Writing a resume is both a crucial and daunting aspect of the job hunt. Without a resume, you’ll never land an interview. Without an interview, you’ll never land the job. And without a job, you can’t afford to buy nice things like sandwiches and baskets and fur-lined baskets. But how to commit your entire working life to a sheet of paper? How to shine through as the professional [Insert Whatever the Hell You Do Here] in a handful of bullet-points and a bit of formatted text?
It’s tricky stuff, sure. But if you follow a few basic guidelines and avoid a few classic mistakes, you, mister, can have a fine resume ready for that next interview.
Before we get down to the granular details, here’s your first lesson: even if you have a great job, have a great resume. You should have a crisp, up-to-date resume on file at all times, regardless of whether you’ve worked as a mid-level manager with Acme for the past 1o years or your 10 weeks into unemployment.
Let’s start off with a few helpful tips…
Tip # 1: Keep It Simple
Hiring managers hate fancily formatted, loquacious resumes. Don’t worry about a lot of different fonts, text sizes, formatting blocks, logos, and all that jazz. Or rather do worry about them: don’t use them. In fact, your resume should use one simple font, and you should choose one that’s commonly used in professional correspondence, such as Times New Roman or Calibri.
You should make the names of previous employers bold and consider making your job title italic, but beyond that there’s no need for fancy–sorry–for fancy fonts and flourishes. Also, choose one type of bullet point (ideally, y’know, a bullet point: • ) and stick with it. Don’t use a bunch of triangles and dashes and emoticons to highlight your various “accomplishments.”
And no photos or fancy paper, either: if you think some watermarked, heavy-weight paper is going to help you land the gig… well, you’re wrong.
Tip # 2: Don”t Allow Tyypos
Check your resume for typos. Check it again. Check it a third time. Make someone else check it. If you have even a single typo in your resume, you have pretty much zero chance of moving ahead in a hiring process. It’s… it’s just the worst. Oh, and proper grammar good have also great.
Tip # 3: One Page, Please
If at all possible, keep your resume to one page. Not only will the second page rarely be read, in fact that page makes it less likely that a hiring manager will even consider you at all. Unless you are in an extremely specific field (think… herpetology?) or are applying for a high-level job (maybe… head herpetologist? Or CFO or something), you should be able to get your resume down to one page.
Tip # 4: Don’t Write a Memoir
If you want to put a summary or Mission Statement-style sentence or two at the top of your resume, that’s fine, but keep it to no longer than two lines and ideally a single, succinct sentence (that can be on two lines, that is to say). No one wants to hear your life story during the hiring process, we save that for Martini Monday way after you get the job.
Tip # 5: Be Honest
There’s a difference between self-promoting and… bullshit. It’s OK to use big, exciting words and phrases (like “single-handedly” or “spearheaded” or “managed team of
musk oxen“), but it’s not OK to say things that aren’t actually true. The fact is, more often than not you could probably get by with plausible fictions on your resume, but if you get caught being dishonest, not only will you lose the opportunity for the job, you may be fired even well down the line if the lie comes out later.
Tip # 6: Your Personal Info Should Be Professional
Yes, that email address you created in high school is totally hilarious, but the HR director of the company you’re applying to may not find buttsmacker77@AOL.com quite so funny as you’d hope. Use a professional email address, make sure your phone number is accurate, and consider listing only your city and state, rather than your actual address: for starters, no one needs your address until they’re sending you paychecks. Second, there’s a chance someone’s biased perception of where you live will negatively impact you, so don’t provide that opportunity.
Tip # 7: Not All Buzzwords Are Created Equal
Your resume needs to display a certain knowledge of professional lexicon, but be free from, uh… horseshit, I think is the currently accepted terminology. So go ahead and be a “team-player” and call yourself “fast-paced,” but remember that no one, in fact, is a good multi-tasker (the human brain can’t complete more than one high-level activity at a time with success; that’s why you turn down the radio before parallel parking) and watch out for synergy: the word is almost devoid of actual meaning outside of the scientific realm.
Now, let’s talk about the 4-1-1 of writing that resume!
We’ll work top down, and we’ll keep it simple.
So, starting at the top, put your name, location (city and state, like I said mere seconds ago), and contact info on three separate lines in a header. Consider making your name slightly larger than the rest of the info, and consider making all of this info bold. It’s also OK if it’s a slightly different shade (likely grayer) than the rest of the resume, but this is the only case in which that’s acceptable on the entire document.
Next, if you’d like, add a brief statement of purpose/goal or a concise summary of yourself as a professional. Keep it short; keep it honest.
Then list your professional experience, likely under a caption reading PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE, and start with the job that’s most recent, working backward through 3 – 4 relevant employers (if possible; if you only have 2 or 3, so be it. If you have 10, choose based on relevance and job duration). The only time you should list a job out of chronological order is if it applies directly to your prospective work, whereas the most recent job does not.
Keep each job “entry” to employer, location, duration, and your title. Then use 3 – 4 bullet points which list your duties, your accomplishments, if you oversaw or worked with a team, and other highlights. If there were facets to the job that are obvious, you can omit them (“Answered phone when it rang, unless I was in the bathroom; then I didn’t answer it”). Don’t bother listing a reason the employment ended.
Next, as long as it’s worth mentioning (not being harsh, just being honest) list your EDUCATION, including all institutions from which you earned a degree beyond high school, your area of study, and any awards. Don’t list your GPA, that’s just annoying. And feel free to omit your graduation year if you feel it will date you one way or the other. On the other hand, including the year might be a good idea if you happen to know the average age range of a company and have a sense you fall into it. Your call.
Last, create a section titled something like SKILLS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS or ADDITIONAL INFORMATION. Here, you will list anything that is applicable to your field that didn’t make sense to note elsewhere. List your WPM rate for any clerical or secretarial work; list your higher-level computer skills; by all means list the languages you speak if it’s more than one. By all means don’t mention your hobbies.
And one more tip for you, by the way…
DON’T TRY TO BE FUNNY. JUST DON’T.