Don’t ever take your parents’—or grandparents’—advice when writing your resume. That was my first mistake, just out of college. You naturally assume that your older relatives in the workforce know how to put a resume together. But unless they’ve been job-hunting recently, their information may be ten, twenty, thirty years or more out of date.
And if you haven’t been job-hunting in awhile, you need to hear this too:
Resumes have changed a lot.
Format, design, and content have become much more flexible and there’s no longer one right way to do it.
If we can make one generalization though, it’s this: Today’s resumes are more like a marketing sales pitch for yourself than anything else. You’re no longer telling hiring managers what you’ve done or hope to do; you’re clearly stating how hiring you will benefit them.
You must have an intriguing first line.
Traditional resumes used to begin with an objective statement that read something like: “Seeking to become a valuable member of the administrative team at Buffums department store.”
Those objective statements tended to be idealistic, bland, and revolve around the job applicant’s goals (which, obviously, were to be hired for the job applied for). And they usually involved as much jargon as could be packed into one line.
Unless you’re applying to a very traditional company, ditch the old-fashioned objective statement and put a line in that makes the reviewer want to read more. For example:
“I brought in 5x more leads than anyone else at my last company. I’d like to double that for yours.”
That first line is intriguing because of the impressive number, and the implicit promise of a very real benefit to your next employer. If you have an impressive sales number, or any significant and measurable achievement from a previous position, use it.
Think of your first line this way:
What makes you uniquely valuable?
In business circles, this is called your unique value proposition, and it can be a talent, skill, personality trait or life experience no one else can duplicate that will make you a rock star at the job you’re applying for.
When composing your sentence, remember to include both your unique talent/skill/trait + why it will benefit the business. It’s a one-two punch that will get you into the interview round.
It’s not just the reviewer you’re trying to impress—it’s also the machine. Most companies use automated scanners to review resumes before they get passed to human readers, and those algorithms work much like a search engine: They’re looking for keywords.
So, your job is to be your own copywriter and craft a first line that serves both of those goals—include keywords for the machines, and a reason to keep reading for the humans.
To know which keywords will signal to the bot that you’re a candidate to send through, read the job posting requirements carefully—the keywords they’re looking for will most likely be in the list of qualifications required. Then you can modify your intriguing first line with a little SEO magic.
A resume gets hardly a dozen seconds before it either goes to the trash or to the next stage in the pipeline. Make sure you have a crisp and clear executive summary that prompts the recruiter to read further. — Arunanand T A, head of HR for FullContact India
Most resumes include a brief paragraph summarizing the rest of the document so the HR manager can quickly scan and toss—or scan and keep.
What makes the difference between the Trash folder and the Follow-Up list? Benefits.
Like that first line, the executive summary isn’t really about you—it’s about how your qualities and experience will benefit the company. What’s in it for them?
Of course, you can’t just say you’re amazing. You have to give evidence. That’s what the rest of your resume does—provides evidence to support your claims.
There isn’t a hard rule anymore about how you present your qualifications. Your job experience doesn’t have to be chronological or even linear, and creativity tends to be rewarded as long as clarity is maintained.
This flexibility actually makes pruning your resume down to a single page much easier (that’s always the hardest part, isn’t it?) because you can curate what you include and what you leave out, without your work history looking like Swiss cheese.
The fewer gimmicks the better. e.g. arbitrary rating scales of attributes like "leadership" or "customer service". I want to know what you've accomplished—simple highlights from each role/company. That way, I can easily align these to the goals of our open position. — Rachel Baskerville
So far, you’ve written down an eye-catching (and bot-flagging) first line, and a brief summary of what you have to offer. Now it’s time for the work history section of your resume.
There are a number of ways to approach this.
Reverse-Chronological Your list your most recent position first, working backwards to earlier positions. Unless every job you’ve ever had pertains to the role you’re applying to, and you don’t have any significant breaks between jobs, this may not be the best format to use.
The trouble with a lot of resumes is that candidates choose to put in everything and the kitchen sink in an attempt to make a good impression. This results in really cluttered resumes that don't answer the most important question "Why are you the best suited candidate for this position?" Attention span hasn't been at its highest in recent times that this can really set a candidate back. — Aishwarya Hariharan, Product Marketing Manager at Freshworks Inc.
Functional This type of resume focuses on skills, experience and accomplishments, and may not include employment history at all, or puts it in a bullet point list at the bottom. Organize your functional resume by theme rather than by dates, only mention relevant projects (i.e. concrete examples of your value proposition), and remember to include keywords from the job listing. When you have a long work history that runs well over one page, this is a good way to cut to the important parts. It’s also a useful format if you’ve had gaps in employment or are changing careers.
Combination You can mix chronological with functional by listing skills and qualifications at the top, and listing your chronological work history below. But there’s a trick to make this part more targeted and compelling: For each bullet point you list under your job titles, include an accomplishment (measurable accomplishments are best, like “Trained customer support staff who increased upsells by 23% during the first quarter”). Make it easy for the manager or recruiter to see how much you’ve benefited your past employers.
For me I like to see clearly and in detail the last 2 roles, and the others just title and company and dates. It's also a huge help to know what role specifically the candidate is seeking (i.e. maybe their resumé has a great track record for a backend developer but in their next role they want to switch to full stack and learn front end tech). — Alison Eastaway, HR & Talent Manager at Side.co
Regardless of format, remember what your high school English teacher told you: Show, don’t tell. This is where most resumes go wrong; they’re just a list of tasks.
It’s not enough to list what you did—always include the impact you had.
Resumes have been trending towards less text and more design—but design with purpose: to highlight what’s really important.
One thing my company does is working with job seekers to make their resumes more millennial friendly. We’ve found there has been a shift in the economy—with resumes now having to be visually engaging alongside having strong content. — Avital Bayer, CEO of HiPitched
Keep a few design principles in mind, namely:
White space Visually engaging resumes aren’t cluttered—they’re clean, simple, with lots of white space. If you try to fit everything onto your resume, important points will be lost. White space allows you to put the spotlight on a few key reasons why you’re the best candidate for the job.
Fonts Choose two fonts at most, and if you choose two, use one for headings and the other for body text. The type of font you choose will tell the reader a little about you, so you have to decide what you want your fonts to say.
Serif fonts are more traditional and feel steady and reliable, if a little old-fashioned. But you may want to avoid Times New Roman—it won’t help your resume stand out.
Sans-Serif fonts are more contemporary and read cleanly on screen. Arial is the too-obvious choice here, so you may want to branch out with Calibri or Helvetica.
Script & creative fonts can help your name at the top stand out—if you can still clearly read it.
Before choosing your font, you might want to check out the font used by the business you’re applying to and find something in the same vein. Don’t use unusual fonts for body text though—clarity is king.
Whatever font you choose, make sure it’s easy to read. Not just for people, but for Applicant Tracking Systems. More resumes are vetted first by scanning algorithms than by people, which means fonts that are too off the beaten path may not be read accurately.
Whether or not you need a traditional resume depends to an extent on your industry. As Taru Bhargava, content marketer and strategist at Ramp Ventures LLC points out:
I personally find the concept of traditional resumes redundant for marketers and folks in the online space, more so when a recruiter can check everything online (blogs, published posts, guest articles, social accounts, credibility etc).
And then there are always cover letters and work samples, which can provide a better idea of a candidate’s background, pertinent experience, and abilities.
But what I look at more than the resume is the cover letter/work sample candidates send in. Cover letters are great opportunities to show interest and work samples are a great way to demonstrate said interest. Of course, this is easier said than done in some fields (how do I do a work sample for a sales position?) but research never fails to impress imo. - Aishwarya Hariharan, Product Marketing Manager at Freshworks Inc.
There are certainly viable alternatives to a resume, like website portfolios of past work, videos, powerpoint presentations, even LinkedIn. With so much information accessible online, resumes might become relics of the past. But they aren’t quite yet. So when you need your next resume, bring out those benefits and make it beautiful.
Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré