The Resume… that lone document that can make or break our chances at getting a job. I have spoken with job seekers who absolutely agonize over writing a new resume or updating an existing one. They dread it and put it off like a kid dreads and procrastinates when having to write thank-you notes to grandma for that Christmas gift. Don’t fear the resume… tame it and make it your single best piece of marketing for the product you know best… YOU!
Through 10+ years of Recruiting and Staffing experience and from reading 1,000’s of resumes, I’ve come up with nine points to keep in mind when updating or rewriting your resume. I’ve read that each resume gets between 5 – 25 seconds to make its impression. Combine that with Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) that skim, parse and download resumes for many recruiters out there, you’ve got a situation in which HOW you write your resume is as important as WHAT you write in the resume. It isn’t lost on those of us in positions of judgement on resumes that this is your life that you’re laying out on paper in the hopes of achieving an offer for a career opportunity so we understand the angst that comes with writing it. The most important thing I can stress, aside from these nine points, is to KEEP IT SIMPLE!
- Consider Length – The old-school rule of a 1 page resume was great when people joined a company and stayed there for 20 years before ever considering or being forced into finding a new opportunity. In this new age of career progression and movement, it’s just not realistic for anyone who’s been in the job market for more than 5 or so years. The best rule of thumb is to go back 10 years or to the beginning of your career, whichever is younger/shorter; i.e., if you graduated in 2010, I’d expect to see a shorter resume and not one that includes your high school part-time job and activities. Conversely, if you’ve been in the professional world for 20 years, limit your resume to 10 years. If you feel that there’s some really good, applicable “stuff” in the earlier years, summarize it as best as is possible at the bottom of the “Experience” section.
- Choose your Font Wisely – I cannot stress this enough! Please use a nice, tidy font (Tahoma, Arial, Calibri, Times New Roman) in a 10-point size. That’s it. Seriously.
- Formatting Matters – Your resume isn’t the place to showcase your ability to use every formatting tool within MS Word. Tables, charts, pictures, even columns in some cases are simply problematic and can create a situation where the recruiter may just give up on trying to view, download or share your resume with Hiring Managers. NO TABLES, EVER. Columns are fine as long as they are done properly and are “even” with the same number of items in each column. Charts/Graphs are for presentations and annual reviews, not resumes. Pictures… no. Just no.
- File Type – The mention of pictures brings us to the next troublesome formatting issue we see as Recruiters. I understand that you feel “safer” if you apply your resume to a document as a single picture in order to keep anyone from altering your information. The same thing goes for Adobe format resumes. It limits the readers’ ability to make changes. However, these choices can create a situation that wreaks havoc on ATS (applicant tracking systems) and render your application null and void. Trust us, any recruiter worth their salt won’t alter your resume in any way that would cause you angst or sully your reputation.
- Verb Tense – OH NO… NOT HIGH SCHOOL GRAMMAR ALL OVER AGAIN!? Not really but it is important to remind yourself of some very basic rules regarding tense. If it’s something you’re currently doing, the tense needs to be present; I am managing a team of 12 developers. In comparison, if it’s something you did previously, past tense is necessary; I managed a team of 12 developers. This seems easy (and it is) but check your grammar and make sure it carries through correctly throughout the resume.
- Basic Template Format – There are 1,000’s of templates out there that will tell you that theirs is THE BEST one for resumes. Don’t use them. Here is the only template you need:
TOP CENTER OF PAGE: Name – Address – Phone / Email
SKILLS SUMMARY / TECHNICAL SKILLS: Properly formatted BULLET POINT list of technical skills OR a nicely crafted use of columns to showcase keywords/skills
EXPERIENCE: Each entry should include the following – Name of company / Your Title / City & State of Company / Dates of Employment (month/year – month/year); Under each of these headings, include a BULLET POINT list of responsibilities, achievements, etc.
- Honesty is the Best Policy – If you have a gap in employment, for whatever reason, reference it simply. Again, in this age of economic turmoil, job changes and career progression, we aren’t going to gasp aloud at a gap in employment. It’s just better to put it out there, deal with it and move on. Indicate the month/year – month/year of the gap and describe simply; i.e., “Layoff from Previous Employer”, “Caring for Sick Family Member”, “Time Off to Stay at Hom with child”, etc. Don’t elaborate unless asked in conversation and even then. Keep it short and sweet!
- Wait, What About the Objective? – Nope. Your “objective” is to always get the job to which you’re applying. Waxing poetically about applying your skills in a constructive, successful way and bringing about significant growth for the company that leads to world peace isn’t useful. Leave it off.
- What Else? Are You Sure That’s IT? – YES. Now, happy job hunting!