Top Ten Rules for Writing Resumes

I was recently asked to present at a women’s networking group where the participants come from a wide variety of professional backgrounds.   Given the diversity of those in the room, the organizer asked that I provide an overview of best practices no matter what industry or function you may be in.  Of course certain industries do have nuances and there are distinct differences that as a job seeker you should be aware of, but across the board, there are rules and guidelines that should be followed no matter what.  My top ten rules for writing resumes are listed below.

Rule # 1: Resumes should be geared to the job you want, not the jobs you’ve had.  Review your previous experience and accomplishments but don’t get bogged down in the details.  You should be focused on the future, not the past.

Rule # 2: Lose the objective statement (it went out the window with the economy).  Your resume should start with a skills summary or professional profile that focuses on your key strengths, skills, and experiences.  Ultimately, what is it that you can do for the organization?

Rule # 3: Your bullets should be action oriented and results focused.  Each bullet should provide specific examples of your experience and enough scope that the reader can understand exactly what you did and why it’s important.  All too often job seekers list basic job duties in an effort to keep things short.  That or they list accomplishments with no additional information to back them up.  Explanation adds credibility.  Getting your bullets just right is tricky which is why hiring someone to write your resume is such a great idea!

Rule # 4: (just to be absolutely clear): Use bullets, not paragraphs when describing your work experience.  Recruiters and hiring managers do not want to read paragraphs and in most cases, they won’t.   Save the (short) paragraphs for your cover letter where there is more room for elaboration.

Rule # 5: Your resume should be relevant to the job you want.  Remove credentials, certifications and additional information that could be confusing to the reader.  For example, if you have been in insurance for years and have a number of insurance-specific certifications listed on your resume, recruiters in other industries may not take you seriously.

Rule # 6: Make sure your resume is error free.  A 2013 Career Builder study found that 58% of resumes have typos and in my job as a career coach, I see them every day.  In this economy, recruiters are looking for reasons to remove candidates from the stack of 300+ resumes they receive for each job opening.  Typos and grammatical errors are an easy way to ensure they do just that.

Rule # 7:  Make sure the length is appropriate.  As a general rule of thumb, a resume should include one page for every 10 years of work experience.  Recent graduates should not have two page resumes and director level professionals should not have four or five pages.  I see exorbitantly long resumes all the time and if it’s hard for me to make it through the document, as someone who is getting paid to read it, a recruiter is never going to make it through.

Rule # 8: Formatting should be clean and legible and unless you are in graphic design or another artistic field, you should stick to a traditional look and feel.  No photos, logos or other distractions.  Consistent spacing and fonts are key and speaking of fonts, don’t go smaller than 10pt.  Margins should be .5 at a minimum.

Rule # 9: Make sure you can speak to everything you have on your resume.  If it’s been a while, brush up on old files to jog your memory.  If a recruiter asks you about a bullet on your resume and you can’t elaborate, they may assume you’re lying or stretching the truth.

Rule # 10: If you’re having trouble getting started or if you’re unsure if your resume is ready to be presented to recruiters, hiring managers or networking contacts, ask an expert!  Email me to get started:

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