There are oodles of opinions on how to write an effective resume to get your shot in front of a hiring manager for the position you are seeking. Some people prefer to see an objective statement or personal profile on the top of the resume, while others feel that an applicant’s specific job interests should be obvious to the company if an application has been submitted (and therefore an objective shouldn’t be necessary). I won’t debate the intricacies of these types of decisions in this blog, but rather give you a basic guide for the obvious (at least I hope they are obvious for your sake) faux pas you definitely want to avoid to have any shot at moving your curriculum vitae (CV) up to the top of the pile. And while in today’s market, it’s not just about having the best resume, but also completing the online employment application correctly, that’s a separate topic for another day.
Follow these tips to be make sure that hiring managers aren’t snickering about your resume around the water cooler…
Appearance Does Matter
While there is a little (and I mean just a smidge of) flexibility with this guideline, in my opinion it really only applies given the context of the position. For example, if an applicant is a designer applying for a graphic artist position, then it may be more acceptable and tolerated (perhaps mildly celebrated in some boutique design firms) when a candidate dresses up his/her CV a bit. That may mean using a more unique font, or including a logo that he/she developed as a personal brand mark, for example.
However, in general, stick to widely recognized, classic, easy-to-read fonts when formatting a resume and avoid using colors or symbols. When it comes to paper stock, pick something that is white, cream, or perhaps light gray…sans a perfume spritz, too, please.
White space is also a consideration. While it is good practice to keep your resume to one- to two-pages only, don’t do so at the expense of the font being tiny and hard to read. If you are packing too much information, then its a good sign that some of the content you are including can be eliminated or better summarized in the interest of brevity and being more concise. On the other hand, don’t have so much white space (read: huge margins and double line breaks everywhere) that it is painfully obvious that you don’t have much going for you in terms of experience.
Don’t Be Shady
Well, duh, who would try to be shady when hoping to land a job? No one intentionally (hopefully). However, you may not realize that the omission of key details or lack of professionalism leaves a suspicious impression with recruiters. For example, if you leave date details off of your previous work experience section, don’t think you are fooling anyone. Recruiting professionals will probably assume that you are trying to hide something like an period of unexplained unemployment. Or, even if you just put years and leave off the month specifics of your work history…the same perception can arise.
Instead, be honest about your employment gaps and consider using a cover letter as a means to explain any reasons for gaps in a positive light. After all, questions will arise about these specifics sooner or later in the process, but odds are, unless you offer those particulars up front, you probably won’t make it to later in the hiring process.
Also, be sure and ask yourself whether the email address you use in your contact information area speaks to the professional employee you want to be. Surprise! Using phrases like “rowdygrrl” or “twerkingtommy” in your email address may not grab you the serious employment consideration you really deserve. Shocking, I know.
If You Want the Job Badly Enough, You Won’t Be Careless
At least that’s what most organizations will think when throwing out certain applications at the first sign of bad grammar or a misspelling. After all, if you are careless enough to miss the finer details on your application to their organization, then what could they expect from you on the job? And don’t just rely on spell check only…make sure you actually read over your final copy to ensure that everything flows nicely. Spell checker generally won’t catch missing words or words used out of context (i.e. “too” instead of “to,” etc.).
Some of my favorite epic resume fails include times when applicants forget to update their canned resume to reflect the organization to which they are applying. For example, they choose to use an objective statement, but are too lazy to update it to better reflect the responsibilities of the job to which they are referencing. For example, “seeking a sales or marketing position with a large organization,” but the job is for a customer service opportunity with a small company. What a waste of the applicant’s (and the resume screener’s) time. I’ve even seen instances where cover letters reference a completely different organization than the one to which the letter is addressed.
The Finer Details
And now for some other tips on avoiding mishaps that aren’t quite as egregious as the ones mentioned previously, but still can hinder the prospects of the eager job seeker:
- Skip the run-on sentences…and maybe skip actual sentences in certain areas. Instead, use concise bullet points because recruiting staff and HR managers are used to skimming anyway. However, don’t stray too far to the other end of the spectrum by resorting to “text speak.” It’s not okay to abbreviate everything in a professional application for employment. There may be instances where a company invites social media-savvy individuals to start out the application process for a digital strategist job by tweeting, for example; however, that is the exception for now.
- Don’t include personal information such as details about marital status, children, religious preferences, ID numbers, etc. Companies are prohibited from making employment decisions based on this type of information, and so the last thing they want from you is an open invitation to stumble upon it when screening your resume.
- Include relevant facts and quantitative data about what you’ve accomplished in previous work and/or educational experiences. These are the outcomes of your accomplishments and should be highlighted to demonstrate your potential for performing well in the position offered. When possible, phrase your bullet points in such a way that the outcomes are highlighted at the beginning of the line rather than at the end. For example, instead of stating “Researched and implemented new applicant tracking system (ATS) to realize a 25% decrease in time-to-fill for open jobs across the organization,” try “Attained a 25% decrease in the time-to-fill metric for open positions by researching and implementing a new applicant tracking system.” When recruiters are only spending seconds reviewing your information, put the meaty stuff first.
Final Thoughts on Resume Tips
In closing, I’ll leave you with a few other ideas on how to improve the quality of your resume-writing endeavors:
- Don’t put your photograph on your resume unless prompted to do so.
- Unless the organization requests a resume to be delivered on paper via fax or snail mail, make every effort to deliver a paperless application. Otherwise, hiring managers will groan about the added responsibility of somehow filing, scanning or tracking your paper file…particularly if they are already using applicant tracking software to channel all of their incoming resumes into one web-based location.
- With the previous tip in mind, make sure that you have a plain text version of your resume somewhere easily accessible so that you may copy and paste it into a text box when completing an online application. While many companies will allow you to upload a formatted resume file, some will also leave space for you to paste in the details of a cover letter and/or resume. Often, the benefit of including the text version is that the details of your resume can be keyword searched within the ATS by human resources staff. Attached resume files cannot always be included in search.
- Lastly, since you will likely be submitting your resume electronically in most cases, include helpful hyperlinks to additional information whenever appropriate within your file. For example, at least for white collar positions, many recruiters are going to look for your profile on LinkedIn. Why not make it easier (and less frustrating) for them to find you by simply including a link to your public profile in the contact information section of your resume?
Of course having a polished resume is far from being the only piece of the puzzle to land a job, as activities like networking and interview preparation are certainly critical, too. However, putting your best foot forward and effectively conveying your job qualifications can start with a great CV.
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