resumewritingtipsAs New Year’s resolutions and the accompanying inspiration begin to fade, now is a great time to refocus on your goals and update your resume to make sure it’s ready to send off at a moment’s notice. Whether you’ve resolved to advance your career in 2015, are applying to a master’s or doctorate program, or plan to submit scholarship applications, you’ll need a resume that professionally and effectively displays your qualifications and accomplishments.

As a hiring manager in a former life, I’ve seen my fair share of resumes—both good and bad. I have compiled some general guidelines to help you create a polished, professional, and well-formatted resume and while I know there are exceptions to some of these suggestions, they hold true for most situations. Some may seem pretty basic but at the very least I hope they serve as a helpful reminder of small things you can do to make a big impact and land an interview.

We’ll break this up into multiple posts based on difficulty level and start with the basics:

  1. Use an easy-to-read font
    Make it as easy as possible on the person reviewing your resume to focus on content. Serif fonts, those with lines at the end of the letters, are easier to read or skim than those of the sans serif variety. (Think Comic Sans. Also, please do me a favor and never use Comic Sans for any professional communication ever.) It’s also best to keep your font at 10 or 12–anything smaller is too hard to read and anything larger takes away from the document’s professionalism.
  2. Use a professional e-mail address
    And never use your current work e-mail when job searching. This one sounds extremely basic (because it is), but trust me, it happens. Identifying numbers such as birthdays or birth years (janedoe1982), your musical preferences (ACDClover), and relationship status (jessesgirl) should also be avoided. Your safest bet is your first name or initial and last name in some format.
  3. Remove “references available upon request” (or actual references)
    Anyone reviewing a resume will know that they can ask you for that information if they want it. Every line on a resume is valuable to display what a great fit you are for the position and company so using space for this isn’t the best idea. Plus, it’s best to let references know to expect a call from someone so they can be prepared to answer questions about you. This gives you the opportunity to touch base with them rather than them getting the request from a company out of the blue.
  4. Edit. Everything.
    As many times as possible and with help from as many people as you can find. Sometimes reading and rereading what you’ve written can cause you to glaze over mistakes so another set of eyes is always helpful. My favorite way to find typos is to paste the text into Google Translate. The site will read it back to you so you can hear any errors you may have missed while reading.

    Aside from spelling and grammatical errors, having multiple people proof your resume allows them to provide feedback on things that make perfect sense to you but aren’t as clear to someone outside your industry. You never know whether the person reading your resume has a background in the technical aspects of the job or if they are a human resource professional screening out unqualified candidates. You don’t want a miscommunication to cost you the opportunity for an interview.

  1. Save it properly
    Save your resume as a PDF to preserve your carefully crafted formatting and ensure it looks professional. It’s best to save the file as LastName_FirstName_Resume to make it easy on the reader. It can be frustrating to get hundreds of files simply labeled “resume” or “updated_resume.”
  2. One page v. two
    The ideal length of a resume has been a hotly debated issue for years—you know, for people that are into debating that kind of thing—and there’s no clear cut rule either way. My thoughts on the matter are if you have the relevant experience to fill two pages, go for it. If, however, you put everything you want to say on your resume and it comes to a page and a half, reword it and cut down the information to fit on one page. No one wants to read through a bunch of fluff and it can make you seem self-important to have a little bit of experience take up a lot of space. Which leads me to my next point…
  3. Limit the number of bullets per job
    There’s a lot to be said about being concise and if you have too much information there’s a good chance the reader won’t get to the good stuff. Even if you did a billion things, it’s possible to convey that by combining important duties into a few bullets. Quantifying your contribution to the company or a specific project (which we’ll cover in a future post) helps tremendously with this.
  4. When listing software, certifications, or industry-specific skills, write out what acronyms stand for
    This helps hiring managers who aren’t as familiar with these terms and makes your more searchable in databases. If someone searches for the full phrase and you only have the acronym listed or vice versa, you may not pull up in the search and have just missed out on an opportunity to wow someone.
  5. Remove orphan words
    Orphan words are the ones that don’t quite fit and take up an entire line with a tiny word. As I mentioned earlier, every line is important so if you can add one more bullet by rewording and avoiding an orphan you’ll get more bang for your resume buck.
  6. Nix the objective
    “A go-getter looking to obtain a position with your well-established organization that will utilize my education, organizational skills, and work experience for a mutually beneficial working relationship.” While an objective may change a little, most of them are so generic and don’t add any true value.

    A much better idea is a summary of qualifications in which you outline several of your relevant skills. (Hint: Go through the job description and pull out a few key words for skills you possess.) Since this is at the top of the page, it will catch the reader’s attention and make them more likely to read through the rest of your qualifications.

    I’m also a strong believer in submitting a well-crafted cover letter every single time you submit your resume somewhere…but that’s a whole different topic. With one or both of those things in place of an objective, you’ll get your qualifications across in a much better way.

Keep an eye out for more in-depth tips and ideas in the next couple of weeks on the blog!

What suggestions do you have for polished resumes? What do you struggle with and want more advice on when it comes to submitting job or scholarship applications?