Today's professional world is more competitive than ever — and that means your resume, dear job seeker, has to stand out. Having worked with dozens of New York City-area employers over the past five years, across industries and professional levels, this is what I’ve seen works best from employers’ perspectives...
If you’ve got a general theme or thread running through your experiences, such as customer service, then one resume is fine. But if you’re actively looking for jobs in totally different fields, make one resume per field. Don’t leave off the jobs you worked in other fields, but tailor your work history as much as possible to the active field for that resume, and give more space to the most relevant stuff.
I’ve met few exceptions in my over five years in workforce development and coaching. And those were truly exceptional individuals. They’d be been published, had a ton of work experience, lots of degrees and certifications, and they were given a resume format of two pages: a front and a back. Stick to a one-page resume, however, if you’re new to the workforce or if you don’t possess a ton of unique accomplishments and qualifications.
Stick to the tried-and-true basics, like Times New Roman or Arial. My personal favorite right now is Cambria, which feels like a more thrilling take on Times New Roman.
Cut out the fluff and get straight to your skills — buddy up with a bullet point format. Bullet points break things down in an easy-on-the-eyes way so the reader retains more information.
Take advantage of the margins on your resume to spread your text out as much as possible. Use that negative space, baby! The smaller the margins, the more you can fit onto one page.
Ditch the fancy resume paper and stick to what we know: plain old printer paper. You know what they say — if it's not broken, don't try to fix it. It’s just not something employers care about.
Anything more than that should only be included if it truly adds something unique and amazing. You also want to be careful about dating yourself, but some moms returning to the workforce may want to highlight past accomplishments that are still relevant. Just make sure your last accomplishment wasn’t a very, very long time ago — it’ll raise some questions. Make sure use past tense in your resume for prior jobs, and present tense for your current position.
Keep the essentials (contact info, experience, education, skills). Change up what your sections are named and the order of them if you need to. Whatever serves you best!
Use the top of your resume wisely. This is the place to have all of the skills you can bring to the prospective employer. Use keywords to make a compelling case for your fit!
If you have to zigzag back and forth between different sections to explain what you’ve been doing, you may want to consider reformatting. Your resume should be clean, it should flow well, and it should be easy to follow.
This is key to getting noticed by Applicant Tracking Systems and getting that job interview, especially if you’re trying to make any kind of shift. Focus on overarching themes as well as specific hard and soft skill sets — whatever seems most desired by your target employer.
Sprinkle them in wherever you can — summary, work descriptions, skill section, etc.! Hint: The best place to learn the keywords your prospective employer is looking for is in your job description.
One of the best things you can do that makes for a great resume is adding numbers. This helps the employer visualize the scope of your work. How many employees did you supervise? How much money did you save the company? How many new clients did you bring on-board, or what’s your customer satisfaction rating? Numbers work wonders!
In addition to quantifying, make sure you highlight achievements, either in a “Selected Achievements” section (popular for higher-level tech, finance, and management roles), or within employment experience descriptions. Don’t just list your duties at each job; describe what you brought to the role that others who have worked there didn’t. A track record of achievement is one of the biggest indicators of future employee success!
Ditch the excess lines and irrelevant symbols (unless you have a legit company with a logo). Make sure different sections are aligned, visually pleasing, there’s not too much or too little space/text, and that you either choose to put periods at the end of each line, or you don’t.
These errors are the worst because they’re so easy to catch — and they show the potential employer that you’re careless. Also, be sure your voice doesn’t sound too passive — action verbs are your friend here!
The feedback I’ve gotten from many recruiters is that they feel as though a functional resume is trying to hide something. While I personally love how much the format saves space, you’ll want to do your best to showcase things in reverse chronological order, so the employer can easily count backwards 10 years or so from your current job and see what you’ve been up to and how you’ve grown.
Your bullet points should pack a punch; use a variety of verbs to highlight to your accomplishments. Action verbs make everything sound that much more powerful, after all.
You don’t want to get too wrapped up in jargon, but making things sound a little more professional goes a long way. Again, research can help you make your wording more official-sounding.
Your gaps can’t hide here. Sorry. Own it and practice talking about your work history and why your past positions have ended. It’ll help you develop your skills for in the long-run, anyway.
You should have already let your networks know you’re job searching (at least the people you trust!), so check in with them as well as with LinkedIn to see if you know anyone who’s in with, or close to, the company who could take a look at your resume and/or pass it on.
Ask people to take a look at your resume. It can't hurt! Hint: HR professionals, hiring managers, career coaches, and writers are great people to ask to proofread!
Now’s the time to call on the thesaurus, do market research, and flex your creative writing skills! A smartly written resume can go a long way, especially for a creative or administrative role.
Your personal social media that includes party and vacation pics has no place being linked on your resume. If your social media, blogs, or websites are related to your field, give them a thorough check and delete or hide anything that’s inappropriate before beginning your job search.
Don’t even bother putting your LinkedIn profile on your resume unless it has a professional photo uploaded, is up-to-date (including with your most recent job title), and matches your resume!
Always use a professional email (i.e. not some cringe-worthy one you used when you were in middle school.) Some combination of your name or terms related to your work is fine. Anything else is really not.
Places like unions, colleges, and hospitals still mail correspondence occasionally, so if you’re applying to those types of places, make sure you put your full address, and not just your borough.
Ditch the ringback tones, joke voicemail greetings, and other shenanigans, and make sure your voicemail box is set up and not full! How can recruiters get in touch with job interviews otherwise?
It should be targeted to the field and position you’re applying for, and effectively answer the question “Tell Me About Yourself” for the job you’ll use it to apply to.
Today’s resume should summarize what you can bring to the potential employer, not what you want from them. Leave your objective for the cover letter and interview.
Research shows that soft skills are especially important in today's workforce. In fact, many argue that they're just as important, if not more important, than technical hard skills that can be taught. Get creative and illustrate with examples.
And if you’ve got too many skills to make it brief, add another section. It can be named Areas of Expertise, Core Competencies, Key Skills, Key Strengths, etc.
Have a strong opener/profile statement quantifying your experience so a recruiter can see off the bat who you are and what you’ll bring. And this needs to match up to what they’re looking for.
This space is NOT for “duties!” It’s to highlight achievements, show off your skills, use numbers, and show that your actions led to results! You want your descriptions to be powerful.
You really should fill the gaps. (And if you really can’t fill them because what you were doing was SO irrelevant to your field, then explain it in your cover letter!)
It’s a waste of space and looks like you didn’t proof. If you did the exact same thing at several jobs, try leaving some of it out in older jobs, and/or consider a semi-functional format where you group a few companies together and write the job title/description once.
Functional titles are not what the company called you, but they capture the essence of what you did in a way that’s recognizable to people outside of the organization. This is essential for those transitioning from the military or other organizations with hyper-specific, uncommon titles.
Include if you began taking coursework at a college, and at what level. Unless you took many courses at many schools, then maybe pick and choose the few places you completed the most relevant coursework. If you’re not currently enrolled, put the dates if it was recent; if you’re currently enrolled, you can say when the degree is expected.
High school information becomes irrelevant once you have more recent, higher-up education under your belt. So you can scrap it if you've gone on to pursue your education beyond high school.
College information can be great if it's especially relevant and wasn't that long ago. But no one really cares what you did in college if it wasn't all that significant or more than a handful of years ago.
If you've just graduated college and had a GPA for 3.5 or higher, it's normal to want to show that off — and you should! But if it's any less than that, you can keep it to yourself. Likewise, if you didn't graduate very recently, people care less about your GPA and more about what you went on to do with that college degree.
If you have a foreign degree, it's important to share if it's been evaluated on American soil. Otherwise, it may not mean a lot to many prospective employers.
If you graduated more than a decade ago, you really don't need to include specific dates. Employers will care more about your experience and the education you got than they do about the specifics of your education from years ago.
Is it adding something specific and unique to your resume, or are you just trying to show off your heart of gold? Only the former is a reason to dedicate much-needed space on the resume.
I love poetry. But from a recruiter’s standpoint, who cares? But what if, due to my love of poetry, I created, manage, and host a reading series where people can come together to discuss community concerns, network, and be heard? Now a ton of skills are coming out, coordination and facilitation and community-building, and now this interest is worthy of putting on my resume.
Some people forget to put their foreign languages or licenses because it’s so basic to them, but it could be very attractive to an employer. If you speak another language or have a technical skill, don't be shy!
Use columns on your resume, and we promise you that you’ll save a ton of space. Columns always break up big chunks of text so that the resume is easier on the eyes and more pleasant to read.
This is outdated and takes up precious space on your resume. If an employer wants your references, they’ll ask. You can also always let them know in the body of your email instead.
Above all else, you should feel comfortable with your resume, the way it looks, the skills it showcases, and the story it conveys. Make sure you understand the wording and can explain your experience to others, and that’s what truly counts. Add a smile, and you’re good to go!
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