In Resume Do's and Don’ts, Part I
, I covered the technical aspects of writing resumes. In this section, I'm going review Content, including resume formats, what information is important, what should never be included, bullet points, honesty, and style.
1. Functional vs. Chronological.
There is an unfortunate bias against the functional resume, due in large part to the fact that recruiters don’t like them. However, the functional resume can work extremely well when used correctly.
I only use functional resumes for clients who are changing careers, clients who have had very varied careers and don’t care what job they get, and recent graduates where I need to emphasize course work and projects.
2. Personal information.
Unless you’re preparing a foreign resume, personal information such as marital status, age, hobbies, number of children, or religious affiliation should never be used on a resume. It wastes space and it wastes the reader’s time on information that’s not important.
The only exceptions? For some sales professionals I’ll list hobbies such as golf or tennis, as they are often necessary business skills. For religious leaders, such as the local priest or rabbi, I’ll include religious information. And for a few clients I’ll include outside activities, but only when they are great conversation starters, such as Olympic Gold Medalist, Professional Model, or Published Author.
For the Summary section, and under each job description, there are two basic rules for content. One is to One of the biggest mistakes I see is spending too much time describing the company, and not enough time describing what the employee did. Unless the client is the Founder or President of the company, any more than one line spent describing it is too much.
The second common content error is I find this a lot on technical and IT resumes. Save the model number, version number, and other minutia for the technical skills section or, better yet, the interview. Make sure the content doesn’t get so bogged down in details that the reader can’t follow what the accomplishment was.
Here’s an imaginary example: “Used software beta version 126.96.36.199 in conjunction with Cisco 5112 router to create 5-millisecond per process improvement in system version 3.1.” Does the average HR person understand this? No. Unless the reader is intimately familiar with the client’s work, it is a wasted piece of information. A much better way to write it would be: “Improved processing time 9% in latest system version by updating software and hardware.” It still shows technical competency, but now the accomplishment stands out.
4. Resume length.
A general rule of thumb is one to two pages, depending on how much space is needed to accurately put down all the necessary information in a readable format. There are a few exceptions. On certain technical resumes, or resumes for corporate officers with long careers, three pages can be acceptable. For academic, foreign, or research CVs, I don’t limit the page length.
On rare occasions, such as for an actor with a long list of credits, or a researcher with a list of publications, I’ll create a separate document with the information on it.
5. Sentence length.
We’ve already covered how the paragraph style shouldn’t be used to provide the job accomplishments and description. They just take too darned long to read. The same applies for bullet points. A good bullet point is one or two lines in length; on occasion, a three-line bullet might be necessary. If you find yourself going longer, it is time to think about breaking it into two or more bullets.
The exception here is that for certain technical resumes, it may be necessary to describe long, detailed projects. In these cases, I separate each project and place individual bullets underneath it.
People often think a resume is a great place to ‘enhance’ information. While descriptive terminology is a tool of the resume writer, the document must remain an accurate description of your background and accomplishments.
In today’s employment environment, it is not uncommon for employers to verify information from the resume, either before hiring or after. If anything turns out to be falsified, that could be grounds for immediate dismissal.
Don’t be afraid to brag on your resume, but make sure you don’t provide false information.
7. Resume file format.
In today’s electronic world, there are only two file formats people should be using for resumes: MS Word (.doc) and Rich Text File (.rtf). No PDF, Zip, WordPerfect, AppleWorks, MS Works, or anything else.
The large majority of the computers in offices around the world use MS Word. When you send a file in another format, it probably can’t be opened. If it can’t be opened, it can’t be read. And that means no calls for interviews.
The only exception is when the company specifically requests a plain text or ascii file (.txt). That means the resume will be stored in a database. If that’s what they ask for, that’s what should be sent.
And for those of you with Macintosh computers, please remember that your version of MS Word is different than the PC version (regardless of what Microsoft might want us to believe), and it often causes format changes in documents. Try to use the PC version of Word whenever possible.
8. Point of view.
Another key indicator of the amateur. Never use first or third person. “I produced a 20% increase in sales,” and “John Smith produced a 20% increase in sales,” are just not proper for resume content.
The correct way of stating the previous information would be: “Produced 20% increase in sales.”
Short, simple, and neutral. Every sentence in the resume should be written in that manner.
9. ‘A’ and ‘The.’
For whatever reason, the resume style of English has its own grammatical rules, just as newspaper grammar is different than term paper grammar. One of these rules is to avoid at all costs the words ‘a’ and ‘the.’
10. Accomplishments vs. Job Functions.
It is absolutely necessary to show the reader what your job involved. However, it’s just as important, if not more so, to show that you had accomplishments, that you were a benefit to your employer.
It is not enough anymore to say “Dramatically improved sales production.” Readers want specifics whenever possible to back up statements like that. Much better would be “Increased sales production by 40%.” Even better would be “Increased sales production by $3 million (40%).”
The longer your list of quantifiable results, the better the chance of impressing the reader. The best resumes balance the content between job functions and accomplishments.