As a professional resume writer, I am frequently asked about what works, and what doesn’t, on resumes; in other words, what do hiring managers and recruiters look for when it comes to a resume.
In parts I and II of this article, I will list a series of Do's and Don’ts. Section I will deal with the technical aspects of writing, such as grammar, typos, and other issues to identify and avoid. Section II will cover Content, and deal with the types of information that should or shouldn’t be used on a resume.
1. Spelling errors, grammatical errors, and typos.
Nothing says ‘unprofessional’ more than silly, easily-avoidable mistakes. Most can be eliminated by using MS Word’s Spell and Grammar Check function.
2. Paragraphs vs. bullets.
A resume has less than 1 minute to get its information across to the reader. Paragraphs slow down the reading process. Today’s resumes use bullet points to make reading easier, and get information across faster. Different rules apply for certain international, academic, and scientific research resumes and curriculum vitaes, but for the traditional resume, bullets work best. And be sure to use basic bullets, not arrows or unusual-looking symbols.
3. The objective.
Here’s another out of date idea. To put it bluntly, the objective says one thing to the hiring manager or recruiter: This resume was prepared by an amateur.
It is much more effective to begin a resume with a one-sentence summary, often referred to as a headline, and proceed to either a Summary of Qualifications or Profile section. Hiring managers and recruiters don’t care what the job seeker they care about what that person can offer their company. Give it to them. And stick to the important information. The fact that you’re energetic, interested in advancement, or good with people isn’t right for this section.
4. Font type and size.
Many amateurs believe using fancy fonts will make the resume stand out, be more interesting, or reflect the personality of the client. What usually happens is the reader looks at it, says ‘I can’t read this,’ and then tosses it in the “circular file.” Worse, the resume ends up in the hands of someone who needs to scan it or fax it, and at the other end it turns into a mish-mash of garbled text. End result? If it can’t be read, you won’t be called for an interview.
There are two or three fonts to use with the standard resume: Times New Roman is Number One. The other two? Garamond or Bookman, but only for headings, if you want to style things up a little. Numerous studies have shown that Times New Roman is the easiest font to read when people need to look at lots of material at one sitting.
Hand in hand with font type is font size. Here, there is some room to work with. Headings can be a little larger than the body font. I use 11 or 12-point. Body fonts should never be larger than 11-point, and never smaller than 10-point. You want the resume to be readable, scannable, and faxable.
(Note: Arial 11 point should be used for resumes where the ad requests a scannable-only document.)
Thankfully the trend towards stylish and colorful graphics is finally dying out. Graphics on a resume should be simple, and serve only to enhance, not entertain or impress. The contact information should be separated from the resume by a line or two; I find that underlining the section headings, or separating the sections by one simple line, also works well.
Vertical lines should never be used on a resume; they’re okay for promotional materials and business letterhead, but that’s it. And embedded items, such as copyrighted symbols, certification marks, company logos, etc., should never be used. The same goes for hyperlinks. They can cause problems when the resume is sent electronically, and they just look amateurish when read on paper.
And a word about section lines—don't use the embed or line drawing functions. Only use the Format-Borders and Shading tool to create lines. That way, they don’t move when the resume needs to be edited.
6. Bullet point style.
The rule here is keep it simple and neat. There are two reasons for this: One, fancy bullets, like smiley faces, curlicues, and Microsoft insignias often can’t be read by other peoples’ computers. It’s a poorly-known fact that not everyone’s version of Word, even if it’s the same version number, has the same fonts and bullets loaded in it. That means what you type as a diamond with a 0.5” indent might end up on the recipient’s computer as a question mark with a 1” indent, throwing the entire resume off. A hiring manager sees that, and it’s into the trash with the resume.
I always go with the traditional black circle. The indent can change depending on the format I’m using, but I keep it standard throughout the resume—no subheadings or second sets of indented bullets under a bullet point.
The only deviation I’ll occasionally make is for entry level or entertainment industry clients, where I might use fancy right-arrow bullets in the Summary section.
7. Table format.
The rule here is never, ever use a table format for the resume, or insert one into the resume. Tables waste valuable space, and they also can create problems if someone tries to store your resume into their database.
8. Headers and Footers.
Another resume no-no. Why? For two reasons: One, there’s no need to have the contact information on every page. Two, if the recipient stores the resume in a database in a different format than MS Word, there’s a 75% chance the headers and footers won’t be saved. That means the reader ends up with a resume where there’s no way to tell who it belongs to, or how to get in touch with that client.
This can really hurt the chances of getting an interview!
9. Missing contact information.
Too often I see resumes come across my desk where the person’s contact information is missing, either due to error or intention. Many clients feel that by putting their address and phone number on a resume, they’re opening themselves up to potential privacy problems. While the actual odds of that are very, very small, the odds of never hearing from the companies you’ve sent your resume to are very, very great.
And along those same lines, an e-mail address should always be included. Not only does it give the recipient a quick and easy way to request more information or confirm receipt, it is an indication that the prospective employee is computer literate.
10. Missing employer information.
Each job heading should include the following: Employer Name, City/State where the job was held, and Years Worked. Here again, people often don’t want to put a company name down because of privacy issues. The only thing accomplished by omitting the employer’s name is raising a red flag in the reader’s mind that there’s a reason for hiding the information, such as "this person was fired for theft," or "this person didn’t really work there."
You never want to raise red flags, so put in all the information.
11. Missing job title.
Always use the actual title you had at the job. Remember, the company might be called to verify your employment. When that’s done, the job title is often verified. Changing the title to "better describe" what you did, or make yourself sound more important, could lead to you’re not being called for an interview.
Follow these simple tips, and your odds of getting interviews will improve greatly. Of course, there’s still no substitute for having your resume prepared by a professional, but you’ll be better off than you were before.