How confused are you right now? How many resume samples have you reviewed? How many different opinions can there possibly be regarding this ridiculous piece of paper required to facilitate an over-in-a-blink-of-an-eye moment? Unfortunately, the answer to the last question is too many.
Before we get you un-confused, let’s have a little fun at my expense. Believe it or not, I was once a 22-year-old. I was a graduate at that time and had burning palms thanks to the shiny, hot new Electrical Engineering degree I was holding from Iowa State University. The motion of throwing my hat and tassel in the air seemed to make that degree disintegrate as quickly as my memory of Ohm’s Law.
I assembled an obnoxiously thick stack of beautiful one-page, yellow-papered resumes because someone “advised” me to do something to make my resume stand out among the employer’s pile of white ones. I think I took that advice a bit too literally and, mind you, this was decades before Elle Woods made famous her pink, scented resume. #trendsetter
I don’t want to be melodramatic about your current blink-of-an-eye moment that might last months for some, but a strong resume coupled with an effective job search will help put you on a better path to finding your first professional job.
Since resume writing is as exciting as a trip to the dentist, let’s have a little fun with some dos, don’ts, whys, and why nots. I’ll do my best to be entertaining. You do your best to stay awake. Deal?
THE MUST DOs…
Make it one page. Don’t argue. You’re twenty-two years old. How much could you have possibly accomplished? I’m forty-eight years old. Mine’s two pages, but I could trim it to one if I wasn’t so lazy.
At the top…
Name. Call me “captain obvious,” but my review of over one half million resumes (not a typo) shows me this is something worth explaining. Under no circumstances should you include your middle name (or parenthetically cite your nickname). Unless you’re a serial killer or presidential assassin (think John Wayne Gacy, Lee Harvey Oswald), use your first and last names only. Famous people use two names. Really famous people use only one name or a nickname (think Oprah, Sting, Madonna). Employers are reviewing many resumes along with yours. They have trouble remembering your first name let alone your last name. Throwing in your middle initial or middle name is piling on and downright cruel. I can’t believe I felt compelled to use one hundred fourteen words to explain how to use your name. I’ll be more brief with the rest.
Home Address. Use your permanent address in the location you plan to reside. Don’t use your school address unless it’s the only address you have. Use mom and dad’s or uncle Jim’s or whoever is living where you plan to locate.
Phone Number. Use your cell number. There is no need to indicate it’s your cell number. Employers will be annoyed if it’s not. Whatever you do, don’t use your home number or your mom and dad’s home number. While I’m at it, take off whatever ridiculous voicemail greeting you have. If an employer bothers to call you, you want the nice person who took the time to dial you to feel like he or she made a smart choice in calling you for a job interview.
Email Address. Use a nice, clean, and representative email address that won’t send everything to spam. Stay away from addresses such as,firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com. Stick with firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com.
I’m sure you’re wondering where this information should be located on the top of the page. Generally, people read from left to right, but resume reading is a bit different. Resumes are scanned. (Sorry to hurt your feelings. No one cares about every accomplishment you’ve had in your life.) When I review a resume, I start in the middle at the top of the page and look for the name. If you make me scan both sides to find the information I’m seeking, I get irritated. (You can judge me on my tolerance level for name placement once you’ve reviewed as many resumes as I have. In fact, if you ever want to punish yourself, it’s a great self-torture technique.) Place your name in the center and then your address, phone number, and email address below it in that order. I made a pretty picture at the bottom because as the saying goes, no one reads words anymore.
I’m sure you’re thinking education! No. And, I hope, for heaven’s sake, you’re not thinking Objective Statement. (For more information on this, see the section below titled I Want to Scratch My Eyes Out.)
Give me a little appetizer so I can get a complete thought (a la an Executive Summary) in my head of what I’m about to absorb. Your resume is a marketing document. Effective marketing leverages frequent touch points via multiple channels to the buyer. You only have one channel and very little to market, but let’s turn an inch into a foot.
Profile. Consider this brief section the Cliff Notes version (or is it Spark Notes?) of you. By summarizing your stardom in a few lines you can anchor their memory and get them excited regarding what they’re about to read. Make sure to do it in a manner that only gives them a peek and entices them to read the rest. This will also help with employers that ludicrously eliminate new professionals based on the school they attended. You should make reference to (not necessarily specifically list out) key areas such as your studies, internships, summer jobs, volunteer work, committees, and so forth. The most important item is to roll this together and (do your very best to) slant it toward the type of job you want. I know this concept might be a little difficult to grasp, so here’s an example for a recent graduate who wants to pursue a job in sales:
“Indiana University graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing and Psychology minor. Held various summer jobs and internships focusing on sales support activities. Served on several university and fraternal committees. Built additional sales-related capabilities via school fundraising activities and other volunteering efforts.”
Education. List your degree, school, city and state of the school, and year you attained the degree (or year you anticipate attaining the degree). Also include any honors, additional training, certifications, study abroad programs, or other relevant “educational” experience. This is THE one and only time your Educational information should appear this high in your resume. After your first professional job, drop it to the bottom portion. And, yes, that includes the graduates from Harvard and Yale.
Work Experience. As you become a more seasoned professional, the Work Experience section will be the lengthiest section of your resume. As a student or young professional transitioning to the workforce full-time, your Work Experience section will likely be equivalent—in substance—to the other parts of your resume. I suggest identifying the company you worked for, its city and state, and the year(s) or season (e.g., Winter, Summer) you worked there. As a precursor to sharing the accomplishments you achieved or responsibilities you maintained, I also recommend including a brief sentence summarizing the company to ensure the employer understands. Don’t assume all employees are familiar with all companies.
Other. At the bottom, make sure to create a section(s) that highlights other noteworthy information. The list here is endless and I won’t try to be inclusive, but you can include items such as volunteering, community service, and other collegiate activities. You might also have other unique experiences such as being a multilinguist. Most importantly, this is an area to list whatever you think sets you apart. Don’t take it lightly.
THE ABSOLUTELY DO NOTs…
Objective Statement. I wish I could find whoever started this idea and give them one good flogging. Your resume communicates what you offer, not what you want. Never. Never. Never.
References Available on Request. Duh. You just wasted four inches of resume-real estate on something everyone knows and almost no one checks.
Objective Statement. In case you were sleeping three seconds ago and just woke up.
Personal Information. I’m 5’6’’ and 140 pounds. I have two dogs. Their names are Harley and Ginger. My fiancee’s name is Lynda. She’s a schoolteacher. If she reads this she’s going to be mad that I named the dogs first. I run marathons and am a scratch golfer. Did you care about any of that?
Font. I don’t care what font you use. Just don’t make it something funky unless, of course, you’re interviewing for a creative design position. I would, however, change it from Times New Roman just to show the employer you’re not so lazy you can’t even take the time to switch Word’s extremely boring font.
Picture. If you have one on your resume, I’ll use it as a dartboard. I don’t care if you look like Brad Pitt. Actually, I’ll especially throw darts at it if you look like Brad Pitt.
Confidential. As in the word confidential. Are you kidding me?
Available for relocation or travel. The job descriptions or job applications will request this. Leave it off the resume.
There are a few items I’m indifferent about.
LinkedIn Profile URL. If I don’t have mine on my resume, would you be able to find me? Enough said.
Twitter Handle. If I don’t have mine on my resume, would you be able to find me? Is there an echo?
Your blog. Might be relevant if it’s good.
Your website. Some students and young professionals have built nice ones. Just make sure it’s really good.
A picture’s worth…
If you’d like more insight on resume writing, check out How to Write a Resume That Gets You the Job Interview and A Resume Quickie.
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