Despite all of the futuristic ways there are to land a job, you still have to have a resume--even if nobody cares about it. The people who are in a position to hire you often give your resume about six seconds, or toss it mercilessly through a corporate keyword scanner. But it's still easier than heading to every applicant's personal website or LinkedIn profile, and a resume shows how serious your intent is. So we're all stuck writing documents for people who definitely don't want to read all of them. It's time we started writing them that way. To help you deal with unexcited readers and indifferent machines, we sought advice from experienced resume writers, search-firm owners, human resources pros, and others who deal with these one-or-two-page sales pitches that mean earning a living or not. You'll learn about white space, dumb algorithms, smart shortcuts, and the other tools we must master to get get our foot in the door for an interview. Thanks to all our Facebook fans who offered suggestions for this article.
Draft a resume from your existing LinkedIn profile.
If you're already employed, the odds are good that you've built up a LinkedIn profile, with at least the basics of where you worked and when, how to contact you, and probably a whole lot more. Save yourself the trouble of duplicating all that information and wording with LinkedIn's Resume Builder. It's a "labs" experiment that offers quite a few stylish, space-savvy templates. MightyCV is another third-party option with LinkedIn import support.
Think of your resume as lingerie.
How do you balance showing off your depth of knowledge and wide array of skills, against the knowledge that you have maybe a second or two to catch a potential employer's attention? David Perry, executive recruiter with search firm Perry-Martel International and author of Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters, believes it's best to think about the power of lacy, barely there garments. "Your resume's only purpose is to pique their curiosity: Make them phone (you), get you a face-to-face interview. That’s it," Perry said. "Are you desirable? Your resume must be eye candy in a sea of deadly dull and boring black and white resumes, or you’ll miss your opportunity to impress them and regale them with your accomplishments. Don’t save the best for last. It won’t get read. Lead with your best foot."
Get the job—and the company—keywords in there.
Nearly every recruiter and resume writer told us about the ruthless nature of application trackers. Resumes that lack the keywords noted in a job offering will fly at algorithmic speed into a slush pile. So make sure your most compatible skills are prominent in the "skills" or "expertise" section, and elsewhere. But consider going a step beyond simple one-to-one keyword matching: peruse the employer's website in your interest area and incorporate some of their wording and phrasing. "You stand out when you know the market; use their language and address their fears," said Steve Langerud, a workplace consultant and director of career opportunities at DePauw University. "And do it in a way that allows them to navigate the content as they would a newspaper, magazine, or book page. Simple."
Avoid Microsoft Word (and Pages, and LibreOffice, and so on).
Actually, the key is to avoid all "word processing" programs as much as possible. For one thing, those monstrous resume-eating apps would really prefer something as close to a plain text file as possible. Even if an application calls for a Word .doc file, consider making it as non-Word-like as possible: simple headings, no margin tricks, and definitely no templates. Kelly Donovan, a certified professional resume writer, described Word's built-in templates as "ugly and ubiquitous." Career consultant Joy Montgomery noted that anyone's claims to be proficient in Word or other software fall apart when reviewers like her open the document and see multiple tabs used for justifying, variations of the "Normal" style, and so on. "It is really easy for anyone to see how you constructed your resume and really easy to be rejected when they see a mess," Montgomery wrote. If you want to get fancy, create a version that you only hand out to people in paper form, but always keep a pared-down, machine-ready version on hand.
Leave room for lots of white space.
A resume needs to be succinct, and it needs to get attention very, very quickly. You might translate that as "pack it all in," but leaving white space is vital, according to Rick Johanson, a senior search partner at Cannon Search Partners who reviews hundreds of resumes weekly. "The best way to stand out in the first millisecond is to break the visual monotony by using negative space," says Johanson. "Leave some extra white space before your name and in between the resume sections. It's a subtle move that will catch the reader's eyes and help them actually see the beautiful copy you've written." (Note: Do not draw examples on wording/attention/"beautiful copy" from the author's own resume, in dire need of redrafting.)
Put companies, positions, and dates on their own lines.
There's a really good chance your resume is getting fed to the big machine--the applicant-tracking systems that scan resumes and eliminate hundreds of applicants in a stroke for lacking a certain keyword. Given how tough that game is already, don't get fouled out on a technicality. Josh Bersin, CEO of HR consulting firm Bersin & Associates, told The Wall Street Journal that the big resume machines can be confused when scanning past positions if all the statistics are on a single line, so it's best to play it safe with all three on separate lines. In general, Rueff told the Journal: "Don't get cute with graphics and layout."
Absorb the lessons of the 6-second scan.
What can you really take away from seeing exactly how recruiters actually look at a resume? Quite a bit, even if the technology doesn't quite ring true to you. Alexander Fowler, a resume writer and consultant with 15 years’ experience, said he designs with a 15-20-second skim in mind. He avoids large blocks of text, which will not get read. He refuses to put objectives and references on resumes, because they take up valuable eye space. And he breaks up the document into easily distinguished sections (with bold, left-focused headings): summary, skills list, certifications/awards/licenses, and experience/education. Or get even simpler, as Ryan O. Emge suggested on our Facebook query on resumes: "Single-line case studies organized as a bulleted list."
Visualize your work history.
Your resume is still vital to grabbing someone's interest. Get into the details of your work history, though, and sometimes the narrative isn't so clean and easy, even if it's all good news. Consider supplementing your resume with a visualization of where you've worked and when (note: not as a replacement, but as a supplement, or a follow-up). Two easy tools that grab your stats right from LinkedIn are Visualize.me (a big hit with Fast Company Facebook followers) and the dead-simple InfoResume. If you've got the chops yourself, you might be able to do better, but for everyone else with overlapping gigs and shifted careers, these put those line-by-line job dates in perspective. Do most of your work on the open-source front? Try the Github Resume.
Don't include a headshot. Do not do it.
No matter how you look, even if your dress shirt was never crisper than the day of that photo, do not include a photo with any resume package. Men and women should be discouraging almost any hiring decision based on looks, other than acting or modeling gigs. But women, in particular, have a lot to lose, and it's the attractive ones in the most danger. As The Economist noted, Israeli researchers sent applications from made-up people to around 2,500 vacancies, with and without head shots. What happened? "...An attractive woman would need to send out 11 CVs on average before getting an interview; an equally qualified plain one just seven." Jealousy, stereotypes, assumptions--all things you don't want to place above your experience and neat summary section. Speaking of which...
Typefaces, weights, and other font choices
Getting consensus on what makes for good lettering on any document is tough. But a few tips came out of a survey of resume consultants and hiring executives. Career consultant Steve Langerud suggested sticking to one style ("Like Calibri. It reads well on-screen"), one size ("Less options mean fewer mistakes"), and using bold or weighted text only for truly important items, like relevant former titles. Kelly Donovan, the certified professional resume writer, doesn't love Calibri, but definitely recommends finding fonts that aren't Arial, Times New Roman, or Cambria. You should still stick with fonts found in Word (just because you don't write in Word doesn't mean it won't be read there). Consider "small caps" instead of all-caps headers, Donovan suggests, and consider bullet types other than ubiquitous round dots for your (short) lists. Overall, you want a look that is, as resume writer Alexander Fowler put it, "on the outskirts of conformity," and "just different enough to capture attention without being off-putting."
- SXSW: The Right (and Wrong) Ways to Get Noticed Entrepreneur