Resume Writing 101

We can all agree that advancements in modern technology are pretty darn amazing.  From precise digital surgeries to home monitoring systems that communicate with you via the internet, hi-tech gadgets have given us big improvements in our daily lives.  But did you know that these same improvements and innovations can potentially hurt your chances at landing an interview?

With the introduction of applicant tracking software (ATS) that uses coding and predictive equations to screen out applicants, combined with the ever-tightening job market and an influx of qualified candidate, chances of your resume even getting in front of a decision maker are lower than ever.

Before you throw in the metaphorical career towel, there are ways to game the system and see your resume make it to the top of the list.  Below are a few resume crafting tips for the modern age that are sure to catch the attention of both the tech and human side of the job hunting equation.

Let’s Talk Style

Before we get down to the nitty gritty about what to, or more importantly what not to, include in your resume, we need to talk basics of style and design.  There are plenty of online templates available if you’re looking to start a resume from scratch or if your CV is in need of a major overhaul.  While these can make documenting your professional history & skills a plug and play endeavor, it’s important to understand the differences in popular resume formats and why one or the other may be right for your particular situation.

There are three main layout and organizational styles in resume formatting: chronological, functional and combination.  Each of these has benefits and disadvantages when it comes to showcasing your stellar career history and educational background.

The chronological resume format is far and wide the most popular and commonly used template.  In this design your work history and education are listed in separate sections, with individuals entries for each included in chronological order.  Keep in mind that when using this format you should be sure to include the most recent experience at the top, since it will be the most relevant to your new, desired position.

In the chronological resume format, your entire work history and career footprint are easily identifiable and digestible.  This design is also instantly recognizable since it’s the most widely used by candidates across all spectrums of industries.  Job seekers beware, though.  If you have little applicable experience, a significant job gap or a period of employment that is not representative of your desired position (that year you spent “finding yourself” while taking odd waitressing gigs and living in your parents basement, anyone) the chronological resume can highlight these types of deficiencies, which can lead to the need for lengthy explanations in your cover letter, initial phone screening or in person interview.

If you have any of the above holes lurking in your career history, you may consider a functional resume for your preferred format.  In this design your skills, achievements and applicable career competencies are listed at the top of the resume in a separate section.  Specific positions may be listed later on, but dates are generally not included.  

A functional resume has the benefit of pointing out your strengths and highlighting just how you’d be a good fit for the desired position.  The downside to this type of formatting, however, is that you still may be asked about specific lengths and dates of employment which can take up valuable time during your interview in which you’re trying to make a lasting impact on your potential new employer.

If neither of the above styles sounds like a goldilocks scenario of fitting “just right” for your career history, a combination style resume may be just the thing you’re looking for.  In a combination resume you will list both your relevant skills and chronological job history, each with their own separate sections and headings.  Deciding whether to lead with your experience or work history will depend on the position you’re interviewing for, as well as whether you want to stress or minimize the historical impact of your complete job history.  

Specifics About Formatting

Once you’ve chosen a style or type of resume that best fits your desired position, you’re ready to start crafting that masterpiece of employment history.  While many stylistic choices will depend on your personality and desired career, when it comes to fonts, bullets and length, there are a few commonly accepted norms.

Technical aspects to keep in mind when it comes to your resume include: length, margins and spacing, font size and style and narrative voice (first person, third person etc.).  If you’re looking for specific pointers, you’re in luck.  Below is a quick formatting checklist of accepted norms for a professional resume:

Resume Formatting Guidelines:

  • Font – Classic fonts such as Times or Arial
  • Font Size – 10-12 pt
  • Margins – ¾ – 1” margins
  • Spacing – Single
  • Narrative Voice – Active, First Person – Avoid using the passive voice

Optimizing for Tech

The next thing to keep in mind when it comes to resume essentials is that the first pass of your experience and work history may not be made by a human.  ATS technology is used increasingly by large recruiting Firms and major corporations as a tool to weed out lesser candidates and identify those that have the necessary skills for the position.  

While this means good things for getting those highly qualified candidates to the top of the resume pile, if you’re not careful it can also mean your resume is misread or potentially discarded.  For as advanced as predictive technology is, it turns out that modern computers aren’t able to process some fairly simple characteristics in some resumes.  Special characters or punctuation, elaborate fonts and images or graphics will all be disregarded.  So ditch the fancy font that dots your i’s with hearts and the emoji inserts and stick with the basics for best processing results.  

Content – The Meat of the Matter

After you’ve worked out the fine details of style and formatting, it’s’ time to get down to the business of crafting your resume.  Within the specific styles discussed above, there are several ways to lay out the information you’re attempting to convey to your prospective employer.  Separate sections for work history, skills, experience and education are all commonly used and help easily identify your key strengths and relevant career history.

While work history, relevant skills and certifications and education are self-explanatory categories, the experience heading tends to trip applicants up the most and is an under-utilized way to make a big impact with your potential employer.  An experience section should be no more than 2-3 sentences that provide a bird’s-eye-view of what the reader will deduce from the rest of your resume.  List your key qualifications that are applicable to your desired job and highlight one or two major technical strengths.  Add in a sentence addressing your education and certifications and let the paragraph be a roadmap for the rest of your stellar resume.

Getting Down to Specifics

Few things are bigger turn-offs for busy professionals than a resume that says a lot while communicating very little about the candidate themselves.  Whether in the job descriptions of your work history or the experience or skills wrap-ups, candidates should strive for specificity in both their prior tasks and qualifications.

Instead of describing yourself as a “good manager” lay out the traits that make you successful in your job.  “Successfully manage a team of five with day to day supervision including scheduling and reviews” will tell the reader much more about whether you’d make the perfect fit for their company or job opening.

When picking out skills to highlight, be sure to keep in mind the job you’re applying for.  A thorough perusal of the job listing and a quick exploration of the company website, if available, will give you at least an initial sense of the type of candidate and personality the employer is looking for.  Find ways to highlight within your resume traits you possess that fit the bill and you’ll be that much closer to landing a call-back.

Read, Read and Re-Read that Resume

One final, but critical piece of advice when it comes to resume crafting basics will take you back to your high school or college days when points were deducted for miss-types or spelling errors.  While no one will be giving you an F for improper verb usage, your resume will be demoted if it contains numerous grammatical, spelling, formatting or other errors.  Before hitting the send button, read your resume several times through.  Better yet, ask a friend if they’d be willing to give your CV an additional perusal.  After all, with something as important as a job or career on the line, it never hurts to go the extra mile.

The Final Word on Resume Writing

While it may seem like an intimidating endeavor, a quality resume is a critical component to both your immediate and long term career success.  Keep in mind that once you create an ideal resume, it will always be available at hand for your next big career move, with a little updating of course.  Various online templates or those available in your word processing software, make figuring out just where to start a breeze.  That, in combination with our excellent advice above, will see you being the belle of the job application ball and get you a vital leg up in scoring the job of your dreams.

This Post was Updated on July 19, 2017