How to format a resume

School graduation now happens all year long, and I get more questions than ever about resumes. I also get more complaints that it costs too much to get one done for new graduates.

Graduation puts new emphasis on the quality of students’ resumes. On the other hand, it also means more competition for the jobs that are available. A whole herd of people with similar skills hit the market all at the same time. That creates intense competition for some jobs.

Adults can’t afford to have a substandard resume either. Remember, your resume is the first impression a potential employer sees. If you wouldn’t go to an interview wearing your oldest sneakers, don’t go with a worn-out resume.

There are many ways to format resumes. However, most recruiters and employers prefer a basic, well-organized, simple document that is easy to read. Older adaptations, designed to minimize time out of the workforce or job gaps and frequent changes, don’t work well in the new electronic systems. Your goal is to get selected by that system and get to talk to someone who can hire you.  Don’t get overly creative.

Many people use templates on MSWord. That doesn’t mean you don’t need my services or that I can’t find ways to make it better. Do you know a simple thing like putting your name and address in the header can confuse the machines and get your resume discarded? It does mean you can get a presentable looking resume without help. I respect the fact some people don’t have any other option.

Is your resume out of date?

Resume styles change, just like technology and educational requirements. In a job market where hundreds of people apply for every opportunity, you want to look your very best. Here are five tips to help your resume get to the top of the stack.

Most people have an email address, which should be included with the address and phone number. That said, the email address needs to be professional and use your name. Try not to get msmith4985. Try other combinations of your name and initials. Definitely do not use crazymary@whatever.com.

Many people are also on LinkedIn and have professional profiles and recommendations on other sites too. This type of website address may be included if you are a professional. There are several reason to not include it too, but you can be quite sure most employers check social media and find it anyway.  It may be wise to fine-tune your social media sites before embarking on a job search.

On the other hand, if you have a Facebook or MySpace personal website, don’t put it on your resume. If it’s got some really “interesting” information, you can try to clean it up. Just be aware that many things don’t go away and can be found in online searches. Over sixty-percent of employers check social media sites when hiring and admit to being influenced by what they find. You may not like it, but that’s what happens. You decide what’s more important, total freedom on social media or a paycheck.

Every resume should be tailored for a specific position. The changes may be minor, but the resume must fit the job. Don’t let canned job titles and incorrect terminology for the industry get your resume discarded.

Sell yourself with a professional summary, not an objective. Today, companies want to know what you can do for them. They have no interest in hearing what you want.

Make achievements stand out. Use bullet points, active verbs, and results to describe your experience. Be specific about achievements, such as “improved sales of widgets 25% in 2009.”  Every job has something that can be quantified. Think about what was on your last review. How is your job performance rated? A secretary might say “improved production 20% by reorganizing the file system.”

Keep your resume easy to read. Don’t try to cram twenty years of experience into a single page resume. You can’t do it. On the other hand, don’t stretch a year of experience out beyond reason. Old guidelines say keep it to one page. That won’t always work for long careers and technical/professional resumes, but that’s not a license to write a book. An easy-to-read, well-organized resume is the top priority now. Avoid lengthy paragraphs of text that take a lot of time to read. Recruiters and managers are unlikely to spend the time. You have about 90 seconds to get their attention. Scary, isn’t it?