Resumes have changed through the years, and job seekers who offer a relevant, updated resume hold a big advantage in today's competitive environment. Gwen Ferguson, a career coach with more than two decades of experience at top management consulting firms like Lee Hecht Harrison, offers key tips so job seekers can show their best selves to potential employers.
Classic Resume Elements
According to Gwen, many facets of time-honored resume writing remain relevant today. She advises,
- "Accurate contact information followed by experience and education continues to be the proper order for most resumes."
- "A resume that's easy to read with lots of white space has good psychological appeal, so a recruiter is more compelled to read it."
- "Make sure the resume is in a consistent format throughout. For example, if the company name is in a bold font for the first position listed, check that it's the same for the other positions."
She suggests, "A clear, readable font to use is Arial 11 point. The appropriate number of pages is usually two maximum, or one for entry-level positions."
Modern Resume Changes
The parts of a resume that have undergone the most radical changes in recent years are the ones that, if ignored, can make a job seeker look dated or out-of-touch. People re-entering the workforce after an absence, or who have been employed for a long time and suddenly find themselves in need of a resume, must know the expectations of employers today.
According to Gwen, "Job seekers should not put a personal street address on the resume for several reasons." For example, as Gwen points out, a visible personal address could invite unwanted attention when posting a resume on a public job board like Indeed or Monster.
She states, "An employer will not be sending you a letter in the mail, so it's irrelevant." She indicates, "Putting the city and state are fine as long as this is the area where you want to live and work, but leave it off if this is not the case. You don't want to pigeonhole yourself and have a potential employer think about relocation right off the bat."
Gwen suggests creating a new email address exclusively for the job search. "I continue to see people use unprofessional email addresses on resumes, like firstname.lastname@example.org," she states. The issue here goes beyond the hobby-based prefix. In addition, she points out, "using an AOL email can make you look dated."
Instead, set up a unique professional web-based email address from Gmail, Outlook or Yahoo. A simple naming convention with a key word, such as SueSmithEditor@gmail.com or JoeJonesCPA@yahoo.com is not only professional, but also provides a bit of insight into the candidate's expertise.
LinkedIn Profile Address
For people without a LinkedIn profile, she urges, "Stop working on your resume and set up a LinkedIn account right now. Put that URL on your resume and then use the information from your resume to populate your profile. LinkedIn is so important today that job seekers can't afford to be without a profile that's just as updated and professional as their resume."
She adds that portraits belong on the LinkedIn profile, not the resume.
Professional Summary Versus Objective
"Customarily, people would write their employment objective immediately after the contact information," Gwen says. "This is outdated because employers don't care what you want. They want to see what you can offer to solve their problem."
Instead, write a short professional profile or summary that highlights key skills and accomplishments. "Having this profile at the top of your resume lets you toot your own horn to the recruiter within the first few seconds of reading," she says. "Pool the accomplishments from your career and add the company where they occurred in parentheses so the hiring manager can easily see the linkage."
Employers like to see the most recent positions first, so comply with this. List your title, the name of company, one or two responsibility statements, and then bullet points of accomplishments."
Gwen recommends going back to no more than 15 years of work experience. "Age discrimination isn't supposed to be out there, but you don't want to take a risk by listing all of your old entry level jobs."
She suggests, "If you have worked at prestigious companies or gained relevant experience in the more distant past, summarize it right after the last job. Write 'Additional professional experience working at Company XYZ as a so-and-so.' It gets the information across. Don't put dates by this experience, but highlight the accomplishments."
Accomplishments Versus Actions
"Make sure that your experience reflects accomplishments rather than actions," Gwen advises. "If you say that you 'reorganized a department,' that's just an action you did. It could have been a disaster. An accomplishment says that you 'streamlined workflow and cut 10% out of processing time." Separating actions from accomplishments involves conveying positive results rather than describing activities.
Traditionally, education goes after experience. The exception, according to Gwen, is for people who just received an advanced degree in a field relevant to the job. "Put this information at the top after your professional profile," she advises.
"After education, what you list depends on how much you can fit on one or two pages," says Gwen. "Highlight any military experience. If you have room, you can put professional development, licenses and certificates, publications and patents. For computer skills, list only those relevant special skills beyond the typical Microsoft office suite."
She continues, "You can add professional associations and volunteer activities if they show how you went above and beyond in the community." If you don't have room, this isn't critical. Experience and education are the two areas you must cover on the resume, and the rest can go on your LinkedIn profile."
Gwen reminds job seekers that resumes with more than two pages can overwhelm recruiters who typically spend mere seconds on an initial resume review. She also recommends leaving out the space-wasting 'references upon request' statement at the end, because employers will assume that an applicant can provide references.
Key Words and the Resume Scanner
Most employers use computerized resume scanners to cull through the thousands of resumes received so they can identify qualified applicants for further scrutiny. To make your resume pass this initial screening, it must contain key words relevant to the position.
Per Gwen, this is one area where job applicants try to trick the scanner into selecting their resume for review. "I have seen people cram every key word, software application, and activity into a resume or even place this verbiage in a block at the end in white text. This is so the scanner picks out the resume, but the human doesn't see this confounding text block."
She states, "I believe this is dishonest. However, I do advise clients to read the job description requirements and tailor the resume to fit. So if the company is seeking a 'client relations advisor' and your resume says 'customer service representative,' it's legitimate to change your wording to match theirs as long as it's relevant."
Clear and Professional is Best
Gwen's most important warning to job seekers: "Don't use gimmicks and don't lie. It could backfire. Instead, spend the time to make your resume stand out in a positive way. It's an investment in yourself that can pay off for years." She adds that professionals should look at their resume and LinkedIn profile at least twice a year to be sure they are updated and fresh. As she says, "You never know when you'll need it."