Last updated on April 25, 2017
As a hiring manager in my “other other” job as well as having spent a lot of years writing them for people, I’ve become something of a resume expert. I work with HR and recruiters, vet candidates by phone and in person and generally spend a lot of time looking for reasons to say ‘no’. Why? Because I’m looking for the right person for the job. So, though all that, of course, I’ve seen a lot of resumes. And trust me, not all of them were good. Actually, quite a lot of them were horrid.
There’s a lot of bad advice floating around, so do yourself a favour and ignore promises that using weird tricks will help your resume get noticed. Oh, you’ll get noticed, but not in the way you want and the only thing that will accomplish is to get yourself passed over. Fast.
With recent trends showing more employers looking at online services like LinkedIn for recruiting where skills and experience are all listed in the same format, your paper or electronic resume is competing against these types of stripped-down summaries. That means you don’t have a lot of lines to sell yourself.
Your goal should be to make the most of the 10 to 20 seconds of full attention the recruiter is giving your application during the initial once-over. It can make the difference between getting round-filed or going into the “take a second look” pile.
Meeting Basic Requirements
Did you read the job posting? When an employer is looking for a specific skillset, if you don’t have it or something remotely close to it, please don’t submit your resume. It’s not respectful of the recruiter’s time and it wastes your own.
From my own perspective, when you submit with things I’m not looking for, it doesn’t make me want to give you a chance. It makes me question your reading comprehension and so I’m even less likely to give you a shot at an interview.
Lay out your related accomplishments, so I can see them without effort. I’m on a hunt for a particular kind of person and if you’re that person, show me. Take out anything unnecessary that might distract from that. Show me your transferable skills and any progression you’ve made that can convey to me you’re someone who is likely to stick around if I give you a shot. Don’t list duties you had before, but instead, tell me about your accomplishments, because those show me who you are. Overuse of weak words like “managed” or “responsible for” present you as someone who probably hasn’t actually accomplished anything and are no one I want.
Don’t make “I” statements about previous accomplishments, especially for things that were done within a team where the success was shared, but instead, present them in the third person. Convey to me you’re someone who is a solution-provider and your accomplishments as examples of how that was done. I need you to show me you’re going to bring something to the little world I’m going to invite you into by conveying how you might facilitate or improve communication, build relationships, generate new business, look after our existing customers like they were your friends and just generally make my world a better place by having you and your expertise in it.
Weird Objective Statements
An objective statement is a good idea for corporate positions or specific, niche jobs where you want to announce, up front, exactly what you’re looking for. This would be for jobs where you’re more likely to be picking and choosing between places of employment and not the other way around. The objective statement is also important when sending your resume to a head hunter, so they know exactly what you want to get out of the experience.
For a “regular job” that pays the bills, the kinds of jobs that a lot of the work force is going after? You don’t need it. Trust me, I already know you want to achieve a full-time position as a customer service agent, because you replied to my post about that position being available. Unless you’re going to make your objective statement something like “I love to help people and am looking for a place that let’s me retain ownership of my issues Monday to Friday during the day”, which would convey to me that you may be a career customer service person with a high degree of personal accountability looking for a morning shift and not evenings, then don’t bother.
Generally, if you can’t think of a good reason to have an objective statement at the head of your resume, don’t have one. It’s the first thing the recruiter or hiring manager sees, so you want to make the best impression. Don’t turn them off from continuing to read the rest of your resume (which may very well contain the skills they’re looking for) by writing something that doesn’t make sense just because you think you’re supposed to. I would rather see no objective statement than something irrelevant.
Bad Grammar and Spelling Errors
I can’t say this enough – proofread your resume!
Think grammar doesn’t count? You’re wrong. Don’t rely on spell check or grammar check, because they’re unreliable. Grammar is a huge thing to get right, especially when you’re working to sell yourself. Using it improperly could even convey things in a way you hadn’t meant and could hurt your chances of achieving an interview. Don’t know how to properly punctuate? Um, learn or ask someone.
I’ll tell you straight up, when I see one spelling mistake? I stop reading. Seriously, it’s only one page, man. If you can’t be bothered to check over something that short yet that important, I can’t be bothered to read it. You know what spelling mistakes tell me? You don’t care enough about your own important things, so won’t care about anything I need you to, either.
Pet peeve? Seeing the skill “high attention to detail” noted in a resume that has multiple spelling errors. Way to kill your own point.
We live in a world of mass communication. Businesses need their employees to monitor and respond to multiple social media avenues as a regular part of their day now in addition to interacting with customers through email, live chat, phone, and in person. Employers need communicators. Show them you’re that person right from the first contact with your resume.
Fonts and Formatting
Arial or Times New Roman or some other plain font is all you need. I don’t want to see curly-cues and fluff. I see that? It makes me wonder what you’re trying to hide by attempting to distract me and I’m instantly suspicious. Remember, readability is key.
Remember, the recruiter or hiring manager has been reading a lot of resumes, so make yours as easy to read as possible. Think about it – their eyes are tired, so whose resume are they going to absorb? The one with some font that needs decoding or yours that’s nicely laid-out and has a lot of white space that makes your skills pop out from the page? Thick paragraphs are killer, but bullet points are an easy way to bring attention to your skills with no fluff.
Using appropriate margins, generally 2.5cm (1”) is sufficient. Font size should be between 10 and 12-point depending on the font type for easiest reading. Single spacing between lines is preferable. If your resume is Word-based, don’t use headers and footers, because if it gets uploaded to a database that can’t convert that Word doc, no one is going to see what’s in the header and footer. If you put your contact info into a header and the recruiter can’t see it once you upload the resume, how are they going to call you?
Go easy on the additional formatting, though you do want to use bold and Italics to offset some of the info to make it stand out where appropriate. Also a good idea is to convert that Word doc to PDF format to ensure that whatever you see on the screen is what the recruiter does, too. Not all formatting translates well between programs and if you worked really hard on your presentation, you want to ensure that it comes across no matter what program the recruiter is using.
Hobbies and Interests
Okay, this is a category that has separate camps. A lot of experts say “no”, because it falls into the “unrelated info” category.
My personal opinion? I like it. It gives me an insight into the kind of person you are and lets me get into your head. I’m a realist, okay? I understand that people have had jobs in the past, because they needed to make the rent, but that those jobs didn’t necessarily have anything to do with any of their passions. Knowing that, then I want to see these interests if the previous experience doesn’t completely line up with the available job I’ve posted.
For example, when I’m looking for a customer service person, I tend to flip to this section first. If I see someone who has volunteer experience, that tells me in half a second they actually like helping people. If they also like to read, design websites in their spare time, or their hobby is photography or something else creative, even if they don’t have the industry-specific skills I’m looking for, I might be able to develop them if that’s mixed with some other transferable skills. Not always the case, but to me, it can be an indicator of a creative thinker who likes to help people and is usually enough to make me want to get them in for an interview to find out more.
Unprofessional Things that Don’t Belong in your Resume
Email Address: Maybe firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com was super cute when you were in college or grabbing a hook-up on PlentyOfFish or Grindr, but it’s got no place on your resume. Don’t make me question your credibility. Going for an IT job? Register your own domain name and set up an email address on it – it doesn’t cost very much and you’ll be doing yourself a giant favour. Also awesome for any other industry, but if you can’t afford it, then a free email provider with a mailbox based on your first and last name looks nice and clean and sends the right message. Something like firstname.lastname@example.org works just fine.
Head Shot: Unless you’re in the entertainment industry where a headshot is required as part of the submission package, you should never include one. I want to compare all my candidates from the same baseline – just on skills. I’ll find out your age, colour, race, whathaveyou when I meet you and I’ve already determined you’re in the running and might be the best person for the job. In some situations? Though it should never happen, some recruiters have personal biases and aren’t open to particular types of people and including the headshot could even set you up for being discriminated against.
Unrelated Social Media Info: You probably want to note somewhere if you have your own website or blog, but only if the content and subject matter are related to the position you’re applying for. If it doesn’t have anything to do with it, in the case of things like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc, definitely do not include these. If you offer them up? Employers will search them to check you out.
Buzzwords: Gaw! I hate these with a passion. I know they’re fluff and convey nothing, so please don’t use them. Choose your descriptive words wisely, because using one that doesn’t truly describe you, to me, is the same as lying. I recall one resume where someone used the description of “effervescent manager”. When you use a word like “effervescent”, I better meet someone who is pretty bloody effervescent in the interview. In that case? Not even close and they didn’t get the job.
Salary Information: Most places post the salary info of available jobs now, so there’s no need to include this. If they don’t, call or email the recruiter and ask before you apply. Adding expected salary to your resume can convey the wrong message – that your entire focus is on the money. I don’t want anyone like this, because that’s not the kind of people I hire. I’m looking for people who can really get into the job and will get something out of it for themselves. I’m always looking for a best fit. Adding this kind of info could hurt your chances of gaining an interview.
“References upon request.”: Not unprofessional, but simply unneeded. It’s assumed you have references and I’m going to check them if I think I’m going to move forward with hiring you. I expect you to have them ready for me if I call you. And if you don’t have any? You’re probably going to want to find some before you continue looking for a job, because your recruiter is going to ask for them.
Overall? Use common sense – that’s all it boils down to.
Looking for a job can be an arduous or daunting task at the best of times and writing your resume a nerve wracking experience. Sometimes, it can even be a race against time as your current company may be downsizing or you’ve already been released and you have bills to pay, so sending in your resume becomes a critical activity.
It can be tempting to fire off a resume at 2 or 3am, because you’re concerned about missing an opportunity, but rushing leads to mistakes. It’s always best to wait until you can read over your resume with fresh eyes and an even better idea is to have several people give it a once-over just to be safe.
Proofread, use common sense, drop the irrelevant, show your accomplishments in the best light, and you’ll have created a rockin’ resume.
(Not sure if you need a resume or CV or don’t know the difference? Check out my explanation in Do I Need a Resume or a CV)