You know that a strong resume is vital as you market yourself for a new job, but how do you know if yours is the best it can be? In less than half a second, a Google search for “resume writing advice” yields 1.89 million results. Instead of scrolling through a virtually endless list to figure out what to pay most attention to, here are 10 strategic essentials for what you should — and shouldn’t — do to ensure your resume makes the strongest possible first impression.
Resume Writing Do’s and Don’ts
DON’T pigeonhole yourself with an objective.
- DO include a strong summary.
DON’T write a laundry list of job duties.
- DO articulate your value through accomplishments.
DON’T state accomplishments vaguely.
- DO include context that demonstrates tangible results.
DON’T include insignificant details about every job you’ve had.
- DO summarize key information from earlier roles that highlights expertise, experience and skills relevant to the positions you’re pursuing.
DON’T limit yourself to the old 1-page resume writing rule if you’re far along in your career.
- DO include career progression and key details, especially for current and recent roles.
DON’T omit experience just because it’s beyond the scope of your “day job.”
- DO include paid/volunteer board positions and leadership roles in industry, professional and alumni organizations.
DON’T use present tense for past jobs.
- DO use present tense for your current position.
DON’T write dense, lengthy paragraphs for descriptions.
- DO use bullet points and consistent formatting.
DON’T list experience out of date order in attempt to better position relevant qualifications.
- DO keep your resume in reverse chronological order.
DON’T send your resume as a Word document.
- DO send it as a PDF.
If you apply for a job that doesn’t match what you’ve outlined in an objective, you’re telling the hiring manager that this isn’t the job you want. Instead, capture someone’s attention with a compelling and informative overview of who you are, what you’ve accomplished and what your key strengths are.
Beginning with “Responsible for” and listing 10 duties isn’t the best way to frame your experience. Communicate what you do by describing the impact you’ve made, e.g., you designed business development strategies that expanded market presence and regional footprint, or developed partnerships that drove customer acquisition. If you’re getting stuck, talk it out with a trusted colleague or professional who may hear things differently and help translate your experience into language that’s valuable to potential employers.
If you’ve increased sales, for example, don’t dilute its significance – be specific! Would you rather interview the candidate who “oversaw strong sales growth” or one who “drove $10M in sales over two years by transforming sales strategy and operations?” Similarly, if you “oversee a global finance team,” strengthen the statement with quantity, e.g., “oversee a global finance team across 13 countries” (and if the # of people is significant, include that, too). Lastly, if including a percentage change, frame it. Stating you “reduced costs by 35%” doesn’t mean much without a starting point (35% could represent $700 or $700,000). A little more context transforms the change from relatively meaningless to a defined impact.
Hiring managers have no time or interest in reading an autobiography of your every step since college, so don’t bog them down with irrelevant details. When dusting off your resume, tighten older sections to retain pertinent information that strengthens your candidacy for role you’re targeting now.
If in the early stages of your career, sticking to one page is the norm; however, advanced professionals can hardly do so without over-summarizing and omitting important, relevant information. Reducing early experience into brief descriptive phrases is fine, but not for your most recent roles, as those contain details that hiring managers want to see. Similarly, if you’ve been employed by the same company for a while, avoid combining multiple roles under one title. Showing career progression is important as you market yourself (plus, condensing positions can be misleading).
Augmenting your work experience with other relevant leadership roles and activities where you’ve contributed in a meaningful way can enhance your qualifications for positions you are pursuing.
While there are some exceptions, in the vast majority of instances, keep the past in the past and the present in the present. (Your high school English teachers will thank you!)
Resume writing is not long-winded prose. Optimize readability with well-organized, bulleted statements, which make a stronger impact in a shorter timeframe. They’re easier to read, especially on mobile devices, and draw attention to key information (which otherwise may get lost in long paragraphs).
While a job you held 10 years ago may be important for what you’re looking to do next, don’t deviate from date order to put it higher up in the resume. Inconsistencies may read as mistakes or create unnecessary confusion. (You can highlight the previous, relevant position and bridge that to the present in an introductory email or cover letter.)
Word has its limitations; certain fonts, bullet styles, paragraph treatments and other formatting may look great on your end, but not translate well once sent — particularly if the recipient uses an older version of Word or operating system, or views the document on a mobile device. When document display looks off, it may look like your mistake, i.e., that you didn’t take care to format initially. Unless a Word document is specifically requested, always send your resume as a PDF. Also, clearly label the document with your name, e.g., John Doe Resume (and remove version #, old date etc.).
Your resume is often a potential employer’s first impression of you, so make it count. Present your value, evidenced by how you’ve contributed to, grown and improved other organizations, and you’ll impress upon the target company that you can make a strong, positive impact there as well. Taking extra care with resume writing (and proofreading, which of course you know to do out loud, several times over) will help ensure it gets to the top of the “yes” pile.