Résumé Tips

Your résumé is your first chance to make a good impression. And it pains me to say this, but so many résumés I get are hard on the eyes. They are confusing, poorly designed, and do not clearly illustrate candidates’ backgrounds and skills.

But there is hope! By following a few simple tips, you can have a stellar résumé. Please keep in mind every hiring manager has opinions on what works best in a résumé, and the suggestions below are merely mine.

Read on, friend.

1. Chronological, Chronological, Chronological!

If I read your résumé and start feeling as if I’m in an episode of Quantum Leap, we’ve got problems. Put your most recent job at the top and work backward from there.   

2. Include Your Accomplishments Under Each Job Heading.

One of the latest trends is to lead with an “Accomplishments” section and then follow that with the employment/experience section. I’m not sure who came up with this idea, but my guess is they don’t hire for a living. Separating your jobs from your accomplishments is not only illogical, but it leaves the reader confused about where and when you did what. It also creates unnecessary duplication. When I get a résumé like this, I inevitably find myself flipping between the two sections and getting frustrated. 

3. Your Résumé Should Read More Like The Gettysburg Address than The Grapes of Wrath.

Blaise Pascal said, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” Don’t be Blaise. A résumé is an overview of your education, experience, and accomplishments. It should be a quick, easy read (1-2 pages unless you’re an academic) and it should entice the employer to bring you in for an interview. 

4. Include Dates!

Employers want to know how long you worked at each job for longevity reasons. Likewise, they want to know when you graduated college to gauge your overall level of experience and so they can confirm you actually graduated if they need to do a background check. Leaving out dates is conspicuous and does far more harm than good. 

5. Drop the Objective Section Like a Bad Habit.

Without hesitation, I can tell you my least favorite section of the résumé is the objective. It’s the area where otherwise sane people are drawn to use jargon, B.S., wild hyperbole, and annoying buzzwords like “synergy.” Whatever it is you want to say here, save it for the cover letter. 

6. Bullet Points are Your Friend.

My favorite résumés are those that contain bullet points in lieu of long sentences and paragraphs. These bullets tell me the job seeker took the time to distill his experience into a version that is easily absorbed by potential employers. And not to sound overly dramatic, but I think it shows the candidate is respectful of others’ time to the point he cut out superfluous words. Name me a hiring manager who doesn’t appreciate this trait in an employee? 

7. Keep it Relevant!

If you: a) are taking a cooking class, b) like to snowboard, or c) worked retail in college, then 1) let me know when I can come over for dinner, 2) you should check out Snowshoe, 3) teach me how to fold sweaters, please, and 4) don’t include any of these things in your résumé. 

8. Eliminate the Mystery.

We’re not dating or reading Nancy Drew, so let’s eliminate the mystery. Above all else, your résumé should make sense. A reader should understand clearly your background and what you bring to the table. Disjointed and confusing résumés are the surest way to find yourself in the circular file. So test your résumé out on a friend – if they read it and immediately start asking questions, go back to the drawing board. 

9. Name Your Résumé: John Doe Résumé.

I can’t tell you how many résumés I get with document names like “Résumé Summer 2009” or “1152010 CV.” I end up having to rename them, which is especially confusing when the candidate’s name is something difficult to spell such as Raymond Throatwobblermangrove. Since employers often forward around résumés or save them, it’s best to label your résumé using your name and the word résumé so there’s no confusion. Likewise, if you are including writing samples, references, etc., label them accordingly: John Doe Writing Sample, John Doe References, etc. 

10. K.I.S.S.

Keep it simple, sweetheart. Above all else, your résumé should be a simple outline of your education, experience, and accomplishments. Don’t use color, photographs, fancy/hard-to-read typefaces, or heavy prose. Leave some negative space, bold your section headers, and be consistent with how you lay out each subsection. And for the love of Julia Child, tables are for eating – not for résumé formatting! Bottom line: make your résumé enjoyable for the hiring manager to read and you’ll maximize your chances of getting an interview.

11. Part-Time, Contract, Consulting, etc.

This used to be a top ten list, but I had to add another. So as they say in Spinal Tap, these go to 11. In order to prevent confusion, especially with overlapping roles, it’s a good idea to explicitly state the nature of a role if it is not a fulltime, permanent position.  For instance, if a role is a contract position, a consulting gig, or a part-time endeavor, it’s best to let the reader know that. If you don’t state this, the reader assumes it’s a fulltime role. And then we wonder how you are able to hold down four fulltime positions at once, and we start to worry something is amiss. You see the problem?