When I meet with students who need help crafting a resume, they often express frustration, bewilderment, and fear. Not knowing where to begin, they start with Googling “resume” and are bombarded with too many templates and conflicting or outdated advice.

The good news is that there really are just a few basic rules to follow that will ensure your resume does its job, which is to give hiring managers a sense of who you are and if you are the right fit for their open positions.

1. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” resume.

The format of your resume should be appropriate for your field. If you work in web design, you’d better include links to websites you’ve designed. If you’re a graphic designer, it’s critical that you reflect your creativity and artistic ability on your resume. Some companies will expect to see a link to your LinkedIn profile on your resume; others won’t use social media at all. A resume for a job in sales is going to look different from one for a job in nursing.

Your job is to speak the language of your industry in your resume, so do your homework. Find out what you can about your industry and/or the specific company you want to work for. Check online, look at their websites and social media pages, and use their language on your resume. Remember to ask friends, relatives, teachers, mentors, and co-workers who are in this field already. Use your network!

2. Your resume should be free of spelling and grammar errors and should be easy to read.

There are ways to reflect your creativity and personality on a resume, but a fancy, colorful font isn’t one of them. For the majority of your content, you’ll want to stick to Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri font, 12 point, black, and don’t get too crazy with the bold and italics.

Just like fancy fonts and colors, errors on your resume distract the reader from your content. Have someone proofread your resume for grammar and spelling errors, especially checking for things like there/their/they’re, your/you’re, and to/too/two.

Take a moment to think about how a hiring manager will read your resume. He or she will probably have a stack of resumes to go through and will start by scanning the headings of each one first. Keep this in mind when you’re organizing the content of your resume into sections like contact information, summary, work experience, education, awards, and references. Title each section with a bolded header, and make sure there is white space between each section so it’s easy to see all of your content at a glance.

The old “one page” rule for resumes is outdated; it depends completely on how much experience you have. I’ve talked with students who have eliminated great content from their resumes, like volunteer work, just because it wouldn’t fit on one page. Never do this! Always include any experience relevant to the job for which you want to apply, even if it makes your resume longer than one page.

3. Your resume should tell the story of your professional journey.

If you follow all of the advice I’ve given so far in this article, you still won’t have crafted an effective resume – not yet. We still need to talk about the most important thing: YOU. Hiring managers have to be able to see YOU in your resume, not just your font, vocabulary, and content. So how do you make sure to show the hiring manager the most important piece of information on your resume?

It’s easier than it sounds. The first thing to remember is that people understand other people best in the context of a story. Your resume is the story of you at work. Let me give you an example.

In a survey taken on Career Builder earlier this year, hiring managers were asked: what are the best and worst resume terms? The worst included terms like team-player, results-driven, hard worker, and detail-oriented. The best were things like: achieved, improved, launched, created, and negotiated. Notice the difference between these terms? In the first list, we’re using adjectives – telling the reader what we are. In the second list, we’re using verbs – action words that show what we did.

You want hiring managers to understand who you are by telling them stories of the awesome things you’ve done, rather than giving them a bulleted list of the skills you hope they want.

Here’s one example of a description of a job in HR:

  • Personnel file upkeep
  • New employee onboarding
  • Monitored time and leave system including Family Medical Leave and worker’s compensation
  • Payroll data entry and troubleshooting
  • Utilized time management skills, communication skills, and was detail-oriented
  • Partnered with Training Coordinator, to design, develop and facilitate customer service trainings
  • Hired and trained HR interns

Now here’s another, describing the same job:

From 2010-20012, I served as the main point of contact for the Human Resources department at ABC Industries. My responsibilities included things like keeping our personnel files organized and up-to-date, onboarding our new employees, and monitoring our time and leave system – a great introduction to the world of HR. I also ran payroll, and solved any payroll issues that cropped up. Another part of my job was to hire and mentor the HR interns in our department. This was a great opportunity to expand my supervisory experience.

My favorite part of this job was when I got to express my creativity and passion for excellent customer service by working with our Training Coordinator. I helped create and teach customer service trainings for the employees at ABC, and the classes I helped develop are still being taught there.

I don’t know about you, but in the first description, I started falling asleep by the third bullet point. In the second description, I not only stayed awake, but I got a very clear understanding of this person’s role at their job, their strengths, and their experience.

What about you? If you got both of these resumes, who would you rather hire?

How will you tell the story of your professional journey? Give me an example of your summary in the comments below!


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