Resumes are the worst.
Okay, we’ve gotten that out of the way. Great.
Resumes are necessary, a way for a potential employer to see what you’ve done and make sure you’re employable. Right?
Close, but not exactly.
Resumes are for an employer to quickly see if you have the skills for the job they’re hiring for.
Many employers (and of course, it differs by industry and area of the country/world) won’t care about where you went to school and that you worked for a major tech company, but they will care that you got a degree in computer science and are fluent in multiple coding languages. Employers are inundated with applications from total strangers, and so your cover letter (which we’ll get to!) and resume are the five minutes of their attention span you have to make your case as the right fit for the job.
So what does that mean for your resume?
1. Have multiple versions
Reformatting your resume to match the job or industry is crucial. Someone hiring for a copywriter and someone hiring for a book editor will be looking for different (if similar!) things in their potential employee, so highlighting different skills in your past work will be important.
It’s considered passé by some to name your resume files based on the job or industry you’re applying to (for example, Scanlan_copyediting_resume.pdf or Scanlan_PRH_resume.pdf), so instead, organize your reformatted resumes in separate files on your computer, and name them all along the lines of Scanlan_resume_2018.pdf.
2. Keep it on one page
There are three people under 35 I have known who have needed multi-page resumes, and the jobs they were applying to were technical and/or sensitive (think security clearances) in ways that required it. If you are applying to a job that will require a two-page resume, you’ll know.
For the rest of us, one page is plenty. Again, sometimes a hiring manager is only giving a quick glance to each resume before they decide who they interview, and they may have a huge stack of resumes and a short amount of time. In this case, a multi-page resume shows the manager that you don’t know how to highlight and prioritize your own experience, and so may not be good at figuring out and prioritizing what’s important in the role they’re hiring for. One page is perfect.
And this doesn’t mean messing with font size!
3. Only include the important jobs
In the beginning, this won’t be an issue—instead, you might be facing the opposite issue, of not having enough content. If that’s the case, include whatever you have, including coursework, volunteer experiences, and even projects you’ve worked on yourself (have you blogged? That can count! Just make whatever you include on your resume is something you’re okay with a potential employer looking into.)
As you continue in your career, not all of your jobs will fit on that one page. That’s fine! Your future employer is not necessarily going to care about the summer job you had at the golf course or Bed, Bath, and Beyond…unless you’re going into course management or looking for a job in retail. Include only the jobs relevant to the position, which can include jobs you’ve held in the same industry, or in which you’ve had a similar role. You can explain what you were doing in the other times in your interview, if asked.
If you’re switching industries or careers, you can get creative. Retail can, after all, teach you a lot about customer service and expectation management, which could translate into being a good counselor. Writing letters for Amnesty International could have taught you how to edit. Find the skills that are transferrable, and include the jobs at which you learned those skills.
4. Highlight your relevant skills
If you’re including a job, it’s because it’s relevant, so tell them why. Your tech internship taught you how to code. Your campus job cold-calling alumni taught you how to talk with people who are uninterested in giving you money—perfect for that sales job. There’s no point in listing everything every single job taught you—most employers will assume you’re competent enough at the soft skills every listing asks for: Timely, self-motivated, team player. Each bullet point needs to show your employer that you have the hard or specific skills needed to succeed in the role they’re hiring to fill.
5. Format it well
Resume templates can be found for free with a quick Google search. Unless you’re a designer or artist who will benefit by making their own, use a free template. There are plenty, so pick one that matches the feel of the industry and who you are as a person. If you’re going into something super formal (like banking, for example), you’ll want something very structured and traditional. If you’re going for something a little more creative, you might want to choose one with a pop of color (if you’re willing to pay for color printing, that is!) or a unique design. But whichever you do, make sure it is formatted with intention, and looks good.
I have actually declined a potential candidate for an interview for a proofreading/detail-oriented position because her resume was so riddled with typos and formatting errors. Your resume represents you at your best—it’s a document for which you have all the time in the world to create, so any errors are a reflection on you. If you’re not good at proofreading, ask a friend—it’s better to get edits from a trusted source than to lose a potential job from an employer.
Oh, boy. There are so many other things people are doing with resumes these days, I can’t keep track. For a while, a “mission statement” or a summary at the top of your resume was popular, then it dropped off. References were once standard at the bottom, now they’ve gone by the wayside (and so has “References available upon request.”).
For these things, I’d do a quick Google search for resume trends over the last year, and follow those. Or ignore them, if that seems like too much work. Realistically, none of these extras are going to make or break your resume, unless they make it harder to read or understand. If a summary takes up room you could use to list a critical skill or role, skip it. If you are starting out and want to show potential employers where your interests are, go ahead and include it. As long as your resume has the critical information we’ve already covered, whichever extras you do or do not include don’t really matter.
Finally, and most critically…
8. Always save your resumes as PDFs!
This makes everyone’s lives easier. Yours, because the formatting will stay the same no matter how the receiving person opens it (just make sure there aren’t any errors when your PDF gets created!), and your potential employer’s, because PDFs are easier to forward/print/shred after.
Above all, your resume reflects you, so make sure you’re happy with the final product before sending it off. And it’s good practice to update it every 3-6 months—maybe make a habit of updating it when you update LinkedIn. That way, if a new role comes along that you’re perfect for, you won’t have to waste precious time scrambling to remember all your jobs and skills!