Ten Steps to the Perfect Resume

Time to start developing your resume? You’ve found the posting and you have your keywords, so what is the process? Here are ten steps to creating the perfect resume:

From a formatting standpoint, remember that simple is best. Although sometimes you will still send in a resume on nice paper, the majority of your job applications are done electronically – either directly on a website or via email. When parsing the resume, systems have a hard time navigating all your frills, and your email recipient may use a different OS or word processing program. Make sure that they’re not seeing your resume as if you wrote it in Wing Dings!

  1. Speaking of font, there are probably less than ten fonts you really should even consider. Times New Roman, Arial, Cambria, and Calibri are the most popular. You can even use Courier for online programs since it’s easier to parse. Your font size should be between 10-12. You want the person receiving it to be able to read it, but you don’t want to give him or her a headache. You also don’t want to waste valuable space with giant typography.
  2. When it comes to length, a lot of  people worry about keeping it to one page or go well over two. In general, resumes should not go over two pages. One page is fine, but so are two pages! However, the point is that, if you use two pages, make sure it’s purposeful. Don’t add a second page with only a few lines. Make sure you can fill at least half the page and ideally 2/3 of it. This information should not be filler, either. It sounds harsh, but no one really cares that you like to knit. You can talk about it when you’re hired.
  3. The top of your resume should include an effective career summary. We aren’t talking about a simple objective. Objectives are a thing of the past. If a recruiter sees your resume, chances are he or she will skim it before deciding to move on or place you in the “to call” pile, only reading it fully once an interview is scheduled (if ever). You want this summary to highlight your skills and achievements in four or five sentences. Make the recruiter keep reading.
  4. Following your summary, you want a skills section. This is great for quick scans, because the recruiter can ensure that you have what it takes for this role, and this is where that list you made comes into play. It is crucial to ATS, because it is essentially the matching portion of your resume. Fill this section with targeted keywords. Targeted is key. Be specific. It’s generally assumed a professional can organize himself or herself and communicate with others.
  5. Once you start developing your professional background, go through it and make sure that you are separating your roles into tasks and accomplishments. These should be differentiated, whether you use the more paragraph/bullet combination format or an isolated bullets section for those accomplishments. Ideally, you will have the basics of your role listed, so we know what you can do, but we also want to see what you can achieve. The difference here is between “reviewed data for accuracy” and “improved accuracy of reporting by implementing a three-step review process in collaboration with accounting team.” The stronger you can make these achievements, the better.
  6. How far back do you go? Ten years. That’s the magic number for most people. Obviously an entry-level applicant won’t have even that, but unless you are an executive or senior level professional, ten years is where you want to be. Executives and senior level professionals can go back 15. If it’s 18, fine, but try to keep yourself in the 10-15 year range. When writing your career summary, keep these numbers in mind, too. There are two reasons not to go further back. One, we sadly still live in a world where people will make assumptions based on your age, and two, it’s probably irrelevant. While you may personally be attached to that project you did in 1994, no one else really cares. The internet didn’t even exist yet. What can you do now? Your career history from 20 years ago is the professional equivalent of including that you played high school baseball. It doesn’t matter.
  7. All of your career history should be in reverse chronological order. The only times you may want to use a functional format would be if you are changing careers, returning to a field after working in a different one for an extended period of time, have a diverse work history, or have major gaps in employment. This is not just because recruiters often look harder at functional resumes, assuming something is hidden in there, but also because when posting it online, it’s really hard for systems to make sense of a functional resume. If you really want to include a few key achievements, you can do that in your career summary or you can add a key achievements section before the experience.
  8. When it comes to education, you want to go in order of degree earned, even if they’re not chronological, but this will involve some tricky design on your part. If you went back to school for an Associate of Science, but you have a Bachelor of Arts, you generally want to list the BA first, simply because the order generally goes Doctorate, Masters, Bachelors, and Associates. Certificates are placed where they belong in that list – undergraduate go below Bachelors and Associates, while graduate go ahead of Bachelors.
  9. The only additional info you may want to include, if room allows, would be relevant data, such as affiliations in your field, volunteer experience that showcases the skills you’re emphasizing, awards, military service, or publications. These are, again, only if space allows. Most of it can be included in the cover letter or interview if not.
  10. Finally, the big one. PROOFREAD. It’s hard to say that you’re committed to accuracy when your last job was as an Accounting Manger. Make sure you check through the resume for spelling errors, typos, and inconsistency of tense. If you can, have another person look it over before you send it. It can’t hurt to be perfect; this is your chance to market yourself, so market your best self!

Following these tips, you will have a resume generally formatted to guide you forward. Of course, you can always consider hiring a professional to help you develop content or make this make a lot more sense!


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