I review about 100 resumes each week and can safely say that some are better than others – much better. As a recruiter I have the luxury of talking a hiring manager through someone’s resume and explaining things that may be difficult to portray in a document. But in order to get that conversation set up, I have to be working with a resume that is attractive, makes sense, and communicates efficiently. People scan resumes, they don’t read them entirely until they are drawn in. Like an advertisement or an executive summary, the resume format should start with a strategy, working backward from whatever it is you want the reader to understand. Here are a few tips about resume formatting that will help capture the reader’s interest:
– Introductory comments: Limit “Executive Summary, “Strengths,” and “Career Overview” comments. Readers want to get to the point and know where you’ve worked and what you’ve done. I see plenty of resumes where an entire page is filled up with this information, which is most often skipped. This is the area of the resume that can best demonstrate communication efficiency – or lack of it.
– Reverse chronological order of positions held with various employers: Hiring Managers and HR professionals expect and want this format and 85-90% of the resumes I see are presented in this manner. The remaining 10-15% follow a format that first lists functional skills and examples, without indicating the company name or position held. That lack of context is frustrating for the reader, and they would rather see those examples portrayed in a conventional manner.
– White space: Too much of it is bad. Readers want substance and details about what you’ve done, including specific examples with results. It’s OK to use narrow margins and less white space as long as your providing details that matter. Really good candidates have lots of specifics to share about their experience, including metrics whenever possible.
– Resume length: Questions sometimes arise about the appropriate length of the resume. 80% of the resumes I see are two pages in length, except for more junior level folks who have fewer than 5-6 years of post-graduate work experience (a one page resume is appropriate there). For candidates pursuing scientific positions who have participated in research and publications, they will often use a Curriculum Vitae that lists all of their work in a very lengthy document. That approach is fine for certain positions where the hiring manager or HR professional are used to that format. It’s generally advisable for those candidates to have both a CV format and a two-page resume option they can use, depending on the job.
– Accomplishments: Many resumes are exclusively focused on duties and responsibilities, and are very light on accomplishments. It’s great to know what you were asked to do, but how well did you do it? This is probably the most common complaint I get from hiring managers as they try to determine who they want to call. Every type of job has a way to measure performance and it’s important to include that information, whether it is based on annual reviews, sales, cost savings, project impact, awards or any other measurement of success.
– Frequent job changes: If you have had more than three job changes in the last five years it will be important to raise the comfort level of the reader that you are not a “job hopper.” This perception is largely driven by industry norms, and some industries experience more rapid turnover than others. If you have legitimate reasons for changing jobs frequently, it is often a good idea to include those reasons in one italicized sentence right after the dates of employment (For example: Job eliminated due to merger with XYZ, Inc.)
These are a few tips that are good to consider when creating or re-tooling your resume. Most people also have different versions of their resumes they will use when applying for an internal position with their current company, as opposed to a new job with another organization. The content and details will likely change, but the formatting guidelines remain the same. As always, I look forward to your comments and questions – please let me know if you’d like to discuss.