Writing a Job-Winning Resume
Writing a job-winning resume could be your key to a new career. Here’s what you should be doing with your resume to land your next job.
As an editor, I’ve helped hundreds of people whip their resumes into shape and get on their way to new careers. I’ve also seen many of them walk out of college (or a 20-year position) with what they consider “just a resume,” unsure of what to do with it. Here’s what you should be doing with your resume.
Keep it simple.
I’ve seen full-color family photos on the front page, frilly borders, several resumes written in Comic Sans, and 40-page diatribes on hobbies and waitressing from someone applying for a job as a delivery driver. Keep it simple. Employers like short sentences, readable fonts, clear headings, and perfect formatting. Employers don’t like frills, flowers, long-winded paragraphs, screwy formatting, and anything that takes up too much of their time. Remember that your resume is one of hundreds. TheLadders.com reported that an employer glances at a resume for 6.25 seconds before deciding into which pile it goes. Make your resume count.
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Keep it updated.
Update your resume or hire a professional to help you. Sending a dated resume to an employer shows that you couldn’t be bothered to take another look since the mid-90s, and that won’t put much confidence in your abilities as an employee. Update your contact details regularly, include any new courses you might’ve taken, hobbies you might’ve picked up, or jobs you might’ve held. If a prior job holds no relevance to the job you’re applying for, you can omit it or condense it at the very least.
Sell yourself right.
The pen is mighty, and it’s all in the words. You want to get the fact across that you’re the right person for the job. When you’re describing yourself in your cover letter and describing the positions you held, you want your strengths to come across. Read through it or read it to someone else. Would you hire you?
Did you really, now?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a resume and thought either, “What the hell does that mean?” or “Oh, really now?” Don’t lie. Slightly altering the truth even if not blatantly dishonest will backfire in most cases. If you were a cashier at Walmart, don’t say that you were a “cash register consultant.” It doesn’t work, and you destroy your chances right there.
Never use a paragraph to say what you could in one sentence. Be brief and take a look at your resume at a glance. Especially with job descriptions, people are long-winded. Ten pages can, surprisingly, be turned into three or four with a little work.
Numbered and lettered?
Include page numbers (center bottom) and make sure the very top of the front page has your name and contact information. After that, personal information first, educational history second, then career history, and lastly references. If you have to include a border, neat and thin lines are perfectly fine. Acceptable fonts are easy-to-read. Use Calibri (pt. 11), for example. Main headers (i.e. Career History) can be slightly larger and in bold.
Upload it online.
Upload your (updated!) resume to various job sites online. Be accessible. Of course, keep in mind that if you’re uploading something online, there are some types of personal information you want to omit like your home address. Some careers, like writers and freelancers, might want to upload their resume directly onto their own website as a .pdf downloadable to showcase their skills and portfolio.
Add something new.
Especially if you’ve been out of the job market for a long time, taking some relevant refresher courses in your field and adding them to your resume could give your resume some added weight and relevance. Another thing employers don’t like is gaps that lie unexplained. If you were sick and unable to work, for example, mention it rather than leaving things open-ended.
Related: The Best Adult Education Resources
I always tell people to add a reason for leaving a job at the bottom of the description, especially where the employment was brief (or unemployment was sudden). Employers might want to know why you jumped from company A to company B.
Make your resume available in a variety of formats (doc, docx and pdf). When you’re sending it electronically or uploading it somewhere, go for pdf. It’s neat and generally read-only.
A resume is never “just a resume.” Instead, it’s a key that’s ground and polished over time until it fits to unlock the path to a new job. Is yours saying what it should about you?
Reviewed December 2021