The following is adapted from Ignite Your Career!
When it comes to resumes, creativity and uniqueness are not appreciated — especially in the formatting. Recruiters/hiring managers want to be able to glean the information they need to make a hiring decision, and they want to do it now.
If you make them wade through fancy fonts, wordy paragraphs, or extraneous details, you’re losing points, not winning them. In my role as an executive recruiter, I’ve seen plenty of qualified candidates miss out on a job opportunity because of a poorly formatted resume.
So how should you construct the perfect resume? The goal is to make it clear, concise, and informative. Let’s go through the basics of a resume layout and the most common tips I give candidates so you can format your resume the way recruiters and hiring managers want to see.
Laying Out Your Resume
Like a news article, resumes are read on two levels: headline, then body copy. The headline gives the reader a snapshot of the information they need in order to decide whether they should invest more time to read the rest of your resume.
The headlines are:
- Your education
- The companies you have worked for
- Your titles
- Your responsibilities
The body copy is what you did and what your results were. List your experience in reverse chronological order, as the most recent experience will be of the most interest to potential employers.
At the top of your resume, you’re telling a prospective employer the number-one reason they should want to hire you. When you are coming out of college, graduate school, or law school, your education goes first, along with your extracurricular activities, your leadership positions, and possibly your GPA (if strong). At this stage, the recent completion of your degree is why they are looking to hire you.
Once you begin your career, your relevant experience becomes the number-one reason they would have an interest in recruiting you. Your education is still relevant, but it is no longer the primary driver for their interest in your resume.
Tips on Making a Clear, Concise Resume
While relevant experience is critical to landing the job, your accomplishments won’t benefit you if they aren’t communicated clearly. You want to make your resume as easy to read as possible.
Here are my top tips on resume formatting:
- Use a consistent typeface, with bold and capital headings for the different sections.
- Have enough white space so it’s easy to read. Don’t cram it in by making the typeface too small. I like 10.5 or 11 pt.
- Bullet points are bite-size, and therefore much easier for the reader to understand what you’re trying to convey.
- Use action-oriented language. Choose words like “lead,” “create,” “develop,” or “initiate” versus something like “participated in,” which is passive.
- Cover the breadth of your responsibilities, and have language that indicates analytical strength or in-depth knowledge.
- Most importantly, add in your accomplishments and successes.
When in doubt, keep your resume simple and the formatting consistent. Trust me: in the world of resume writing, odd is not a good thing.
Your experience and skills should stand out, not your resume itself, so hold the photographs and scented paper. You’ll have plenty of time in the interview phase to show potential employers your individuality.
Your resume should above all be easy to read. Remember, the purpose of the resume is to convey the basics to hiring managers as smoothly and painlessly as possible. If they’re struggling to determine the who, what, where, and why of your work experience, your resume isn’t doing its job.
Put your most impressive achievements first, keep your information simple, and follow my formatting tips. If you play by the rules and prioritize resume readability, you’ll sail on through to the next phase in the hiring process.
For more advice on building a successful career, you can find Ignite Your Career! on Amazon.