FAQ About Resume Writing

Resume FAQ

1) Do I need a different resume for every job I apply to?

Yes. Customizing your resume to each position you apply to is critical to make it through the initial screening process (now automated using keyword algorithms at many larger companies). In addition, tailoring your qualifications to the advertised job description is your best chance to be visualized as a strong fit from the perspective of hiring managers.

Although it is important to be honest about your professional experience, it is also true that there are almost infinite ways to accurately frame the skills, qualifications, and responsibilities of any single job you have held. Your goal is to develop a resume that is a very tight fit to the wording used in each job description that you apply for with the experiences that are most applicable nearest the top.

You probably won’t have to start from scratch every time. If you are applying to jobs that are all fairly similar in terms of responsibilities and duties, you may be able to simply tweak the language in each section to be sure it matches up to the specific job description.

In other cases, particularly if the jobs are significantly different, you may find that reorganizing the format altogether allows you to put more relevant experiences first where they are more likely to grab the attention of the reader. This is particularly true if you are applying to positions that are quite different from your last job experience.

2) How should I structure my resume?

Following are the most common resume formats that are used and that most recruiters expect to see:

Reverse Chronological: This resume format is the most common and it is designed to showcase your work history in chronological order with the most recent job at the top. This is the preferred format for many hiring managers. It is a great choice if your career path demonstrates a clear arc pointing right to the job you are applying for as the next logical step.

Functional: A functional resume is grouped into skill sections which adds an emphasis on your specific qualifications for the position you are applying for while de-emphasizing your job history. This format can be a solid strategic choice when you have a non-traditional career path, are making a significant career change, or have work gaps that may be glaring if presented in chronological style.

Hybrid: In many cases, a combination of the two styles may be your best bet to put your best foot forward on a resume. By combining elements of each style, you may be able to tell a story with your resume that is the strongest fit possible to the exact position you are applying for.

Additional Sections: Any of the above formats can be used in combination with other sections that you can include in your resume or CV. Again, be strategic when choosing which sections to include, and where, so that the most relevant information is what pops out at a glance. Additional sections can include:

  • Research and/or Publications: Appropriate for certain types of jobs such as those sought by academics, journalists and doctors.
  • Awards and Honors: A place to include significant accomplishments to highlight your excellent performance.
  • Volunteer Work: If you have gained specific skills or want to demonstrate a commitment to a cause relevant to the job, this section can be helpful. Use it mainly if you have gained relevant skills through volunteer work that you cannot list through a paid work experience.

3) How can I improve the formatting of my resume?

Whereas "resume format" refers to the structure of your resume, "resume formatting" refers to its visual appearance or layout:

Bullet Lists: Bullet lists keep your text shorter and more concise, reducing verbiage, and preserving an information dense resume. They make your resume easier to skim as well. A balance of short paragraphs (such as a brief summary of each job) combined with bullet list sections can create an inviting format.

Design Elements: Boxes, lines, shading and borders can add some visual appeal to your resume. However, be judicious with your choices as they can easily be overdone. Ask yourself if a design element contributes to readability and balance, or if it just makes your resume look cluttered and busy, before you decide to keep it. Be very careful with fonts – readability is much more important than flair.

Balance: Take a few steps back and look at your printed resume from a distance, far enough that you can’t read the text. You want to strike a nice balance between the text and the blank space that is visually appealing and not too lopsided top to bottom or side to side.

Color: A little bit of color can go a long way towards adding to the visual appeal of your resume. They can help you make important sections pop off the page as well as help you stand out from the crowd. However, unless you are in a highly creative field, chances are that subtle colors limited to no more than three will serve you best. If you are in doubt, tone it down or stick to a classic black and white.

Consider a Template: These days there is no shortage of professionally designed resume templates that are ready to plug in your information for a sharp and finished look. Make sure you choose a style that fits your personal brand and lends itself to being skimmed.

4) How long should my resume be?

The appropriate length for your resume depends on several factors. The most important thing to keep in mind is to make sure your wording is concise, to the point, and is not redundant.

Write your resume without paying attention to the length first. Once you have the content in place you can edit it to fit nicely on the page(s), deleting extraneous information where needed.

Padding your resume to try to look like you have done a lot by including irrelevant information is likely to backfire. If a significant portion of the material you list is not going to demonstrate your qualifications or significant accomplishments, you are more likely to be showcasing that you are not the right person for the job.

One-Page Resume: If you are new to the job market and lack a long work history, then a single page resume is likely sufficient. In many cases, the same can be true if you have only one or two employers for whom you have worked in the same role for many years. If you find yourself struggling to find the skills and accomplishments to fill the space, don’t force it beyond a single page.

Two-Page Resume: The most common resume these days is two pages in length. If you are established in your line of work, and have 3 or more significant past employers, two pages is probably right. If you are new to your career, but have significant academic or technical training, then a two page resume may also be right for you.

Three-Page Resume: There are some cases where a three page resume is appropriate, but they are rare. Academic jobs such as professor generally expect a C.V. instead of a resume. This special class of resume includes many additional sections not listed on a traditional resume, such as publications. In addition, senior level executives may have enough relevant job experience in a variety of roles to justify three pages. Finally, if you are applying to a position abroad, check with the resume expectations in that country since some will expect a longer form resume than employers in the States.

5) How can I make my resume stand out?

Following are some tips to make your resume stand out, but the right way!

Bold and Descriptive Summary: Consider including a summary section at the top of your resume that is the first information that the hiring manager will read. It should be concise, accurate and capture your strongest attributes relevant to the specific job you are applying for.

Customize to the Reader: Put yourself in the recruiter’s shoes for the job you are applying for and write your resume to their needs. Part of this can be found in the job description, but if you are able to crack the code to the kinds of qualifications that may be left out of the job ad that are still important to the work, all the better to have them on your resume.

Quantifiable Metrics: Quantify your achievements. There is something about numbers that seem to impress. When you have a chance to use statistics that can show your outstanding performance, go for it. Likewise, symbols such as % and $ will draw attention to your digits, adding more impact.

Purposeful Use of Design Elements: Judicious use of lines, borders and shading can also be effective, but use them in ways that enhances the visibility of your most relevant qualifications. Making your resume too busy is a real risk with any design elements. Fonts must be easily readable.

Careful Coloration: Reaching beyond black and white can be effective at grabbing the reader’s attention. However, since many resumes are submitted electronically and may be printed and viewed in black and white, be sure the design still works well. Keep coloration simple and professional unless you happen to be in a creative field where strutting your design prowess makes sense.

Leave Out the Fluff: Stuffing space on your resume with additional, but irrelevant, information is not a good idea. Stay focused on the job at hand and be sure each word contributes to a narrative that you are qualified for the job.

6) What does it mean to use keywords in my resume and why does it matter?

These days, many employers use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to digitally scan and sort for the first round of cuts. These programs work by searching for certain keywords and phrases in the text of your resume. Even if your resume is scanned first by a hiring manager, keywords can be critical to their decision making.

Keywords selected for ATS or by human reviewers tend to be skills, qualifications, and/or certifications and degrees. Examples can include things like “customer service,” “social media” or “MBA.” In addition, action verbs that are specific to performing the role you are applying for may be important, for instance, “supervised,” “managed,” or “coordinated.”

To decide which words need to find their way onto your resume (assuming they are qualifications you hold), look first to the job description. It is most likely that in building the list of keywords an ATS system uses to sort resumes, the programmers pulled from the most important qualifications listed in the job ad itself. Other sources include industry buzzwords that you can find in publications tailored to your sector.

When using keywords, don’t lose sight of the fact that your resume will eventually be read by a human, so they need to be seamlessly integrated and avoid redundancy.

Using synonyms is fine, and a solid strategy. Keep keywords evenly distributed across the text in your resume and include them where appropriate in your cover letter as well.

7) What are the key things I should keep in mind as I write my resume?

There's a multitude of considerations to keep in mind as you write your resume, depending on your level of seniority, your industry and your personal circumstances. However, if we were to sum it up in one single tip, we would say to always put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter who will be reading your resume. If you do that, you would definitely consider the following as a starting point:

Customize to the specific job. This is the most important thing you can do to make sure your resume gets through applicant tracking systems as well as subsequent rounds of review by people. You want the reader of your resume to see that you are a strong fit for that position and that you took the time to tailor your approach to the job.

Sell yourself, honestly. This is not the time to be modest, but it is also critical to be truthful. Use action verbs when describing your previous work experiences and include a section for major accomplishments or awards if you have them. When possible, use performance focused and quantifiable metrics to strut your stuff. For example: “Increased sales by 33% in the first 6 months as Sales Manager.”

Tell a story. You want your resume to have the overall effect of reinforcing the narrative you have laid out in your cover letter for why you are the perfect fit for the job. These two documents should work together to get the hiring manager’s attention and persuade them that you are the person they are looking for. Use a format that best highlights your most relevant qualifications to reinforce your fit for the job.

8) What should NOT go on my resume?

The basic rule for what not to include is that anything that is "irrelevant" should be left off your resume. How to know if an information is relevant or not? Ask yourself whether it helps you candidacy. If not, remove the information.

Objective: The notion that you should begin your resume with an objective (which is basically a fancy way of saying you want the job) is now considered out-of-date. After all, of course you want the job. Instead, consider a summary section at the top which allows you to lead with your most relevant experiences and qualifications to the exact job you are applying for.

Hobbies and Personal Interests: Again, this was a brief trend in resume writing that is now largely considered to be passé. The one exception might be if you have an achievement that you are particularly proud of that might fit in an “Awards and Accomplishments” section.

Untruths: While there are many ways to accurately frame your work experiences by putting the focus on different elements of the job, it is important that everything on your resume is accurate.

Extraneous Text: Your resume should be tight, concise and easy to read. Keep editing until you are confident you have cut the fluff language. Keep the most relevant work experiences and ditch the rest.

Design Overkill: Keep your resume professionally designed and avoid the temptation to overdo it. This is a document that needs to convey your professionalism. Use color and elements such as lines and borders very tastefully.

References: The resume is not the place to list references. If asked, provide a reference list in a separate document.

9) What are the key mistakes to avoid when I write my resume?

Following are some key mistakes that recruiters see again and again. Oftentimes, these mistakes result from the fact that job seekers don't take enough time to work on their resumes. Yet, there is no shortcut. If you want a good resume, you need to spend the time it takes.

Generic Resume: Don’t assume that you can write a single resume and use it for every job. Hiring managers are looking for a strong fit to a specific role. If your resume is not tailored to the exact qualifications of that position, there is little chance you will avoid the “no” pile.

Irrelevant Information: Including a bunch of text that is not relevant to the specific qualifications of the job usually backfires. You are better off with a shorter, concise resume that has strong focus on the specific job than a longer resume full of filler.

Lack of Readability: Your resume should be written with extremely concise language and laid out in a way that makes your most relevant qualifications and biggest accomplishments stand out to the recruiter. It should be a document that is easy to skim. After all, the hiring manager is likely to spend ten seconds or less on the first pass through the pile.

Typos: Enough said.

See this article for more resume mistakes to avoid: My Resume's Not Getting Me Interviews. What Am I Doing Wrong?

10) Should I hire a professional editor to review my resume?

Getting another person to look at your resume can make a big difference. Alternatively, you can also have a professional write your resume for you. You can hire an experienced editor to review your resume and cover letter for as little as $50. Professional resume writers and career coaches are also a good choice, although they tend to be more expensive.

It is easy to miss mistakes when proofing your own work. In addition, experts are up to date on the latest trends in resume design to help your resume visually pop. Your editor should ask to see the job posting so they can help you craft a resume tailored to that position. Otherwise, you might not be getting the expert advice you are paying for.

Finally, don’t expect to hand over your resume and be given a polished version in a single step. Unless your resume is “almost there,” it is usually a back and forth process that may require you to provide additional information. Always read over the document to be sure it is factually accurate and represents how you want to be seen by a recruiter.

Following are links to articles that address other frequently asked questions:

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