Resume Rule Number One: Keep It Simple

It’s true that your professional job search will involve a set of serious life decisions. It’s also true that the effort and energy you invest in your resume, your company research, your follow up, and your interview practice can have a lasting impact on your future career, your earning power, and the overall quality of your life for decades to come.

But there’s no need to go crazy. Sometimes overthinking doesn’t get you closer to the goal—it only confuses the issue and pushes you farther away from where you need to be. So before you become paralyzed by perfectionism, stop. Let go and simplify. Here are five ways to settle the waters so you can row forward.

1. Use a template.

Despite what some advisors may tell you, you don’t have to draft every single resume and cover letter submission from scratch. There’s nothing wrong with creating one resume template and one cover letter template that you can adjust in a minor way for each application you submit in response to an open position.

You’ll need to make sure your resume and letter are tailored to meet the needs of each employer, and of course you’ll still need to research and investigate each company for a few minutes in order to do this. But your basic credentials and background won’t change much between each letter and the next, so there’s no need to start over from the beginning every single time.

2. You can’t do everything…but you can do a few things very well.

Stop trying to sell yourself as an all-around superstar who’s perfect in every possible way. You can’t win at that game. No matter how generically brilliant and accomplished you are, the next person in every resume stack will be more generically brilliant and accomplished than you.

Let go of the image of yourself as a cape-wearing, company-saving godsend and focus on the small number of things that you do very well. If you’re a great public speaker, emphasize that. If you’re a great salesperson or a natural with business development, draw attention to that fact and turn down the spotlight on other, lesser talents that won’t help you as much.  

3. Leverage the overlap between your various skill sets.

Remember that in the eyes of your reviewers, your most interesting and valuable strengths will lie in the overlap between your specific talents. Managers see plenty of candidates who are great HTML programmers (better than you), and they see plenty of candidates who are great marketing associates, but how often do they see candidates who are a little bit of both? Even in a stack of dozens of resumes, it’s reasonable to assume you’re the first.

4. Take out the clutter.

It may be difficult to delete a boast about a prestigious award you won back in high school. But if high school happened more than 10 years ago, it’s time to edit out this detail. Remove non-essential facts from your long, complex background and the ones that remain will shine brighter.

Chances are, no matter how much importance your managers invest in this staffing decision, they won’t remember very much information from your resume after they skim through it and then put it down. Make sure the bits they remember are important and interesting. 

5. Keep your layout calm and cool.

The way your words are presented on the page can have just as much impact as the words themselves. Visit LiveCareer for layout, organization, and editing tips that can help you simplify both your statements and your visual presentation. 

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