How to write a resume: 3 unexpected rules

Most people have a rough idea of how to write a resume that is passable. The ‘good enough’ approach can mean that many job-seekers opt to send the same resume to many prospective employers rather than spend the time tailoring their resume to each role.

It stands to reason, however, that spending six hours on a tailored resume that gets you the interview is a better investment of time than one hour on a generic resume that doesn’t, and in today’s competitive environment, ‘passable’ will no longer pass.

If you really want to land that interview then care, attention and time is needed, and you’re best to avoid these common pitfalls.

1.      Don’t be Content with Generic Content

Most employers will have some idea of the tasks and duties that a particular role entails, and resumes which simply regurgitate back the job description make for a very uninspiring read. If you are an office administrator for example,  chances are an employer will know that you spent time processing invoices, dealing with client queries and responding to emails. Much more interesting is how you can evidence that you were good at these tasks.

Resume expert Vladimir Popovic of Epic CV points to the importance of Achievements over Duties. For example, did you create a new email cataloguing system that increased efficiencies? If so, by what percentage? What did your customers say about the way that you handled their queries? If positive feedback was recorded, mention this. This information takes more time to collect but it's the best time you’ll ever spend, as details such as these are what will get your resume to the top of the pile.

2.      Poor Formatting Makes Nobody Rich

It goes without saying that excellent grammar and spelling is essential for most roles. Mistakes communicate to a potential employer that your work on the job will reflect your work on the resume; sloppy with poor attention to detail. Formatting which makes it difficult for potential employers and recruiters to follow is also a surefire way to make sure your resume gets filed under ‘delete’. Time poor recruiters spend on average just six seconds scanning a resume and won’t go digging around for the information that they need.  

The importance of great formatting reflects what we in psychology call The Fluency Effect. The idea is that the more difficult it is for us to process information, the less we like it and everything associated with it. It’s why we prefer songs we’ve heard before (familiar, and there for easier to process), celebrities we’ve seen before and why we believe that menu items that are presented in nicer fonts indicate tastier food. Similarly, employers often assume that if resumes are easier to read, the candidate is probably better.

Common resume formatting errors to look out for include:

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a)      Poor alignment or margins and not enough (or too much) white space

b)     Blocks of text rather than bullet points

c)      Mixed, difficult to read or ugly fonts

d)     Inconsistent formatting

e)     A format that reads well online but doesn’t print well

f)       Overuse of colour and/or graphics

3.      Lack of Tailoring Makes for an Unflattering Ensemble

EVERY detail on your resume should have a purpose and should be relevant and acceptable to the person that is reading it. This may mean that your language should be more or less technical depending on the audience, or that the style should be more traditional or design focused, depending on whether you are going for a job as a financial analyst or a cartoonist.

Top Resume Writer Dawn Bugni points to the need to consider country and industry norms when deciding whether to include a photograph or not.  The inclusion of photos may also differ depending on sector; while photos might be expected of actors or models because knowledge of appearance is important for assessing job suitability, they are not usually required for lawyers or nurses. Headshots are common in countries such as Spain or Germany, but in the UK or USA a photograph could actually disqualify you.

Considering your audience and customising your resume accordingly is the secret. Let me dispel some myths that may have been sitting in your mind since school.

Myth 1#: Resumes should be two pages long

The key here is relevance. Does every detail on your resume provide additional value? If so, and if your career history is long, it may be appropriate to have a longer resume. For Sanderson Recruitment Managing Director, Donal O’Donoghue,  three pages tends to be optimal, though one page might work for very junior candidates and four pages for very senior ones. His team look for a career trajectory, qualifications and achievements presented in a succinct format that creates impact.

Myth 2# Resumes must be a chronological history of your experience

Not so. Does it make more sense to present your career history in terms of the particular functions or skill sets that you have? Would an employer prefer to see information this way? If so, then a ‘functional’ style may work better for you.

Myth 3# All resumes must include a summary section, work experience, education and interests.

While these sections are often expected, relevance is still key. Would Interests be a talking point for this prospective employer or a waste of document space? Does your target company place a high value on social responsibility? – then maybe they’d be interested in knowing about your voluntary work.

Myth 4# Your resume is all about you

The truth is this. People who get interviews make their resume about their employers. Resumes are not intended to be a comprehensive account of your life for readers to search around in for answers. Spend the time to learn what potential employers want to know and display only that information to them. This will dramatically improve your chances of landing that dream job.