Firstly, unless you are a Microsoft Word expert, you should use a template to start your resume. There are a few built-in to Word; however, these are often pretty boring. There are many resources online where you can find templates for free, or to purchase (like right here, on this site!).
Even when you use a template, sometimes you won’t be able to get it to work. Perhaps it wasn’t set up in the most user-friendly manner, or you’re not sure if the sections are right for you. In this case, I would highly recommend investing a few hundred dollars to have your resume created professionally, with a designer. This small investment up front will help you stand out from the crowd and create a lasting impression!
The in-between option is to work with a template designer to create a template suitable for you and your needs; one that is easy to use, and includes the categories and colors you are looking for. Again, this may come at a fee (depending on the ask, I charge $0 – $20), but it will bring you closer to having a professional, polished looking resume.
When I look at a resume, the very first thing I look for is spelling and grammar. It is absolutely unacceptable to have a spelling mistake on your resume, so make sure you triple check it before you send it out.
Even when you are diligent with your spelling, mistakes can still get through. Here are some techniques that I’ve used to ensure accuracy:
Spellcheck! It is available in every single word processing application I can think of. Make sure you use spellcheck every time you check your resume.
Read your resume backwards. This may sound strange, but quite often our brains skip over words that we easily recognize. When you read your resume backwards, your brain will stop on each word, which will give you a chance to see any words that are used in the wrong context, but pass the spelling test.
Have Word read your resume to you. A co-worker of mine introduced me to the speak command in Microsoft Word, and it’s changed my life! You can select any written text and click speak to have it read back by a not too computer-voiced, computer voice. This is amazing, because often we can hear when things don’t sound right, even when everything looks okay on paper. You can add the speak command by opening Word Options > Customize Ribbon. Find speak and add it to the appropriate tab.
Check out this Microsoft support article for assistance: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Using-the-Speak-text-to-speech-feature-459e7704-a76d-4fe2-ab48-189d6b83333c
Your resume, in large part, should be written in Past tense. This means that you will always state what you’ve done, as opposed to what you are currently doing (Present tense). The exception to this, is if you have a profile/objective section. A profile/objective section allows you to directly address the reader and talk about yourself in the present tense. For example: “I’m a hard-working, organized professional looking for a new full-time opportunity.”
The third tense is Future tense, which you will never use in your resume. The only time you may use future tense, is in a cover letter (e.g., I will be moving to…) when you are indicating a future event.
Consistency is Key
It’s not always easy to translate your thoughts to paper. When we think about what we’ve done at a job, our tendency is to think in ‘I’ statements, which do not work well in a resume. Instead of using ‘I’ statements, use action verbs to start any bullet point in your resume. For example:
Documented, managed, engaged, evaluated, organized, implemented
Try searching ‘Action words for resume’ for some great, comprehensive lists.
Inconsistent font and style is possibly the fastest way to get your resume into the wastebasket. All it takes is a single glance from a discerning eye to see when font styles and sizes do not match.
When possible, use the built-in styles of a Word document. If you’re not sure how to do that, then you can follow these general tips:
- Headings and normal font text can be different from each other – just make sure all of your headings use the same font throughout your resume and that your general text uses the same font throughout.
- Font size may change. For example: Your lead-in sentence is 11pt and your bullet points are 10pt.
- Never use Comic Sans, or casual fonts, as these do not come across as professional. The best standard fonts are: Calibri, Arial, Open Sans, Articulate, and Tahoma
General Style Tips
- Use tabs to ensure text is consistently indented.
- Do not use second or third level bullet indents (e.g., have a bullet list and another, indented bullet list underneath)
- If you use color, make sure it is professional, or appropriate for your resume audience
- Limit color to 2 hues maximum (in the same spectrum). Use gray or black for supporting colors
There is a common myth going around that your resume should only be two pages, and no more. Some people even think that a single page resume is the best. Let’s talk about this.
Times have changed, and workers no longer only have one or two job positions in their entire career. I myself have never worked anywhere longer than 2.5 years, and generally, 2 years is the maximum amount of time I stay anywhere. While this may not be exactly the status quo, the statistics have changed, and many people will spend fewer than 5 years at a job before moving on to something new. With this increase in job changes, eventually two pages will not be enough to itemize your experience.
I’ve read that you only have anywhere between 6 and 8 seconds to make an impression with your resume. No one reads two pages that fast – so what is the impression based on? PRESENTATION. With the right presentation and design, you can have multiple pages that will be read by potential employers.
One Page Resume
A one page resume is unrealistic for 99% of the population. If you try to fit everything on one page, it’s either not saying enough about your experience, or your font is too small to be read. If you are an intermediate to senior person, you will immediately be written off.
One page may be appropriate:
- If you are applying for a volunteer position
- If you’ve tailored a single page of experience for a very specific purpose, like enticing a person to request your full resume
- For those searching for their first job
Two Page Resume
When I first started out, I was able to fit my experience nicely on a two page resume layout. I did this by only including the most relevant experience I had for the job position I was applying for. This worked for me until I started consulting, and gaining lots of experience in a short period of time. These days, my resume is a solid 3 pages, moving towards 4.
MYTH: Your resume should be 2 pages max.
FACT: Your resume should engage your potential employer through impeccable design and presentation.
Tips for a 2 pager:
- If you’ve had less than 5 jobs, your resume should fit on 2 pages, unless you have a highly technical background, which needs lots of room for description
- Remove old jobs and replace the title Experience with Relevant Experience. You can even mention that additional job experience is available on request
- You don’t want to go any smaller than a 10pt font (and even that’s pushing it), so if you’re cramming in information by making your font smaller, it could be time to change your resume design and go for a third page
Three+ Page Resume
No need to sweat it if you can’t keep your resume to 3 pages. In fact, the more experience you have, the longer your potential employers expect your resume to be. If you are applying for a management position, then 3 pages is probably your minimum.
Tips for 3+ pages:
- Design and presentation for your resume is extremely important now. Ensure readability is still high, white space is plentiful, and the use of headings break up the page
- Include a summary of accomplishments on the first page of a long resume. This acts as your personal advertisement and will ensure your entire resume is read
- Color goes a long way to break up a page. When appropriate, also include graphic elements
Check back for Part 2 of this post, best practices 6-10!