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Using Design Thinking to Craft a Tailored Resume

Estimated reading time ~ 4 min
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Your resume is (most often) the first introduction a recruiter has to who you are and why you are applying for a job. It’s important to make sure the resume reflects not only your interests, experiences, and skills, but makes a strong case for why you are a great fit for each job you pursue. In this article, we’ll use the five key steps of design thinking to help you tailor your resume for the roles you are applying for.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a framework that helps us creatively solve problems efficiently. There are five steps to the process: (1) Empathize, (2) Define, (3) Ideate, (4) Prototype, (5) Test. I’ll be showing you how these steps can be applied to creating a resume that communicates your skills and experiences so you stand out to the hiring committee.

Empathize: Understanding who is reading your resume

Users are at the center of design thinking. For resumes, the main user for your resume is the recruiter.

A recruiter’s primary goal can be to find applicants worth passing off to the hiring manager, who often decides if a candidate should move forward in an interview process. They have a set of qualifications and review hundreds (if not thousands!) of applications to narrow down their candidate pool.

Some studies show that recruiters spend an average of 7 seconds on a resume. To get a sense of what this feels like, you can try your hand at reviewing resumes in 6 seconds in this simulation. This statistic may be sensationalized, but regardless, you can expect a recruiter to spend no more than 1-2 minutes when reviewing a resume.

What design principles can we extrapolate from these insights that you should apply to your resume?

Your resume needs to be scannable. The key pieces of information that makes you qualified for the job need to be quickly gleaned. This can be achieved with clear visual hierarchy, concise language, and making sure your resume tells a cohesive narrative.

Your resume needs to be easily summarized. You should help the recruiter advocate for you to the hiring manager. Before putting pen to paper, ask yourself -- if the recruiter were to pitch you as a candidate in 3-4 sentences, what would you want them to say? Make sure your resume communicates this pitch.

Remember, your resume needs to only be a trailer, not an entire movie. All your resume needs to accomplish is to prove that you’re worth getting to know as a candidate. Don’t feel the pressure to condense all your experiences and skills onto one sheet of paper.

Define: Digging into the job description

Look at the job description, and split up the listed requirements into “must haves” and “nice-to-haves.”

Do a little bit more research at this phase, because job descriptions can be vague, and recruiting can be industry-specific or company-specific—informational interviews or even research on LinkedIn can help you understand the difference between required and preferred skills. Use the “must have” skills to synthesize a “how might we” statement that will help you stay focused on what your resume should convey. In design, we frame the problems we are solving for with “how might we” to reinforce the idea that we are open to many different solutions. Every aspect of your resume should be able to tie back to this problem statement.

Example: “How might we craft a resume that demonstrates that I have sufficient project management experience, people skills, and am technically qualified for the People Analyst role at Google”?

Ideate: Connecting the dots

Now, start thinking through how your experiences demonstrate the skills, experiences, and values that the recruiter is looking for. Take a piece of paper and fold it lengthwise to create two columns. Jot down your experiences, key accomplishments, projects, and qualifications on one column. Jot down the Job Requirements on the other. Start connecting the dots -- which of your qualifications demonstrate your ability to meet the job requirements?

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Be open at this phase! Look especially at transferable skills, and challenge yourself to make the connection between seemingly irrelevant experiences. For example, even if you’ve held a service job that may seem irrelevant to an office job you’re applying for, you may be able to talk about the people skills you’ve gained from customer service work.

Prototype: Creating Your Resume

Only at this phase should you open your actual resume! Use your two-column chart to edit bullet points for each experience on your resume. This means that your resume may look very different for different roles. You may even leave out a past experience in favor of adding more details to another if that past experience has no direct connection to the job you are applying for. Again, it is more important to create a focused, cohesive narrative with your resume rather than to capture all of your skills and experiences.

After you’ve listed out your experiences, let’s do a temperature check. Does it sufficiently answer your “how might we” statement? Is it scannable and easily summarized?

Test: Don’t skip this step!

As designers, we’re always looking to iterate our designs. You should be doing the same with your resume. The key to testing is simply to put your prototype in front of real people and being open to critique. It’s easy to get attached to something you’ve created, but getting feedback on your resume is key to making sure it makes sense to others, and not just yourself.

Find someone in your network that you trust to understand the job you are applying for and the qualifications it requires. Ask them to read your resume and point out which parts they have questions on or were confused about, and which parts they thought stood out. If you conducted informational interviews with people in similar roles and/or companies, ask them to review it. Oftentimes, they’ll be able to give suggestions that others not in the field or company may not have.

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