Advice That Can Save Your Résumé

My netbook is being stubborn with me tonight. I wanted to take screen shots of examples to talk about résumés today, but it looks like that won’t be possible. This netbook is nearly four years old. Even when new, it couldn’t handle much. It was built for mobility, not power. Now, it can hardly handle having more than three web tabs open, let alone multiple programs. There won’t be any examples, but if you don’t understand what I describe here, please feel free to ask.

You may be asking yourself what I think qualifies me to give résumé advice. First, is the two years I spent in college going through something called ‘Career Leadership Academy.’ Second, I have helped most of my friends and family members revise their résumé. Most received greater response in their job search after I helped them out.

Instead of detailing a step by step process, I want to share tips based off of common problems I have seen on résumés over the years. I recommend you make a draft of your résumé before evaluating it based on this advice.

  • Your contact information should be listed in the header of your résumé. At a minimum, this should include your address, phone number and email address. If you are trying to find a job in an area far from you, I recommend you use the address of a close friend or family member you hope to live near. In my case, I lived in Iowa but was looking for a job around Chicago. Since D lived close to the area I wanted to find employment in, I used his address. Ask permission to use the person’s address before putting it on your résumé. If you know no one in the area, just use your home address. The worst thing you can do is use an address that doesn’t exist.
  • With very few exceptions, your résumé should never ever be more than a single page. In order to fit more information on a single page, keep the page margins as small as possible. Play around with different text sizes and fonts. The spacing between letters and lines can be different from font to font. On a single line, the difference may be minimal, but to your whole résumé, it can make a world of difference.

  • If you have just graduated college and/or have limited job experience, your education should be the first section. Don’t list your high school or grade school (unless you are currently in high school). If you haven’t graduated college yet, include your expected graduation date where you are putting the dates of employment for your experience. List your major(s) and minor(s) and include your most recent grade point average. The one exception is if your average is below the 3.0 – 2.5 range. If your average is between this range, use your best judgment. If you think including your average will hurt you, don’t include it.

  • Here is something unique I learned specifically through the Career Leadership Academy. If you are financially responsible for more than 50% of your education, list this at the end of the education section. My résumé says I am financially responsible for 80% of my education. I received a little help from my parents during my first year and earned a few small scholarships. I estimate this to add up to about 20% of the cost of my education.Therestwas paid for by my own hard work and loans taken out in my name. The point of this is to show responsibility. There is nothing wrong with having parents or scholarships pay for your education. Yet, if you didn’t, this is something you have to your advantage. The fact that your education was mostly a personal investment acts as proof of how seriously you took your education.

    This photo, “Resume – Glasses” is copyright (c) 2013 Flazingo Photos and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license
  • Include college extracurricular  activities. If you don’t have any, get some. The simple reason is that this sets you apart and shows you can focus on many things at once. I think there must be something more, though. I was a member of my university’s fencing club in college. Without exception, everyone who ever interviewed me asked me about that. Maybe there was something about that choice of activity that branded me as a go-getter who faces her challenges head on (or maybe that’s just what I hope they think). Nonetheless, don’t miss the opportunity to show off something that makes you unique. Format your extracurriculars like you do your experience. Include bullet points and list 3-5 responsibilities and skills you used. Don’t forget to show the years you participated in the activity.

  • I touched on this a bit above, but it’s more important for the last and, ideally, largest section of your résumé. Your job experience should include paid employment and internships. Include the name of the organization, their address and your title working there. Using bullet points, list 3 – 5 skill and responsibilities used for the position. (In rare cases, you may have up to 7 things listed, never more than that). These should each start with a verb. . For example: “Edited  newspaper articles for 15 writers.” “Built motor valves for business clients.” I recommend using past tense and not including periods at the end of each statement. Avoid repeating the same verb within the same job. If possible, try to avoid repeating the same verb throughout your whole résumé, although this can be difficult if some of your jobs are similar.
  • Under no circumstances should you use paragraphs of text to describe anything anywhere on your résumé. No excuses. Do. Not. Use. Paragraphs. Ever. Seriously, if you’re résumé is a mini essay, you have no one to blame but yourself for being out of a job.
  • After everything has been written and edited to your liking, use spaces, fonts and text size to make the résumé look full and readable. This means, if your résumé seems short, you want to make it look like there is a lot of information. If it is long, you want to find a way to compress it onto one page without crowding. Once you have a lot of experience, you will have to pick and choose which jobs and bullet points stay and go.
  • I highly recommend you keep what I call a ‘Master Résumé.’ This can be as long as your job history. There are no rules for bullet points or pages. This can be used to piece together résumés crafted for specific jobs. For example, when I had enough writing and journalism experience to fill my résumé, I removed my cashier job, even though I worked there longer than anywhere else. The other experiences I had where more important to the jobs I was applying for. The point is, you can mix and match what positions you put on your résumé based on the type of job you’re applying for. You may have to wait until you’ve held a few jobs outside of college before you have a good sized Master Résumé.
  • Lastly, have at least one trusted friend or family member look over a résumé before using it to apply for jobs. It’s easy to miss small errors when you expect to see it written correctly. That said, don’t panic if you discover an error on a résumé you’ve used. On the résumé I currently have, I said I had been in the fencing club since December 2012. I interviewed for the job in September of 2012. Whoops. I still got the job, though.

Don’t let yourself stress too much over résumés. It’s easy to fixate and ask if you’re doing something wrong. If you use the same resume for a ton of jobs and get no response, you may want to adjust things here or there. That said, focus more on applying for jobs and your cover letters than your résumé.

I hope this helps as you continue in your job search. Please feel free to ask me any questions about how I navigated my job search. I am also more than happy to review résumés and cover letters, if you want. Just shoot me a message on this blog or on Twitter at @TKRV12.

Disclaimer: I am not a job or career expert. Most of the above is based off of my own experience and the advice I've given to friends and family. I write these posts because I noticed my advice made a difference for those that took it and I hope that you can too. If possible, I highly recommend taking some for of career preparation class. A lot of this information is based on what I learned through the Career Leadership Academy at the University of Iowa and it was a huge benefit to my job search after graduation.
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2 thoughts on “Advice That Can Save Your Résumé”

  1. Oh my gosh– good stuff. Just have to say… When I have to do interviews at work I am AMAZED by some of the weird things people do on their resumes. I’ve seen exclamation points at the end of full sentences, I’ve seen killer typos and one girl printed hers on colorful bordered stationery with the words bleeding into the border. Killed me. This is a good topic to write about.

    1. People take a lot of chances to make their resumes stand out. They have their place. If you are applying for a graphic design job, having a creative resume might work. I think in most cases, people should let the resume speak for itself. I’ve heard many business do little more than skim them anyway. People make their true impression in their cover letter and interview. (Unless your resume is really bad. Then kiss that interview goodbye)

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