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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Resume Writing (But Were Afraid to Ask)

Published: Dec 09, 2020

The importance of your resume can’t be stressed enough. Recruiters and hiring managers use it to assess if they want to continue exploring your candidacy for their open roles. That means without a strong resume, you’ll have little to no chance of getting the job you want.

The good news is it’s not that difficult to create an error-free, relevant, easy-to-read resume that clearly showcases your professional and educational experience. And to help you do that, below are the answers to several questions about resume writing that you might be too shy to ask.

1. Which resume template and font should I use?

Leave the exciting fonts, color schemes, and icons for those seeking graphic design roles. While there might be a hiring manager that likes resumes to look like greeting cards, the vast majority want to find the information they're seeking as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that career management experts frequently point out that hiring managers look at resumes for roughly six seconds. Given the volume of applicants for most roles, that’s very reasonable. When people need to complete actions quickly, patterns are helpful—in other words, use basic templates and classic fonts.

2. Do I need to include my street address?

No. It’s probably been a while since an employer mailed you a letter to invite you to interview or apply for a role (if ever). There’s little value in including your street address on a resume. In fact, there’s a risk in including it, as it makes your location easier for identity thieves to access. Include no more than your city and state/province.

3. How many roles should I keep on my resume?

You should keep your most recent roles on your resume in chronological order. If early roles don’t fit, extract any unique skills attained in the role and include them in the additional information section.

4. Should I keyword my resume to get past the recruiting software screening?

Focus your resume on including the relevant skills for the role as noted in your information gathering (job descriptions, presentations, conversations with current employees, etc.). That will likely include the keywords that recruiters and computer screening algorithms are seeking. Attempts to maximize keywords often lead to resumes that lack coherence. Avoid making your resume a business-themed word search game that a computer might notice but a hiring manager would toss.

5. Are there any resume review resources you would recommend?

Yes. Your best tool is one that will thoroughly check your grammar and spelling. Grammarly and Microsoft Word Spelling and Grammar check is a good combo. Vmock.com is a solid resume review system that can provide varying degrees of resume feedback from formatting consistency to gaps in key skills, depending on your subscription package.

6. How do I know which bullet points are more or less relevant for a role/industry?

Select your accomplishment statement bullet points based on the information you gather about your target role, industry, and organization. It can also be helpful to consider the core competencies nearly every employer is seeking in your desired field and level of education. For example, for MBAs looking for jobs, Vmock.com has done a great job defining the required core competencies as leadership, teamwork, communication, initiative, and analytical skills. If you cover all of those categories, you’ll have a good MBA resume.

7. What if I come from a background that’s very different than my target role, organization, or industry?  

First, you’re not alone. Many people make career pivots. You’ll need to translate your experience for your target audience. For example, if you’re a former educator wanting to showcase your ability to lead without director authority, consider how you could translate something like a teacher training initiative.

8. How many resumes should I prepare?

You’ll maximize your time/effort by making slight adjustments for each roles/functions you’re pursuing. Hopefully you’re not pursuing more than three functional searches at one time.

9. How much time should I spend on a resume?

Spend enough to create an error-free resume, including accomplishment statements on a template that’s widely accepted. After that, spend as little time as possible to make minor adjustments for the functions you’re pursuing. Prioritize your time for building relationships with individuals who can refer you to hiring managers.         

10. What if I can’t fit my content on one page?

Short and memorable is better than extensive and overwhelming. The beauty of a one-page resume is that it’s optimized for the six seconds the average hiring manager looks at your resume. Optimizing a one-page resume doesn’t mean filling every bit of white space with text. It means condensing your content to one page with some white space to direct attention to the very best and most relevant aspects of your background. Most employers will expect to see one-page resumes.

11. What if I have 10 years or more of experience?

It’s very difficult to fit 10 years of experience on a one-page resume. Squeezing in 15 years of experience can be painful for the person writing and the readers. Although you should aim for quality over quantity, it’s okay to create a two-page resume if you have more than 10 years of work experience. It’s also sensible, the further away you are from your most recent graduation, to place your education section at the bottom of your resume.

12. What if I’m starting my career and have less than two years of work experience?

Having less than two years of experience can make it difficult to create a resume that fills an entire page. Try to make your resume cover at least three quarters of a page. You can add sections to the recommend three of Education, Work Experience, and Additional Information. You could include a section titled “Projects” and feature projects you’ve completed that showcase the skills your target roles require. You could also add a “Leadership” section that highlights the student leadership or community leadership roles throughout your undergraduate and early professional years.

A final note

Writing and refreshing your resume is one of the most important job search actions you’ll need to complete to secure your desired role. And it’s important to dedicate your time and energy efficiently. Applying with a good resume is better than forgetting to apply (because you were busy editing your resume). Also remember that you’re more likely to land an interview with an “A-” resume and a referral or two than delivering an “A+” resume with no referrals. If you want a specific opportunity, don’t depend on your resume alone to attract the hiring manager’s attention.

This post was adapted from the new Vault Job Search Guide for MBAs and B-School Grads.

David Solloway is a career consultant, life coach, and cross-cultural training/development specialist. He works as the assistant director for Daytime MBA Career Services at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. He is the author of the Vault Job Search Guide for MBAs and B-School Grads and Vault Guide to Behavioral Interviews, and a co-author of the Vault Guide to the International MBA Job Search.

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