ABC's of Resume Writing

Posted on June 15, 2017

With almost 20 years or recruiting and countless interviews, I have definitely seen my share of resumes.

Some great and some not so great. I am often asked, “what makes a great resume?”. You would be surprised that the steps to put together a great resume are fairly simple and really, just common sense.

So, I thought it might be helpful to put together a list of “ABC’s” when to comes to your resume. So, here they are, in no particular order:

  • Keep the structure consistent and easy to read. There are hundreds of formats so the key is to make sure that the company, the years, the titles, the “this” and the “that” are all in the same places and in the same fonts. Use a font that is easy to read and sized 10-12. and minimize any graphics. You might use a larger size for your name or bold just go easy on underlining and italics. Recruiters all use some type of Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) which automatically reads your resume.
  • Do not put your contact information in the header section of a word document. The ATS systems many search firms use get confused by the header and, hence, the formatting looks off. Really, you only need contact info on page 1. And, in fact, you are better off with a PDF.
  • Start your resume with a Career Summary not an Objective. It’s the employer’s objective that counts not yours. Like websites, fill your summary with some “SEO” rich words because these ATS’s have search engines that scour their databases so you want to be included rather than missed. And if you make a career summary specific to a company name you may get caught sending the wrong one. Have one objective resume.
  • The career or work history section should be in reverse chronological order – your most recent job first. And pay more attention to your most recent roles and less with jobs you did over 10 years ago. Relevant experience is generally your most recent experience. Make sure your dates jive with what you have on LinkedIn. Yes, employers check.
  • Numbers sell! Make sure you list your accomplishments with measurable numbers. Like $ growth or % increase or 23 new customers and so on and so on.
  • Some ask where should I put my education. Many tipsters say put it after your experience because it is your experience the employer is interested in. I disagree with most and like seeing education just before experience or work history. A degree or diploma doesn’t teach you how to do a job but it does teach you how to learn and shows you can finish what you started. Really, though, you can’t go wrong where you put it.
  • Many ask about length. The general rule of thumb is two pages. I guess if your career is 25 years in length, it may go beyond two but three is the absolute max. Keep in mind a resume is to make an impact not put the employer to sleep. Spend more space on your more current roles versus jobs you had 20+ years ago.
  • Keep the photos off the resume. You are looking for a job not a date.
  • Minimize any personal information unless it is something to do with extracurricular community involvement such as volunteering or coaching, etc.
  • Finally, don’t just depend on spellcheck. What do you think the most misspelled word on a resume is? It’s MANGER, a word meant to be manager and one that passes a spellcheck. Have an extra set of eyes read your resume to check for spelling and grammatical errors.

Finally, some ask if they should use a resume writing service. If you can afford the cost, there is definitely no harm in that. Just remember, you are the master of the content they are writing.

In the end, a resume is meant to be a succinct and impactful record of your career to date. Make it clear, relevant and simple to understand and you will go a long way in obtaining an interview!

All the best, Bruce MacDonald