Is there any topic more boring and overdone than resumes? Google “resume basics” and you’ll get so many results that you won’t even know where to start, and how on earth are you supposed to know who the writers are and whether you can trust their advice?
Well I am here to help you out! As a career counselor, I see it as an essential part of my work to stay current on resume, cover letter, and interviewing trends so that you can find the career happiness you deserve.
Here are a few basics to get you started. I will have 5 more for you next week, so be sure to check back in:
- Don’t use a template. I know, Word has samples pre-loaded and there are dozens available online, so it seems like an easy way to start. But don’t be tempted. I can spot a template a mile off, which means that recruiters can too, and the resume is really your chief marketing document, so you want it to reflect you, not some nameless internet entity. Worse, templates are hard to change to suit your needs, and often contain outdated and unnecessary sections like hobbies. They also often make terrible use of space, forcing you to try to squeeze your marketable skills and experiences in, using tiny fonts and strange spacing. Instead of a template, use a clean Word (or equivalent) document.
- Avoid too much focus on prettiness. Your resume should clearly not be ugly, but don’t sacrifice content for decoration. If you can fit that pretty frame of vines down the side and still get all your valuable info in, great! But remember that the people making decisions on whether or not to interview candidates are probably not doing so based on your pretty color scheme.
- Arrange the document in order of importance. Don’t lead with detailed descriptions of what you’ve been doing if you want to do something different. Instead, highlight those skills that translate to any job, and lead with a section called something like “Relevant Experience.”
- Put your dates in there. I know, people will tell you that dates reveal too much about your age, but in my experience, employers are not making good assumptions about you because your resume lacks dates. Instead, they are making assumptions that you can’t keep a job for more than 4 months or that you’re ancient and not up-to-date on trends, etc. So just go ahead and add the dates. (And if you, in fact, haven’t held a job for more than 4 months, be sure to seek help from a career counselor!)
- Start the document off with some sort of summary section—your key skills, your experience highlights, whatever makes sense to you. Make this clean and clear, but also demonstrate what you’re saying. It doesn’t really say much when you have a bullet point that says “Motivated self-starter,” unless you back it up with something like, “as shown by multiple promotions within my first 12 months of employment.”