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Building Winning Resumes with Joe Natoli
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Building Winning Resumes with Joe Natoli

Building Winning Resumes with Joe Natoli

Theertha Raj
July 13, 2023

Remember Joe Natoli? He once gave us great advice on building UX Portfolios and cutting the bullshit.

We were feeling philanthropic again recently. So we asked Joe to review some resumes our LinkedIn community sent in. 

You can watch the live stream recording here. 👇

Joe gave us some great advice on what recruiters look for, and how to tailor your resumes accordingly.

TLDR: Why you? What makes you different than the other 600 resumes that people have submitted online for this job listing?

Much like with portfolios, building a great resume is about drafting the best possible sales pitch for yourself. With Joe’s help, we’ve put together five essential pointers to keep in mind while drafting your resume, with an extra round of spicy bonus tips to help you really ace it. 

#1 Get to the point immediately

What does a recruiter need to know in order to want to interview you? 

  1. What outcomes were you able to drive in your previous roles?
  2. What relevant work have you done in the past?

This means you should skip that big paragraph about all your hopes and dreams, the many skills you’ve picked up in your career, and your summer school certificates. Dive straight into what you’ve made happen.

#2  Visual hierarchy for the win 

Anyone who reads your resume is going to give it 30 seconds.

Do you want them to spend 15 of those 30 seconds trying to figure out what they’re looking at?

Probably not.

This is why making your resume visually scannable is key.

Treat your resume like any other UX project like any other you’ve worked on. 

Think about it like a design project. Think about how you would design it so people's attention goes where you would want, just like you do with the product.

Establish a visual hierarchy, drawing the recruiter’s attention to what matters most. The information should be organized to help the recruiter focus on your most relevant accomplishments. 

Prioritize contrast and scannability

Margins and thoughtful formatting make all the difference. Heavy fonts and dense layouts can make documents really difficult to read, as with the resume on the left.

Zoom out and take a look at your resume. Where does your eye naturally go first? Does it linger on your email id or the dates in the corner? Or does it go to the outcomes you were able to drive at your last job? 

Visual hierarchy determines what gets noticed first in your resume. Here are some golden rules to make sure that recruiters spend their 30 seconds looking at the information that makes you a stand out star. ⭐

  • Use space, font weights and sizing to your advantage.
  • Use the largest fonts to: (1) set context on what someone is looking at (e.g., “Work Experience” and (2) to highlight the most important outcomes you have driven
  • Reduce focus on things that don’t matter (e. g., dates) by making them lighter in color or font weight
  • Use bolding / font weights carefully—if your subheading is more bold than your heading, people will see that first even if it’s smaller in size
  • Margins are your friend. Keep them—it keeps the document from seeming too cluttered.
  • Avoid big chunks of text. Bullets are much easier to read. 

Avoid multi-column layouts

Multi-columns are hard to pull off well.

If done badly,  a multi-column layout can confuse your reader, and pull their attention in multiple directions.

Side note: we have heard horror stories of machine resume scanners mixing up content from both columns while ingesting it. Don’t risk it: stick to a safe single-column format.

#3 Ditch the one-page rule

According to Joe, the popular one-page rule for resumes is complete bullshit.

Stuffing everything that you’ve done into one page doesn’t make it any quicker for the recruiter to skim through. And if the content is impressive, impactful, and relevant, they’ll keep reading. 

Prioritize impact (aka business outcomes you can brag about) and readability over an arbitrary rule about the length of the resume. If it takes up 2 pages, so be it—as long as it’s all equally impressive and impactful.

This doesn’t mean that you lavishly detail every internship you’ve ever had, taking up over 3-4 pages.

Realistically, the recruiter probably won’t get past page one. They have hundreds of resumes to go through. So fit things that really matter onto the first page of your resume. Keep the must-sees right up front, and impossible to miss.

Make it readable. Make it easy for me to scan. Fast doesn't mean length.

Use simple language

Stuffing the document with industry jargon won’t make you seem any smarter

Heard of the Hemingway app? It helps you improve text readability and simplify it so that a sixth-grader can understand it.

Use the simplest language as a practice. Make it as easy as possible for the reviewer to absorb information. 

Recruiters aren’t always experts in your field. Write such that even an HR intern can easily understand what you mean.

#4 Customize every inch of it

This is a hard one.

If you’re applying to dozens of roles at the same time, it’s tempting to throw the same document at every one of them. But not customizing your resume to each role is a rookie mistake.

It’s time-consuming, but worth the effort. 

Tailor your resume for the role

Go through the job description, and take notes on keywords, phrases used, and the work experience they’re looking for.

Edit your resume accordingly. Keep the most relevant work you’ve done right at the top. If you have to pick between a few projects to showcase, highlight the ones that align with the role and its qualifications the most.

You have got to adjust and move things around and change things — and in some cases leave things off entirely — if they're not relevant. To make sure that the person who's hiring…  says, ‘yeah, this is a fit. This person is a fit, exactly what I'm looking for.

Those mindless resume scanner machines are also attuned to pick up keywords based on the job description. Keep that in mind. If the job listing mentions that the candidate “must have experience with research ops”, then make sure that the phrase winds up somewhere in your resume.

Beware of scrutiny

As Joe points out, there’s a lot of unfair scrutiny right now in hiring, especially in the UX industry. 

Recruiters might see a single word and jump to a conclusion, writing off a perfectly good candidate as a result.

So beware of the minuscule reasons a resume might be discounted. For example, the word “junior” in job titles is something that’s been getting a negative response in UX hiring of late. 

According to Joe, there’s a clear prejudice among recruiters against people in junior roles. Joe’s advice is to chuck that word completely from your resume—if your role is Junior UX Researcher, just write UX Researcher.

Don’t give people ammunition to disqualify you before they know anything about you.

#5 Talk about impact

You could talk about how everyone loves your Excel sheets. Or how passionate you are about ChatGPT.

But anyone can say that. It says nothing special about you.

Also none of it matters. Only impact does. 

Instead of saying that you’re a great strategist, show that you lowered churn by X percent. 

Abstract statements about your work won’t do much. Back it up with tangible outcomes and hard data points.

Joe says, "Most resumes just list accomplishments… The preamble is missing: ‘made this better, made this more efficient, made this faster.’"

Keep the data points ready

For every project you work on at your current job, get visibility into the actual outcomes of your work.

If you don't have these data points from your work, you should go out of your way to get them. Go talk to the Product Manager to understand whether the discovery of a feature improved after you worked on it.

Not only will you need it for your resume later, but it’s important to help you grow as a UXer—did your work actually have an impact?

And if you don’t have any numbers talk about that outcome in qualitative terms.

Describe what the intent was, what you intended to make better, what problem you were trying to solve, or what opportunity you were trying to create. If you observed things getting better in some way, even without hard data, share those observations. 

Above all else, remember that outcomes are always first. Lead with the results, then talk about how you got that outcome.

Bonus Tips: Extra Extra!

  • Recruiters always take a peek at your LinkedIn profile. Replicate your resume on your LinkedIn.  Keep your sales pitch consistent in both places.

  • Avoid abstractions like “great communicator,” or “strong collaboration skills.” Anyone could’ve made this claim. Instead, show how you used your amazing communication skills to achieve tangible results, with data points where possible.

  • Use links judiciously. You’re asking the reader to leave your resume document and head on to a secondary location. Do this if and only if it makes a critical difference in the strength of your sales pitch.

  • If your company name is not immediately recognizable, make your title more prominent. Add UX Researcher at XYZ for instance, defining your role upfront over the business.

  • It doesn’t hurt to include something about who you are as a person. A quick line about your photography blog, or how you volunteer at the animal shelter on weekends. But do not lead with it.

Conclusion - the Sparknotes version

If you’ve scrolled past all of this to get to the end, that’s okay. Here’s a quick recap of everything important we discussed.

It’s a tough job market out there. Your resume needs to capture a recruiter’s attention in just 30 seconds. So eliminate the fluff, and get to the point immediately. 

  • From the first sentence, talk about impact and the outcomes you’ve achieved. 
  • Cut out all generic sentences, anyone can say that. 
  • What’s unique about your work, that makes you stand out among 600 other applicants? Talk about that, with data points.  
  • Design it well, it’s like any other design project you’ve worked on. Establish a visual hierarchy to guide attention effectively. 
  • The one-page rule is also a myth, prioritize readability instead. 
  • Most importantly, customize your application based on the job profile! Sprinkle in important keywords, highlight the right projects, and convince that recruiter you’re the exact person they’ve been looking for. 

Good luck with the job hunt soldier!

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