In the 8+ years I have been working as a professional resume writer, I have heard “I’ve never really needed a resume” or “I haven’t needed a resume since I was first out of school” more times than I can count. In the old job market, people were promoted in house, recruited, and even networked their way into jobs without needing a resume (and certainly not a very good one).
In today’s job market, the resume is no longer just a formality. It is a vital marketing tool that is indispensable in your job search. However, it is not designed to land you a job. A resume’s purpose is to get you interviews. With that in mind, this article provides you several “tips” to writing a resume that will get results.
First things first, no article on resume writing would be complete without telling you that the document must be error-free, use correct grammar, and be written in the active voice with action verbs. This basically boils down to ensuring that your resume is a well-written story that tells your professional accomplishments and showcases your value.
You can use the basic spell and grammar check features in Word to make sure your document is mostly error-free. However, these features can miss some mistakes. For example, a spell check might not identify “manger” as incorrect even though you meant to type “manager.”
When I was earning my Journalism degree, my editor recommended that I read all copy backwards in order to catch errors the eyes might miss when reading properly. You can try that, but if you don’t trust your own eyes completely, a second or even third pair of eyes might be useful. I recommend that you have your resume reviewed by others before using it for job applications. Ask them to let you know if they see any mistakes or if something doesn’t make sense. If you can ask someone to review your resume who knows your job well (your manager or a colleague), that can be very helpful since they can also make recommendations on content.
You may wonder why – in a world where text speak and Internet short hand is becoming more and more common – correct grammar and spelling matter so much in resumes. The truth is that poor writing just leaves a bad impression, even if your job doesn’t require solid writing skills. I’ve heard many hiring managers say that if they see a spelling error or grammatical mistake, they stop reading. That resume is automatically out of contention. Don’t let that happen to you.
Write an Appropriate Length Resume
A resume should be one to two pages in length. Some people will strongly advocate one page or two, but either is more or less acceptable. If you are a recent college graduate, people will expect your resume to be one page. To make it longer might require unnecessary padding. If you have a 15+ year career, you will likely need two pages. Trying to fit your achievements onto one page might limit how much value you can demonstrate to the reader.
With very few exceptions, your resume should not exceed two pages. Your resume doesn’t need to include every position you have ever held. A hiring manager is mostly concerned with your last 10 to 15 years of experience. Therefore, older experience can be summarized into a career note or omitted. Additionally, if you only use years for experience on your resume, you can omit contract or temporary jobs that might not be relevant to your overall career progression without showing any gaps.
Focusing your resume on your most recent 10 to 15 years of experience will allow you to keep your resume to two pages while still including some detailed achievements. If you do this and still find you are having difficulty keeping your resume to two pages, try eliminating “fluff.” If you have light career experience, including volunteer work or professional associations might be important. However, if you have a dense resume, this is one area where you can cut since you career achievements matter more.
Additionally, you can review the bullets under your professional overview and look for sentences that might be overly wordy or full of needless adjectives. If you can write an achievement in two lines instead of three, that is one way you can save space. Again, if you find it difficult to cut your resume down to two pages, ask someone else to review and let you know if they see things that might not be needed. Someone who works in human resources or as a hiring manager might give you some very good advice in this area.
Focus on Achievements & Quantifiables
You have probably read numerous articles telling you that you need an “achievement-driven” resume. If you sat around wondering what the heck that means, this tip section will try to expand upon that advice. This line of thinking basically stems from the idea that hiring managers really want to know two things when they read a resume: “How can you make me money?” or “How can you save me money?”
A salesperson often has an easy time answering this question in their resume, but back-of-the-house employees might struggle. However, the truth is that everyone can phrase their resumes with these ideas in mind. You might not be able to quantify that impact of your work, but just about everything anyone in a company does can positively impact the top- or bottom-line.
If you can think of ways to talk about how your work improved sales or cut costs, your resume will practically write itself. On the other hand, if you are struggling with this, try thinking about ways that you contributed to improvements in efficiency or supported increases in production. For example, if you worked on automation projects or Lean Six Sigma assignments, you probably helped save money for the company. You might not be able to say how much money, but you can focus on the improvement itself.
Another thing to keep in mind is that hiring managers love numbers (as such so do resume writers!). If you can’t include revenue or sales numbers, try talking about budgets, team sizes, growth numbers, etc… For example, a maintenance supervisor might be able to talk about how his work facilitated a 20% increase in production line capacity. These types of quantifiables take a vague achievement and make it more concrete in the reader’s mind.
Make Sure Your Resume is Easy to Read
I am not advising you to omit “big” words (though don’t kill the thesaurus when writing either), but rather make sure your resume is easy to read from a formatting standpoint. Both keyword scanning software and hiring managers like “white space.” That means making sure there is space between sections and job listings so the reader knows where one subject ends and another begins. Additionally, neither machine nor man particularly reacts well to an excessive amount of formatting.
First, let’s begin with formatting recommendations for keyword scanners. Generally speaking, they do not like tables, charts, boxes, and other insertable Word features. You should also skip on logos and borders even if they do have a certain visual appeal. Do not include a header with contact information on the first page of your resume (you can on the second page) just in case the keyword scanner has been set to filter out headers and footers. You can use bold, underline, and italic features in moderation.
Since your document is being sent electronically, keep in mind that not all Word documents convert well to other programs/machines. For that reason, use a common font (Word’s default of Calibri works well) at size 11. You can be flexible in your margin settings, but make sure they are set the same at the top and bottom and on the left and right side of the page. I do not recommend setting the margin at less than .5 on all sides, but leave more space than that if you can.
If you want to try to make your resume stand out a bit with formatting, you can use some very simple options with moderation. For example, you can use a little bit of color (a blue or red) on company names or titles. You can also use a bit of shading to break up sections (professional overview, career highlights, education, etc…). If you try to use these options, make sure you print your resume and examine how it looks. You can also ask others their opinion. Try to remember that your resume needs to be “easy to read” even to people without the best eyesight.
Target Your Resume – Focus on What You Want to Do
The best resume you could possibly submit would be tailored to a specific job opportunity. However, if you are in the midst of a large-scale job hunt, taking the time to tailor it for each position might not be practical. Therefore, you should have several versions of your resume targeted to a specific type of job. If you are interested in both sales and marketing, you might want to have slightly different resumes. They might include different opening paragraphs and career highlights with the core of your resume remaining the same.
The more varied your job search, the more important this strategy is. Many people have done drastically different things over the course of their careers and could pursue their current line of work or an older one. For example, a teacher might have previously worked as a nurse. If she is targeting teaching jobs, she might not include her nursing experience on her resume. However, if she wishes to return to nursing, she might need to minimize her current teaching roles and focus on her prior work in greater detail.
Tailoring your resume is about more than just the job you want to target. It is also about highlighting your strengths and capabilities. When you decide what skills to focus on, you should consider not just what you are good at, but also what you enjoy. For example, you might be good at project management and have plenty of achievements to back that up. But do you want to highlight that skill if you don’t enjoy the work?
When you consider how to target your resume, think about your strengths and what you enjoy. Identify what makes you unique and how you can bring value to an organization. Those are the things you should focus on in your core strengths and career highlights section.
Another aspect of targeting your resume is to pick out strengths that seem to align with the job ad’s listing of requirements. You can take some guidance from the job ad as to the things you should focus on in your resume because they will probably be part of the HR department’s keyword search. The other thing you should take into consideration is the specific “buzz words” they use in their ad. For example, phrases such as “quality assurance” and “quality control” or “user experience” and “customer experience” are basically interchangeable. Use the phrase the ad uses to make sure the keyword scanner picks that skill up on your resume.
In conclusion, try to remember that while a resume and cover letter work very well together, they are not the same document. A resume should not include personal pronouns such as “I,” “me,” or “my.” There is no need to include personal information (age, gender, marital status) in either document, but you might have reason to discuss some personal issues in a cover letter (such as relocation) which should not be addressed in the resume at all.
If you need to explain a career change or time off, it is best to use the cover letter for that. A resume should be formal, where the cover letter can show a bit of your personality. You can discuss likes or talk about your passion for particular work in the cover letter. Those words might be considered flowery or fluff in a resume. So try to use those documents together to provide the reader with a complete first impression of you and your qualifications.
by Kimberly Sarmiento
Articles on resume tips:
- Is Your Resume on Deck?
- How a Professional Narrative Can Simplify Your Job Search
- The 5 P’s of a Successful Resume
- Be Resume Ready
- Resumes and Blind Dates… More Alike Than You Think!
- Resume Rules
- How to Accept Feedback on Your Resume in a Constructive Way
- Writing Your Resume? Focus on These 3 Zones
- 50 Resume Tips to Propel Your Job Search to the Next Level
- The Federal Resume
Articles on resume customization:
- Generic Resumes
- Customize Your Resume for the Best Results
- Don’t Be a Resume Copy Cat
- Customize Your Resume
Articles on resume keywords:
- How to Format Your Resume for Electronic Job Applications (What You Don’t Know Won’t Hurt You. Is That So?)
- How to Make Sure That Your Resume Gets Through the Applicant Tracking System?
- Resume Keywords Are the Key to Be Found
- How to Find the Right Keywords to Use in Your Resume
- Resume Keywords and How to Use Them
Articles on how to improve your resume:
- Simple Tips to Revamp Your Resume
- How to Make Your Resume More Effective
- What to Do When Your Resume Is a Dud?
- It Is the Resume That Is Holding You Back
- 10 Things to Clean Up Your Resume
- Your Resume Shouldn’t Take a Vacation
- Resume Resolution for the New Year
- Happy New Year! Happy New Resume!
- New Resume for the New Year
- Is Your Resume Ready for the New Year?
Articles on personal branding:
Articles on special features to add to your resume:
- How to Leverage Your Social Media Presence on Your Resume
- Using Quotes on Your Resume
- Seven Ways to Get Great Testimonials
Articles on resume wording:
- How Non-Sales Professionals Can Quantify Their Achievements
- What Gender Is Your Resume?
- If You’re Only Telling It, You’re Not Selling It
- On Your Resume, Less Is More
- Lose the Details on Your Resume
Articles on where and how to submit your resume:
- Make an Informed Decision About Resume Distribution
- How to Avoid Formatting Problems When Sending Your Resume Electronically
- Sending Your Resume Via Email