if you aren’t.

Hire a copy editor

They’re inexpensive for what the return on investment is — $200 for two hours when you’re applying for positions that could be well into the six figures. There’s no excuse not to, especially since that’s our occupation.  Why wouldn’t you do it for the resume?

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