A resume is like small talk. It isn’t going to land you the sale, find you the mentor, or gain you access to a project. However, if you do it well, it can move you past the initial barrier to a place where you can get that thing you want – in this case, an interview, and hopefully an offer.
It’s true that not everyone is good at small talk, or has a great resume. However, there are themes, tips, and tricks to make your resume resistant to being screened out. In fact, some of these suggestions might land you at the top of the pile of applicants being considered for a role.
We do have some general caveats about resumes. First, be honest! Make sure you’re not stretching the truth, or your role. Second, brevity is key. This is not a place to detail every job, volunteering opportunity, and class that you have had. Third, no mistakes. We’ve all had candidates miss out on interviews because of typos in their resume, and it’s always a bummer. And fourth, it’s important to take the time in every application to tailor your resume to the role. You’re not just sending in a resume to show that you’re qualified; your resume should highlight how you are the most qualified candidate for a position.
Also, every recruiter, hiring manager, friend, and Joe-on-the-street has an opinion on resumes. Take all of these opinions with a grain of salt. There is no right answer for every role. We’re going to keep beating that dead horse…the job search is a highly individual thing and context is king.
We tried to provide a comprehensive list of things recruiters are hoping to see (or not see!) on your resume by tapping into the 20+ recruiters we have on staff and Corbin, our resident resume guru and favorite authority on the subject.
Here’s the nitty-gritty:
+ The purpose of a resume is to get past the gatekeeper. You don’t need to put everything you’ve ever done in your resume. Think of it as a Tinder profile, not a first date. You just need to get the hiring manager to swipe right. It’s about your story.
+ Conceptually, your resume should (1) show that you meet the minimum qualifications for the role and (2) show how you have added value and solved problems at every company covered. It should not just be a list of tasks or recitation of everything you’ve ever done.
+ Show accomplishments, not just responsibilities. Your resume should show what you did, not just be a regurgitation of a Craigslist ad. Delete anything that says “responsibilities included.” Here’s a great article on how to write resume content that highlights your achievements.
+ Always use bullet points. If you give a hiring manager a block of text to read, they will give up if it’s more than about three lines. Help your potential employer see what you’re about. Don’t make it hard for them. Bullet point.
+ The length of your resume is not a deal breaker, but make sure it’s worth it if you go more than one page. Candidates often put just their education or references (more on this to follow) on the second page, which is a poor use of space and probably means that you could be more judicious with your editing. But no more than two pages total, please.
+ Don’t make your font and margins super tiny just to fit on one page. Size 12 font is usually safe. Headers can safely be a font size or two larger. Less than 0.5” margins is probably too small.
+ A good rule of thumb for clarity and length: 5-10 years of experience should fit onto one page. And, if you have more than 10 years of experience, feel free to prune to the most relevant experience, whether it be the last five jobs or most recent 10 years. This can hard for people who have taken longer gaps because they want to show how much they’ve done before. Honestly, employers are not focused on that—at least not in the beginning. You need to show your resume is relevant with today’s workforce, so focus on the recent details first. The bulk of your bullets should be in your most recent experience.
+ No objective sections. Of course your objective is to get a job. Start out focusing on communicating your benefits as quickly as possible. In some cases, a profile section can highlight why you’re the best fit. Focus less on what you want from an employer and more on what you have to offer.
+ Be careful with any personal judgments and icons. A big misstep is using meters where a candidate has a little icon with 4 out of 5 stars for “Organization,” or three-quarters of a circle filled in for “Salesforce.” If you don’t know what we’re talking about, there are tons of bad examples online if you look up “creative resumes.” This is an arbitrary scale comparing totally disparate things. What are you basing this rating on? How do you compare your “Salesforce” skills to your “Organized” skills? It’s arbitrary and, frankly, wastes a lot of space and precious eye-tracking seconds.
+ Similarly, also be careful with soft skills, like “strong work ethic” or “team player.” You’re making a judgement about yourself without context or demonstration. It’s okay to list a few of these, but do so sparingly. Try focusing on hard or technical skills like software and language experience.
+ Do not include references in your resume. It’s literally giving out private information to strangers – and you’d probably prefer that nobody contact your references without first talking to you, anyway. Also don’t put “References Available Upon Request” on your resume. It’ll be assumed, and it’s a waste of valuable resume real estate.
+ Additionally, when you’re asked for references, make sure you provide context about your relationship with that person (supervisor? coworker? where?). Supervisory references are always best if you have the option! Listing only peer references looks suspicious to a hiring manager.
+ And speaking of private information – you don’t need to include your address. It’s sufficient to include current city or leave it off entirely. It can also work against you when you’re applying for a Portland position and you are out of area.
+ Also, please don’t list your work email/phone on your resume, or send your resume out from your work email.
+ Consistency is crucial. We don’t care if you use periods in your bullet points, add spaces after hyphens, indent, or whatever formatting you use. Make. Sure. It’s. All. The. Same.
+ You don’t need to get fancy with layouts or templates to stand out. In fact, a hiring manager has probably seen most of the templates out there and will recognize whichever ones you’re using. To pass the screening test, it’s better to use clear, legibly sized, consistently formatted text than to go crazy with fonts, colors, or other ~creative~ designs.
+ Make the important information easy to understand and easier to find. Brand yourself with a title. Bold carefully selected relevant information. Because people spend a limited amount of time reviewing each resume, use eye tracking to your advantage.
+ Unless you’re a recent grad or changing tracks or think your prestigious education will help, your education should go at the bottom of the resume. And, don’t list your GPA unless you’re a recent grad or it’s really relevant to the position (e.g. 4.0 in Advanced Statistics for an Analyst role).
+ If you are a recent grad, or it’s objectively relevant to the role, it’s okay to include awards or honors you earned, courses you took that would be helpful in the job you are applying for, special projects, internships and achievements while you were in school, and even sports and extracurricular activities. Remember, use best judgement and less is more!
[B] To highlight the scope of your role, you can add a short, one sentence line under each company to give context as to geography, size, offices, etc. Leave out company accolades as well as employer logos, website links, phone numbers, street addresses, and supervisors’ names. Even in a digital age, all the information on your resume should be just as accessible as a printed black-and-white document.
+ Do include dates worked on your resume. It looks very suspicious to use “4 years” or not have any dates. If you’ve taken some time off, no matter what the reason, you should explain the gaps rather than trying to hide them. If you’re worried about emphasizing gaps, you can always use years rather than months and years. There’s no need to list day of the month in any case.
+ Typically, resume gaps six months or less aren’t really going to concern a hiring manager. But if you have an employment gap longer than six months, effectively and concisely explain why that gap was necessary or helped you expand your knowledge in some way. Don’t feel like you have to address it though, if you don’t want to in your resume.
+ On a related note, if you’re worried about ageism, you don’t have to include your graduation year or include the entirety of your experience.
+ All the dates/positions on your resume should be in reverse chronological order (most recent first), unless you’re employing a functional resume. We’re not huge fans of functional resumes, but it can be effective for candidates who are changing career paths.
+ Always use correct verb tense! If it’s a past job, all verbs should be past tense. If you are currently working there, use present tense. This seems easy but you would be amazed at how much this is missed!
+ Compare your resume to the job description and tweak your bullet points accordingly. Yes, this means spending more time before applying, but it will pay out in the long run.
+ Know what you don’t want to do. If you revolutionized payroll at your current company, but you also hated every minute of the process and would never want to do it again, leave it off of your resume. You should only list the things that you’d be excited to do again and want hiring managers to notice. Think about transferable skills that you want to highlight, too.
+ No photos. No salary expectations or histories. No references. No icons. No first-person. No jargon.
+ We’re lukewarm on listing hobbies, as they’re usually not particularly relevant (and sure, we like dogs and reading too). If they showcase something about your fit with the company (e.g. backpacking enthusiast for a sports company), then it might be okay.
+ If your volunteer experience is equivalent to working a full or part-time job (versus pitching in for a few hours a week here and there), feel free to include it in your work experience. Same thing with community or leadership roles – include in context, and only if it’s relevant.
+ Get specific and add numbers and percentages wherever possible. What did you increase, decrease, or improve? Use specifics to show the results of your role. Action verbs describe best! Avoid starting each bullet with the same word.
+ Lastly, to make sure you’re being as clear and concise as possible, ask yourself after every bullet, “Why would this matter to a hiring manager?”