How to Create Concise and Compact Resumes

Dec 19, 2012

by Mark Crawford ASME.org

Engineers are smart, technical, fact-oriented, and organized—so it should be easy for them to build a good resume that effectively highlights their engineering attributes. Not necessarily true—the key word is "effective." Because they deal with so many facts, engineers sometimes put in too much information that can distract from the key points.

"A common mistake for scientists and engineers is putting in too much technical jargon and not enough detail as it relates to the responsibilities in their previous roles," states Ross Petras, a senior recruiter with BiotechHeadhunter.com.

Andrew Naslund, HR coordinator for the consulting firm Mazzetti & Associates in San Francisco, agrees.

"Engineers have a tendency to go into information overload on their resumes," he says. "Resumes get accepted or rejected in 30 seconds or less, so it is important to be concise."

The document must be crisp, to the point, and easy to read.

Be to the Point

Tight, compact paragraphs filled with dense text are hard to read and will likely lead to the resume being rejected. The document must be crisp, to the point, and easy to read. Bullet points will make the critical information stand out.

"When writing bulleted accomplishments, keep the text to a few key points and quantify the results so employers understand the significance of your work," says Kim Isaacs, a resume expert at Monster.com who offers the following examples of bulleted accomplishments below:

  • Conducted process mapping studies to improve throughput by 36 percent and ensure compliance with customer specifications
  • Regarded as one of consulting firm's most highly requested mechanical engineers, maintaining 89 percent or higher billable utilization for the past four years
  • Co-developed material for cooling radiators that saved $300,000 per year

Precision Matters

Even though they are typically very meticulous, engineers can also be impatient once the results have been received and what's left is the write-up or delivery—instead they want to move on to the next project. This mindset can carry over to resume-writing: once the facts are down, the document still needs to be carefully reviewed and fact-checked to make sure it is error-free, especially misspellings or poor grammar.

"Failing to proofread and correct all errors on the resume is a common mistake engineers make," says Isaacs.

Remember, there is a lot on the line with your resume—in many cases, it is the first opportunity to make an impression. Before sending it out, triple-check it and have other people review it as well to make sure it is flawless.

Regarding resume format and style, what matters to most recruiters and HR managers is "seeing a chronological career history, either as the outline of the resume body or as a separate listing," says Pat Havard, owner of Principal Resource Group, which specializes in recruiting engineers. "Aesthetically, it is only important that the resume be accurate and easy to read."

Skip Black, owner of Minneapolis-based environmental engineering firm Double Eagle Group, advises not to write an "objective" section because it can hurt a candidate's chances if it doesn't match well with the requirements of the job opening.

Instead, Black recommends writing a qualifications summary. "With a few hard-hitting sentences, the summary should spotlight your most marketable qualifications," says Isaacs.

List Key Accomplishments

Include enough key projects on your resume to reflect the depth of your experience and that complement, where possible, the job openings you are pursuing.

Resume length really depends on the amount of experience and the information needed to present a clear picture of your capabilities. "If there is a long project listing, it is usually best to have that as a separate document or a short list that can be an addendum to the resume," says Havard.

"If you can get your vitals on a single page, that's perfect," adds Naslund. "If you need two pages, that's okay. If you have more than that, split the document and add a project list. List projects by employer or client and give a short description of what you did. Most importantly, don't forget to include your project outcomes."

Entry-level engineers often ask Havard for advice regarding resumes.

"I tell them that the most important part of the resume is that it is presented in person," he says. "Even in engineering, and especially for young engineers, the most important factor is personal contact. I recommend they participate in professional societies and talk with engineers who can be potential mentors—the resume will take care of itself with just a little bit of effort."

Mark Crawford is an independent writer.

A common mistake for scientists and engineers is putting too much technical jargon in the resume and not enough detail that relates to responsibilities in previous roles.Ross Petras,

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