Forbes recently posted an article titled “The Most Outlandish Resume Mistakes of 2012.” It highlighted some of the outrageous mistakes that job seekers make, which ranged from using slang like “LOL” to outright lies like claiming to speak “Antarctican.”
While it’s hard to believe that there are actually people out there who would try to make their resume stand out with pink bunny rabbits, the truth is that most of us are making deal-breaking mistakes on our resumes without even realizing it.
Maybe you’re leaving out essentials or going overboard with redundancies, or perhaps your only mistake is that your resume is generic and boring. The point is that there is always room for improvement.
Get the formatting and layout right
Formatting and layout still tends to be a mystery to most job seekers, and as a result many people simply turn to resume templates. This isn’t necessarily wrong, but it does leave room for errors, because not all templates will be suitable for the job you are applying for, and you may end up listing irrelevant information or fail to use space as efficiently as you could.
When it comes to resume formatting, there are three basic types; the chronological, functional and combination resume format.
With a chronological format, you list your job history and education in reverse chronological order, meaning the most recent and relevant information is listed first. A functional resume format doesn’t bother with chronology at all, and lists only the relevant skills and abilities with a brief mention of dates, employer names or education history at the bottom.
With a combination format, you use both styles by listing any relevant skills and abilities in chronological order. The chronological format tends to be the most popular, both with employers and recruiters, although the functional and combination formats have their place too.
A chronological format is useful because it makes for easy reading and allows employers to quickly skim your resume for the most important details.
When using this format for your resume, you should start out with the usual information such as name and contact information. Next, you can add a short objective or personal profile to help the employer decide whether or not you should be considered for the job.
Try to keep each section concise and list only the education and experience that will be relevant to your prospective employer.
After this, you should list your work experience, starting with your most recent position. Make sure to add details like dates, employers, job title and description of your duties as well as any special skills acquired during that time.
Education comes next, followed by a summary of any awards, honors or accolades that may be relevant to the job you are applying for.
Try to keep each section concise and list only the education and experience that will be relevant to your prospective employer. Be specific rather than general, and use as many facts, figures and numbers as possible.
A functional format can be useful for people who are returning to the workforce after many years or those who have just graduated and don’t yet have much relevant experience.
This format allows you to highlight your skills and abilities, without drawing too much attention to gaps in your career and education history or a lack of practical experience.
As with the chronological format, you will start out with name and contact information, as well as a professional summary that tells the employer why you would be a good fit for the job.
Then, you can add in sections for the different skills and abilities you want to highlight, including any education, volunteer experience and awards you may have. For example, you could use a header like “Marketing” and then add in bullet points describing what you know about that area of expertise.
Because a functional format can seem a bit abrupt to prospective employers, who generally like to see some chronology and clear information like job titles, it may be a good idea to make use of the combination format if you have any relevant experience to speak of.
This way you can still put things in chronological order and keep it organized, without putting too much emphasis on any gaps in your employment history.
After your name, contact info and personal profile, you can add sections for your accomplishments as well as your jobs, titles and awards. If there are jobs that aren’t relevant to the position you are applying for, you can simply list the job title and dates, without going into detail about the tasks you performed.
Additional format and layout considerations
Regardless of the type of format you choose, it’s always important to customize your resume for each job you apply for, even if all you do is change the wording around a bit or highlight a certain skill.
A good way to customize your resume for a particular job is to look for keywords or certain terminology in the job posting or advertisement, and then add some of these (where appropriate) to your own descriptions.
This can be especially helpful in cases where employers use tools to search electronic resumes for certain keywords or phrases and eliminate those that don’t match their criteria.
Another thing to keep in mind when planning the format for your resume is to streamline things as much as possible. For example, you don’t necessarily need to use separate lines for your contact information; you can have your name at the top, and then put your address, phone number and email address on one line instead of three.
Another thing that is unnecessary is adding words like “address” or “email” as it will be pretty obvious to the reader what each one is. Information like date of birth, gender and religion should always be left out. References can be left out as well, except for a brief mention like “references available on request”.
Just make sure that if you do get the interview, you have your references on hand in case you are asked for them.
Stand out, but keep it professional
You’ve probably heard plenty of advice about how you need to make your resume stand out if you want to snag an interview. Unfortunately, a lot of people take this advice to the extreme and go crazy with bold, italic and underline or even odd fonts and highlighted paragraphs.
These features can be useful when used in moderation, but don’t get carried away, because trying to make everything stand out means that in the end, nothing will stand out.
Most of all, a recruiter just wants to be able to read the resume without squinting or turning the page upside down, so choose a standard, readable font like Times New Roman, Arial or Georgia, and use a font size that is neither too small nor too large.
Other things like colored paper, oddly shaped resumes or other “special effects” should be avoided…
Other things like colored paper, oddly shaped resumes or other “special effects” should be avoided unless you are applying for a job where you feel this would be appropriate. Including a photo of yourself is generally also unnecessary, no matter how good looking you may be.
A bit of creativity isn’t a bad thing, though, as long as you keep it professional and tailor the resume to the position and company you are applying to. A survey by CareerBuilder asked hiring managers to give positive examples of times when candidates used creative approaches in their applications.
Just to give you an idea of what could be considered “professional creativity,” some of the examples included:
- A stay-at-home mom who listed things like housekeeping, chef, nurse, teacher, taxi driver, tailor, personal shopping assistant and therapist as some of her key skills
- A candidate who created a marketing brochure that promoted herself and gave reasons why she was the best person for the job
- A job applicant for a food and beverage management position sent in his resume in the form of a fine-dining menu
- A job seeker listed some of the lessons he had learned from each of his previous positions
When it comes to your personal profile or objective, it’s great to inject a little bit of personality by being friendly and personable, but avoid making jokes as humor can be rather subjective and what seems funny or witty to you might be offensive or seem over-the-top to someone else.
One thing to keep in mind is that recruiters don’t want to see negativity. If you had a bad experience at your last job or were fired, don’t volunteer that information, and you certainly shouldn’t badmouth previous employers or talk about things you disliked at your last job.
Make the most of your skills, interests and experience
One of the most difficult things about writing a resume is figuring out what makes you different from everyone else and why you would be a good fit for the job. If you can’t even answer these questions yourself, you’re going to have a difficult time convincing a prospective employer that you are the one they should hire.
So, before you start writing your resume, sit down and make a list of your skills, strengths, interests and experience. Figure out what makes you special and how to define your own personal brand.
Your resume is, essentially, a marketing paper; you need to sell yourself to your prospective employers. So don’t just list your experience and education, but find a way to make it interesting and get the recruiter to want to find out more.
Think about all the reasons why someone should or would want to hire you, and then place those reasons at the top of your resume as your personal profile.
If there are positions you have held that were similar but different to the job you are now applying for, find a way to make them relevant. For example, put the emphasis on things you learned in those positions that would serve you well today if you were to be hired.
Think about what your key skills are and how they could help the company, whether it’s the ability to speak a foreign language or a knack for dealing with troublesome customers. Interests can also be listed, but don’t bother with passive interests like “watching TV” or “playing video games” unless you are applying for a job that requires you to do these things.
At the end of the day, you have to realize that it’s not about you at all. It’s about the employer and what they want, so don’t just drone on about your history and accomplishments; put yourself in their shoes and market yourself in a way that will appeal to the hiring manager and the company as a whole.
Tips for writing a resume when you have no work experience
If you’re new to the job market, resume writing can certainly be a bit intimidating, but a lack of work experience doesn’t necessarily mean you have nothing to bring to the table. Here are a few tips for putting your resume together without using work experience as your selling point.
Start by highlighting your skills
Even if you’ve never worked professionally before (or at least, been paid to work), you undoubtedly have some skills that you can list on your resume. Think about what you learned school, college or university. What projects did you undertake? What skills and abilities did you gain?
Use a functional or combination resume format so that your skills and abilities are the first thing that will catch your prospective employer’s eye.
Are you good at public speaking? Did you lead group projects? Are you a good team worker? How are your time management skills? Can you work to deadlines and under pressure? These are all valuable workplace skills, and should be listed on your resume.
Use a functional or combination resume format so that your skills and abilities are the first thing that will catch your prospective employer’s eye.
Inject some personality
Employers want to get a sense of who you are from your resume, and when you don’t have much work experience; your personality is one of your biggest selling points. Also, use as many concrete examples as possible. Rather than a bland and boring “…detail oriented with excellent team working skills,” be specific and say something like “Managed a group project involving 6 other classmates that exceeded the grade average of 75%.”
Whether you list your guidance counselor, favorite teacher or the neighbor lady who pays you to mow her front lawn, listing references is always a good idea if you don’t have work experience to fall back on. This will give your prospective employer a way to verify whether or not you’re telling the truth and will also help to fill up your somewhat skinny resume.
Focus on curricular and extracurricular activities
Your education and other out-of-school activities should make up a good part of your resume if you don’t have any work or volunteer experience. Give the reader a good look into what you learned during your school years, both in and out of school.
Write about courses, coursework, competitions, sports clubs, community groups and anything else you feel has helped you develop transferable skills. This will also give your prospective employer a better idea of your personality and people skills.
Keep it short and sweet
This is good advice for any resume writer, but especially for those who don’t have years of work experience to elaborate on. Don’t try to draw it out by using long words or lengthy descriptions; there is no shame in being new to the job market.
Use concise wording and be as brief as possible while still imparting the necessary information. Recruiters will love you for it and your employer will be able to digest the information quickly and easily.
Tips and Examples for a Resume that Stands Out
Now that we’ve covered the basics and you understand what not to do if you want your resume to avoid the “no” pile, it’s time to talk about a few creative ways to prevent your resume from getting lost in the crowd of “correct” formats and professionally worded documents.
Whether you’re a top chef, accountant or marketing manager, a creative resume is the best way to let your personality shine, and if you happen to work in an industry like film or graphic design, creativity is practically a requirement.
Here are some tips for making your resume stand out and inject your own personal brand of creativity:
Be clear and concise
Big words and purple prose don’t make you look smarter; they just take up more space and bore the reader. Read through your resume and edit sentences to make them shorter and more concise.
Use short and succinct paragraphs
Would you be reading this article if it consisted of two or three large blocks of text? Large blocks of text are intimidating and make it more difficult for the reader to absorb information. Ideally, paragraphs should not be longer that two to three sentences.
Put the important stuff on the first page
If you don’t grab your reader’s attention on the first page, there’s a good chance that they’ll never even make it to page two. Make sure that the most important things you want your prospective employer to know appear on the first page (This is where a skills section or professional profile comes in handy).
Leave plenty of white space
Cluttered resumes are a chore to read, so make sure yours contains plenty of refreshing white space without text or illustrations. This can be done by eliminating irrelevant jobs and education, and expanding side margins and adding extra spaces between each section.
Name your resume
If you’re attaching your resume in an email, it’s a good idea to give it a professional name like “John Smith’s Resume” so it doesn’t get lost in the crowd. File names like “resume1” or “my resume” look unprofessional and may even get misplaced or deleted by accident.
Don’t list job duties – list accomplishments
Listing job duties that anyone could have performed doesn’t give your prospective employer the sense that you are an outstanding candidate; on the contrary, it makes you blend in with the rest. Instead, list some of your accomplishments and details ways in which you really excelled, even if your job duties were quite routine.
Words are cheap – use numbers
Anyone can call themselves an excellent team player or talk about their great communication skills, but without numbers to back this up then it’s just hot air. Whenever you have the chance, try to use specific facts, figures and statistics.
For example, instead of saying something routine like “was responsible for answering phones” use numbers to make it more impressive by saying “dealt with over 100 customer queries every day.” Instead of saying “supervised my team members” say “supervised team of 12”
Always get a second opinion
It’s hard to be objective when it comes to your own work, and a resume is no different. Even if you think you’ve done everything right, have a second pair of eyes look it over to catch redundancies and grammar or spelling errors and point out possible weaknesses.
Bullets are your friend
Recruiters and hiring managers don’t really read through your whole resume, at least not the first time around – they skim. To prevent important things from being missed, use bullet points to emphasize key skills and accomplishments.
Larger companies these days often use computer algorithms to narrow down their options before they even begin looking at resumes. Because of this, it is important to include certain keywords that relate to the job you are applying for so that your resume is not overlooked.
The job advertisement is a good place to start looking for relevant keywords, but don’t stop there – dig deeper and research phrases and acronyms that are common in that particular industry. Keyword stuffing won’t help your cause, though, so make sure you use them in a logical way.
Go with a “professional profile” rather than an “objective”
Many people think they need to include a statement about their objective, but all too often it reads something like this “Objective: To secure a position with an advertising company.” The employer knows you want to secure a position; that much is obvious. What they don’t know is why you are the man (or woman) for the job.
Instead of stating the obvious, open with a “professional profile” section that tells the employer what value you will bring to the company. But don’t use this space to paste in a section from your work or education experience. Make it completely unique.
Since most resumes are sent out electronically these days, it pays to make the most of the rest of the Web. Include links to impressive examples of your previous work or an online portfolio if you have one. If you or the company you worked for was mentioned positively on blogs or news sites, link to those as well.
This helps you to back up any claims you made and also makes it easier for your prospective employer to find positive information about you. Just make sure you remove these types of links if you plan to send out a hardcopy of your resume.
Use social media constructively
Social media can be a great tool for your job search, especially when it comes to websites like LinkedIn that are primarily geared towards employers and job seekers. Sharing links to these sites in your resume can be a great way to show off your professional network and online expertise.
If you plan to do this, however, you’ll first need to screen your sites for anything unprofessional in terms of photos, comments and links or any other information you’d rather not share with your employer.
Ditch Microsoft Word
Microsoft Word can be a good tool for creating your resume but there are certain cross-platform issues that could mess up your format without you even knowing about it. When sending out your resume, use a PDF format that prevents any unwanted changes to your layout or formatting.
Introduce a splash of color
Too much color can be distracting and downright annoying, but adding just a splash of color to your resume can make it stand out in the pile of black and whites. A colored border or logo, for example, can catch the reader’s eye in an instant. Avoid using colored letters and background, however, as this can make it difficult to read.
Know the rules but don’t let them hold you back
It’s important to be aware of the rules regarding formatting, layout and wording, but that doesn’t mean that you should never break any of them. If you feel your education is more impressive than your work experience, then by all means, list it first.
If you have an unconventional idea for the layout that doesn’t follow all of these guidelines, don’t rein your creativity in just because it’s not by the book. The point is to know the rules and weigh the risks of breaking them, not to get stuck in a boring, mainstream way of doing things.
Some of the best resumes are created by those who weren’t afraid to stray from traditional resume formats and let their personality shine. And because a picture can tell you so much more than words ever could, here are some excellent examples from those who have paved the way with their own unique take on the tired old resume.
Keep in mind, however, that while these resumes are certainly eye-catching, you shouldn’t feel like your resume needs to be unusual or “out there” to get noticed. In fact, unless you’re trying to land a graphic design or film position, some of these resume examples would have your prospective employer scratching his head.
How far you choose to go with your creativity is up to you, and what will or will not be appropriate depends largely on the type of job you are applying for.
You still need to know your audience and stay professional, but the idea is to craft a resume that says something about who you are and stands out because it embodies your personality and not someone else’s idea of what a resume should look like.