When to Break Resume Formatting Rules

Resume Builder _break Format Rules

Resume formatting rules are like any other set of rules: It’s best to obey them if you want to get ahead—except when it isn’t. For every single resume rule in the book, there’s a time and a place to ignore that rule. And under some circumstances, it’s best to toss the rule aggressively out the window and do the exact opposite.

Here are a few times and places when this might be a good idea. Consider leaving standard professional formatting rules behind when…

Your most recent job isn’t a strong selling point.

If you’re a market analyst but you’ve been working in a coffee shop for the last few years, or if you’re an RN but you’ve recently held a position as a restaurant manager, emphasizing these recent positions might confuse your readers. So instead of listing your previous jobs in chronological order, arrange them by relevance instead. Make sure each entry comes with clear dates of employment, but organize them in a way that puts your most meaningful experience at the top of the list.

When you technically have no experience at all .

Conventional resumes are designed to emphasize experience. Mangers are looking for a candidate they can trust, and nothing builds trust quite like clear evidence that you’ve done this kind of work before. So if you haven’t held a job like this in the past, you’ll have to replace experience with ambition. Instead of focusing on your past, focus on your future. Clearly describe your long-term goals. Let employers know that you take this work seriously and personally, and that you’re looking for a chance to prove it.  

When you have credentials you’d rather not share.

Some previous positions and some educational credentials—believe it or not—can actually undermine your chances of landing a position. Not all entry or mid-level jobs in the private sector require a PhD, for example, and there’s no harm in avoiding concerns about over-qualification by removing these three letters from your resume. There’s also no harm in removing your proudest position or accomplishment if it bears no relevance to the job in question.

Break the Rules: There’s No Such Thing as Resume Jail

While standard resume formatting guidelines have been an entrenched part of professional culture for  decades, these guidelines are just that: Guidelines. They aren’t required, and there are no laws that say candidates have to adhere to them. Use your critical thinking skills to determine when it’s time to color inside the lines and when it’s time to express yourself in your own way. Turn to LiveCareer for a Resume Builder that can teach you the rules before you break them. 

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