You’ve made a decision: It’s time to launch a job-search campaign, but you haven’t updated your resume in five years (or is it ten?). As you sit down to draft the document, your brain turns to dust. You go to Barnes & Noble and buy five books. And you go to Amazon and order six more. But now you’re even more confused by varying formats, layouts and resume types (chronological, functional, combination, target, creative, transitional) — and you’re overwhelmed. If this scenario sounds familiar, let’s look at some basic points.
There are no (or, at best, few) “rules.” In drafting, select an attractive layout — one that commands the reader’s attention, uses ample white space, uses “bullets” (symbols that set off a line or paragraph) and horizontal lines or borders that set off parts of the resume, and employs an attractive, easy-to-read typestyle. You do not want the copy to be too dense, the type too small, or the document too long (a resume for a career-entry candidate should usually be one page).
Be sure the resume presents useful, relevant information — information the reader wants. “Useful” means content that conveys relevant data — and meets the hiring manager’s or recruiter’s needs based on the posted job description. A resume that solely conveys your job responsibilities without highlighting achievements is irrelevant and won’t be noticed. For example, if you’re a sales representative, the resume should present evidence of quota attainment, sales volume increases, account growth and retention, and perhaps demonstrate a critical account problem that you solved. If you cite awards, make sure these awards are performance-based and provide the context. For example, if you won the “Best Salesman Award,” let the reader know that the award was given to the top five performers in a sales force of 300.
Unless you’re an actor or model, the resume should not include a photo. Your resume is not a LinkedIn profile. And using a photo (headshot) on your resume can create a litigious issue for an employer’s human resources department by exposing the employer to allegations of discrimination based on age, gender, race, weight or other factors. If the employer is going to view the resume, leave the photo off. Let them view your LinkedIn profile.
If there are long, multiple or unexplained gaps in your employment history (especially if these are recent), explain them briefly. If you took a sabbatical to climb Mount Everest, meet the Dalai Lama, or paint seascapes along the Norwegian coast, say you “took a year off to travel, learn about other cultures or develop a new skill.”
Be careful not to omit or overtly mask chronology. If, for example, you select a combination format stressing transferable skills, make sure the reader can easily identify where you gained these skills and experience. Also, remember that if you are over 55 (and not seeking a senior position), age discrimination exists. For those seeking lower-level positions, in many cases, I suggest covering your experience over the last 15 years.
Finally, neatness, factual accuracy and good grammar remain constants for getting your reader’s attention, and getting you selected (or, as I prefer to say, “elected” for an interview.