There are many good reasons to get your resume ready and up-to-date, even if you aren’t in the market to make a career move. Keeping your resume current and uploaded on a site like LinkedIn may assist you in making connections that can further your success in your existing role, or it may lead you to professional or educational associations that can help you keep your knowledge fresh.
If you think of your resume as a snapshot of your career, you owe it to yourself to invest as much effort into getting your resume camera-ready as you would when having a professional photo taken. Make sure your resume is ready for its close-up by creating a flawless representation of all you’ve accomplished so far:
Make a great first impression
Before interviewers meet you, they’re introduced to your resume. Depending on the position you’re pursuing, your resume may be one of dozens (even hundreds) reviewed, and if it’s not the best it can be, you may never make it to an interview. Make sure your resume is as crisp as the suit and as polished as the shoes you’ll wear to meet your potential new employer. Formatting that highlights your strengths, consistent punctuation, sensible spacing and even correctly spelled words suggest that you pay attention to details, which is something all employers appreciate.
Brian Wood, vice president of Human Resources at Cincinnati Insurance, advises, “Make sure that the reader can tell your basic qualifications within 10 seconds of looking at your resume. If it takes longer, the reader will likely move on to the next resume. If we have 200 submissions to sort through (which is very, very common in an organization our size), you only get a few seconds to make your resume stand out.”
Learn from examples
Sometimes, we discover what we like by first recognizing what we don’t like. Do an image search online for “professional resumes.” While not everyone agrees on what makes a resume professional, (meaning some of the examples returned in your search may be truly awful!) seeing different styles can help you find a format that resonates with your own preferences. There are also plenty of templates – both free and for pay – available online that you can use to build your own.
Know the value of a page’s real estate
Space is at a premium, because unless you are applying for a very technical position that requires a ton of detail, you should be able to keep your resume to one page (or possibly two.) Even with a varied career that spans more than 25 years, it’s possible to have a one-page resume, leaving lots of white space to improve readability. This means that having sections like Career Objective or Personal Statement probably aren’t needed unless an employer has requested them, and adding a Skills section to mention that you know how to use the Microsoft suite of office tools is likely wasted space (unless you are a super user and that talent is a requirement of the position you desire.) However, adding a Key Qualities or a Qualifications Profile section is a great way to communicate — in just a few lines — strengths such as being reliable, approachable, knowledgeable or solution-oriented.
You’ll notice the examples that are the easiest to read are uncluttered and get straight to the point. Respect the hiring manager’s time and make your resume pop with concise, well-planned content. So which comes first – education or experience? Experts recommend putting your most significant, current achievement first, so if you’re fresh out of college, that takes precedence over the jobs you had during breaks or while putting yourself through school. But don’t be afraid to include those, too! Managers who review resumes can do the math, and may be impressed to see that a student was well-balanced, determined and had a job. So yes, even 20 years later, your resume may show that you worked in retail while in high school and college and even after, and it may still be relevant to your career story and says a lot about who you are.
Toot your horn, but don’t go off key
There is a fine line between underselling yourself and padding your resume. Honestly showcase your strengths, but avoid getting flowery and adding unnecessary, repetitive details. Know the value of your job and include its benefit to the organization as you describe your work. For example, if you inspected cartons for a box manufacturer, what you actually did was, “increase profitability by ensuring a consistent, quality product through careful, detailed inspection.” Don’t cut short the contributions you’ve made by minimizing the impact your work has on the business or organization as a whole. When detailing work accomplishments, be specific whenever possible: “I increased sales by 10 percent for three consecutive years” or “I completed my training three months sooner than was allotted while earning highly proficient scores.”
Understand that less can be more
In addition to carefully considering the words you use, keep in mind that how the words look is as important as what they’re collectively saying. Unless you’re applying for an artistic role, (in which case, you already know the best practices) keeping it simple and readable is best. Using multiple fonts can be hard on the eyes, so consider limiting your fonts to two or possibly three. Script and italics can be hard to read online, as well as fonts smaller than 10 points. Your layout shouldn’t detract from the talents you’re demonstrating in your resume.
Lock it down
Whenever possible, save and submit your resume as a PDF. Depending on the version of word processing software you have and the hiring software the company you’re applying to uses, your formatting can become unreadable. The PDF format saves your page as an image, which means your careful formatting is preserved. Be sure to keep one word processing file for yourself (typically, these are easier to edit and update later) and do one final check when you save your PDF version; formatting errors may be introduced in the conversion, and you’ll want to correct those before submitting your resume. When uploading your resume to a website, limit the data to only what is requested by the employer or the minimum information that you need. Consider how open you want to be with your contact information.
Trade papers with your neighbor
Did your teachers ask you to switch papers with a classmate so that you could grade each other’s quizzes or tests? Use the same strategy with your resume, and share it with a few friends to solicit their honest feedback. You’ll get the benefit of someone seeing your creation with fresh eyes. If they know you well, they may even be able to point out achievements you’ve missed.
If after all of this you’re completely overwhelmed, or simply can’t take the time to build your own resume, don’t despair! There are resume services that, for a fee, can convert your content into a professional end result. It’s worth the investment.
You’ve spent years working in – or preparing to work in – roles that are suited for your unique history, experience, education and personality. Make the effort to ensure your resume accurately represents you and that it gives a memorable impression of your talent.