These resume writing related tips — choosing the best resume style, tips for highlighting career accomplishments, and more — have been gathered from numerous sources throughout Quintessential Careers and organized here for your convenience.
Hiring decision-makers surveyed for the book, Top Notch Executive Resumes identified this as one of their Top 30 Executive Resume Pet Peeves: Resume has poor or inconsistent formatting, unclear layout. “A resume should be clear, concise and provide enough relevant information to encourage the phone call it’s meant to generate,” said Human Resources Professional Veronica Richmond of Oakville, Ontario, Canada. My preference is for easy reading, because I see just too many resumes per position to fight a layout that is not clear. I want to find the relevant information easily.”
An example of poor formatting that Curtis Pollen doesn’t like to see is “everything lined up on the left margin including name, address heading information.” Pollen, who is senior director of talent recruitment for the American Heart Association, Wallingford, CT, rails when the “content layout doesn’t flow smoothly, for example, [the candidate] will list all accomplishments up front then just provide jobs and dates down below. I like to see what accomplishments were achieved in a particular job to ensure there is a match for the position I am recruiting for.”
Pollen also noted that candidates don’t pay enough attention to how the resume looks when loaded to a job board or his organization’s career site, sometimes resulting in “resumes where everything runs together and is hard to read.” Pollen advised job-seekers to check the format to ensure it looks appropriate before submitting it.
Candidates who don’t bother to check the way their resumes print out annoy Jeff Weaver, regional manager for a global information services company, such as when a two-page resume spills over — by just a few lines — onto an unintended third page. Granted, computer incompatibilities often are the culprits for a format that is inconsistent between sender and recipient, but candidates can experiment with sending their resumes to friends’ computers to ensure they print out as intended, and as Weaver advises, tweak the margins or remove unnecessary page breaks to eliminate an unintended straggler page.
While you can discuss relocation in your cover letter, it never hurts to also mention it in your resume. Express in your objective statement and profile your intention to relocate. Since some employers respond much more favorably to local candidates, consider using an address in your new city (PO box, a friend’s address, mail-forwarding service) on your resume. Read more in our Frequently Asked Questions About Resumes: The Complete Resume FAQ.
Hiring decision-makers surveyed for the book, Top Notch Executive Resumes identified this as one of their Top 30 Executive Resume Pet Peeves: Too many fonts appear in the resume. Use no more than two fonts in your resume.
If you are an entrepreneur transitioning back to the workplace, make the most of your resume by emphasizing the entrepreneurial transferable skills that apply to the type of job you’re targeting. Many employers, for example, seek candidates who can handle startup and turnaround situations. They’re also looking for professionals with experience in asset and liability management, budget development, building strategic alliances, business plan development, capital equipment budgets, competitive analysis, costing and budgeting, financial strategies, market strategy, profit and loss management/direction, new business development, operations management, research and development, return on investment, and strategic planning direction. Focus also on your entrepreneurial successes and accomplishments; avoid conveying any impression that you are leaving the entrepreneurial life because you didn’t succeed at it. Read more in our Frequently Asked Questions About Resumes: The Complete Resume FAQ.
Hiring decision-makers surveyed for the book, Top Notch Executive Resumes identified this as one of their Top 30 Executive Resume Pet Peeves: Resume file name is “Resume.doc” or “Resume.pdf.” Resume-writers know that an astonishing number of job-seekers give their resumes the file name “Resume.doc.” Can you imagine how many of these identically named files a hiring decision-maker receives? They don’t distinguish the candidate, and the recipient must always rename the files to keep them organized. Add your name to the file name and perhaps the month and year you are submitting it: KHansenResumeDec07.doc, for example.
Also be sure that your resume is in a file format that the recipient can open. The only file format that is virtually foolproof is one with a .doc extension (not .docx as produced by Word 2007), but if you have any doubt, do a test run of your attachment by sending it to a friend to ensure the recipient can open it. You can also ask the employer if your file format can be opened on the company’s computers.
To ensure that your resume will be kept confidential, request as much in your cover letter. It also doesn’t hurt to display the word “Confidential” boldly at the top of your resume. Some job-seekers who don’t want current employer to know they’re in the hunt go so far as to list that employer by describing the organization rather than actually giving its name. Read more in our Frequently Asked Questions About Resumes: The Complete Resume FAQ.
College students, list sports on your resume if you are a student-athlete. You can exploit many transferable skills (teamwork, leadership, competitive drive) with sports. Many on-campus recruiters specifically ask to interview athletes. Consider even listing sports in your Experience section. Read more in our Frequently Asked Resume Questions: A FAQ for College Students and New Graduates.
Among the resume “rules” you may have heard is the one in which resumes should be limited to one page. While it’s true that most entry-level job-seekers should try to limit their resumes to a single page, this length is rarely appropriate for those at senior and executive levels. Top-level job-seekers will find it virtually impossible to capture the breadth of their experience and accomplishments in a single page, and some employers expect longer resumes from those candidates, sometimes up to five pages. In a 2007 survey by Accountemps, a specialized staffing service, only 7 percent of senior executives from human resources, finance and marketing departments favored one-page resumes for executives, while 61 percent favored two pages. Respondents were receptive to three-page resumes for executive roles, with nearly a third (31 percent) citing this as the ideal length.
One-page resumes can be useful for candidates in certain situations, such as networking, in which the job-seeker wants to give potential network contacts a thumbnail glance at his or her career.
A summary of guidelines on resume length:
- One page is usually preferred for college students and new grads, but those with rich campus backgrounds and work/internship experience may need two pages.
- Two-page resumes are suitable for many job-seekers.
- Three or more pages may be required at the senior level.
- Job-seekers should never sacrifice readability (tiny type, narrow margins) just to squeeze a resume into a certain number of pages.
- When a resume spills onto an additional page, it should fill up at least half of that page. If not, try to condense.
See our article, The Scoop on Resume Length: How Many Pages Should Your Resume Be? for a variety of opinions and guidelines on resume length.
College students, be sure to include class and team projects on your resume. You have probably participated in many projects during your college years that have real-world applications and that have helped you polish your transferable skills. If you have lots of relevant internship and job experience, you may have less need to detail class projects on your resume.
But if your experience is sparse, class projects are a perfectly legitimate way to beef up your resume. In one of our favorite examples of a student resume that makes the most of class projects, the student is quite upfront about the fact that these are class projects; yet she portrays them with the same weight and seriousness as she portrays her internship experience.
You could also consider detailing your class projects on a supplement to your resume.
Read our article, Emphasizing Your Classroom Transferable and Marketable Skills for more ideas on how skills honed in the classroom apply to the real world.
Hiring decision-makers surveyed for the book, Top Notch Executive Resumes identified this as one of their Top 30 Executive Resume Pet Peeves: Resume contains lies or misleading statements or misrepresentations. Despite high-profile individuals whose resume lies have been publicly reported, and despite the increasing use of background checks, lying remains rampant on resumes. A recent study conducted by J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., a provider of risk and regulatory management solutions, revealed resumes lies about past employment (the largest category), education, professional licensure and certifications, and military service.
It’s just too risky to lie because you will probabl get caught. Hiring decision-makers are far more attuned to f lsehoods than before, and many employers ar doing background checks. It doesn’t ven take an official background check to uncover lies; ExecuNet’s 15th Annual Executive Job Market Intelligence Report pointed to more than a third of executives who have found problems, such as misstated academic qualifications and falsified company or title information, through simple online searches.
Don’t be tempted to lie, stretch the truth, or misrepresent the facts. That weekend certificate program you completed at Harvard isn’t the same as a Harvard MBA.
- Probably not unless it contributes something different from what any other student in your major would offer an employer.
- You can also list coursework if you have very little else to include on your resume and need some padding.
- Note: It is better to list major course projects you completed rather than names of the classes themselves.
- Similarly, don’t list course numbers; they will mean nothing to readers outside your university.
- Use a mix of bold type, italics, bold italics, varying font sizes, small caps, and upper-case lettering for emphasis and to control the reader’s eye — but don’t go overboard with typographic variations.
- Type should be between 10 and 12 point. 11-point type is ideal.
- Balance the material on your page.
- Allow sufficient white space with margins of .75″ to 1″. Note that Microsoft Word’s default margins of 1.25″ are generally wider than needed.
- Bulleted lists are extremely reader-friendly.
- Be consistent with headings so the eye can follow a pattern.
- Do not use justified text blocks. Type should be flush left with occasional centering.
- Do NOT italicize your entire resume or large blocks of type as italics are hard on the eye.
- Don’t use more than two fonts.
- Underlining tends to add clutter.
Read more in our Frequently Asked Questions About Resumes: The Complete Resume FAQ.
College students sometimes feel funny listing a degree on their resumes when they haven’t graduated yet. But if you list your degree with your graduation date, and the date is in the future, the employer will understand that you don’t yet have the degree. For example:
Bachelor of Science in Psychology, Rollins College, Winter Park, FL, May 2011.
However, you may feel more comfortable adding the word “expected” to the above:
Bachelor of Science in Psychology, Rollins College, Winter Park, FL, expected May 2011.
Hiring decision-makers surveyed for the book, Top Notch Executive Resumes identified this as one of their Top 30 Executive Resume Pet Peeves: 30. Facts stated in one part of the resume are not supported elsewhere. It’s not unusual to see a candidate make a statement in the sales-oriented top potion of the first page of a resume that is not backed up anywhere else in the resume, perhaps claiming a skill or experience that is never mentioned again. The candidate may also state a certain number of years of experience in a field, but when the decision-maker reviews the experience section, the years don’t add up to the number claimed.
Sometimes stated years of experience don’t provide a true picture of the candidate’s background. “Some people can state they have a lot of experience in a particular field, but if you look at length of time, they are jumping around every few months,” said a human-resources generalist from Fairfax County, VA. “They are not really gaining much experience in only a few months at a job.”
- Resume Critique Worksheet for Job-Seekers
- Resume Do’s and Don’ts
- Ten Easy Ways to Improve Your Resume
- Avoid These 10 Resume Mistakes
Should you hire a professional resume writer? Maybe. Many considerations go into the decision of whether to hire a professional resume writer. Read about them in our article Why Hire a Professional Resume Writer?
Hiring decision-makers surveyed for the book, Top Notch Executive Resumes identified this as one of their Top 30 Executive Resume Pet Peeves: Resume is not accompanied by a cover letter or cover letter is not targeted to the open position. Not all employers read cover letters (about two-thirds do), but to some of the decision-makers who do read them, cover letters are very important. Your resume should always be accompanied by a cover letter. And given that one of the main functions of a cover letter is to describe how your qualifications match a specific job vacancy, it is pointless to send a boilerplate cover letter that is not tailored to the targeted position. Benjamin Smith, corporate recruiter at HR services-provider Mercer, especially eschews “cover letters that are clearly form-written and the job title is inserted into the first line.”
Check out all of our Quick and Quintessential Strategic Resume Tips.
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