As a former Technical Recruiter, the most common question I was asked was, “Can you look at my resume?” which was always followed by a series of apologies. It was an easy request; considering that in an average day, I deconstructed and revamped countless resumes. Unless a resume was truly in need of help, I could normally format it in less than 15 minutes [see the sample format at the bottom of this post if you're feeling a bit lost with your own resume].
The best part? While resume writers charge hundreds of dollars to revise a candidates resume, I did it for free.
Most recruiters modify a candidate’s resume in some way. Although our modifications are often limited to formatting rather than content modifications, we’re usually willing to offer suggestions to candidates we realistically believe we can place if asked [nicely, of course].
Much of the confusion and mystery surrounding resumes stems from the fact that there is no single answer to what makes a resume effective. What works in one industry does not necessarily work in another. While the sample format provided is based on a Project Manager’s resume, in my experience, certain things are consistent across the board. I’ve chosen a selection of tips to share that I believe are relevant for any job seeker.
Advice from a Former Recruiter
Some tips may seem as if you, the candidate, are compensating for a recruiter’s hurried process – while that may not seem fair, it’s often a reality; and as a job seeker, you need to market yourself and look out for your own best interest.
Tips to Create an Effective Resume
- Don’t over-complicate things. A resume does not need color, intricate fonts, borders, icons or pictures; unless you are in the creative industry. All a resume truly needs is the four sections shown in the template below: Summary of Qualifications, Education and Certifications, Work Experience and Technical Skills [or Additional Skills and Activities].
- Don’t put your contact information in the header. If you do, many resume databases will not pull your contact information into the system. Recruiters may be dying to call you – but you will never know about it.
- Use .RTF or .DOC formats – not PDF. For the reasons expressed in my previous post, stick with Word.
- Do not use resume templates or tables. Recruiters will often need to modify your resume in some way before submitting it to a client, whether it’s to add their company logo, remove your contact information, or edit the resume content. Resumes in tables are notoriously hard to change without ruining the formatting.
- The one page rule no longer applies – but most recruiters will lose interest after two pages. In the day of the electronic resume, it’s no longer as important to limit your resume to one page. A two page resume is far better than a one page resume with margins outside the printing area in size 8 font. That said, the average recruiter spends only six seconds on each resume they review; so be as concise as possible. One exception: longer resumes are common in IT.
- Remove irrelevant or outdated work experience or achievements. It may have been relevant that you were All-State in football when you were 18. It is no longer relevant to a recruiter now that you are 42. Similarly, you don’t need to include restaurant or retail work from several years ago once you have a few years of relevant experience in your industry.
- State your most important points first. If you have more work experience than education, place the work experience section above the education – but be sure to mention your degree in your summary of qualifications to make sure recruiters don’t overlook it.
- Use Times New Roman or Arial font, no smaller than 11 point. Set your margins no less than .5 inches all around and don’t change the page setup from Letter size paper. Despite the evolution of technology, a lot of recruiters still print resumes. Recently, I saw a post advising against Times New Roman (serif font) that advocated Arial (sans serif font). The idea that a resume must be in sans serif font (without bold or italic text) to be accurately “read” by a resume database dates back to OCR scanners, when recruiters were scanning paper resumes. If you’re submitting a resume online, Times New Roman will work just fine. [As a side note, I'd highly advise against faxing or mailing your resume - recruiters may question your proficiency with technology or simply not have time to scan it into the database].
- Omit the objective and “references on request” statements. If you’re applying to a job, your objective is obvious. If your resume is posted on a job board, a recruiter can infer your objective from your previous experience. Often, an objective can disqualify you from certain positions if it’s too narrow. Only include an objective if you’re looking to change careers. As far as references, recruiters assume you will provide them if asked; so the line simply wastes space.
- Don’t include your email address on your resume if you don’t intend to read your email. The good recruiters will call you as well as email you. The lazy ones will just send an email. To be aware of all opportunities, it’s best to include an email address and phone number. However, if you don’t plan to check and respond to emails, it’s better to include only your phone number. Otherwise, recruiters may see a history of e-mails sent to you by their colleagues in their database; if you don’t respond, they might infer you’re not interested in a new role and decide not to call you.
A Sample Resume Format
So you should ask yourself, are you prepared to begin your resume writing?