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Making the Best of What You’ve Got: Get Your Resume Format Right
Your resume format and how you put your information on there can mean the difference between your dream job and living a life you love, and that paycheck-to-paycheck, barely making ends meet, drudgery.
The intent of a resume is to give potential employers a summary of your achievements, skills, and education thus far in your life. It’s an incomplete picture, of course, but the general information that you put on here will tell them whether you have what they need for their position.
However, a skilled employer will read between the lines and look for the things you didn’t delineate, as well. For example, errors in spelling basic words, improper formatting, and the way you phrase your skills can say a lot about a person before a face-to-face meeting ever takes place.
Getting your resume format right before you submit it with an application is crucial to an employer’s overall impression of you. You don’t want to appear careless or lackadaisical about what could be considered to be one of the most important aspects of your career.
Don’t worry about having to spend hours researching the right and wrong ways to create your resume, though. We’ve done the research for you, and here is everything you need to know to properly format your resume the right way.
What Exactly is a Resume, Anyway?
Think about a commercial that summarizes the best parts of a product and attempts to convince you to buy that particular item. That’s basically what a resume is, only the product it is marketing is you.
With the right design, formatting, and content, you can sell your skills to the recruiters or employers that you are marketing to and get the job you desire. In today’s competitive job-hunting field, an inadequate resume is a fast track to the unemployment line.
Your resume is an overall presentation of your career experience, your achievements, skills, and accomplishments in a short document. It should be scannable and be able to be quickly reviewed for a solid evaluation in thirty seconds or less since that’s the amount of time that most employers or recruiters spend in consideration of whether a resume warrants further contact or ends up in the trash.
How to Format a Resume
While every person’s is different, there are some sections that are expected on any professional resume. The following areas should be included in your document’s resume structure:
- Summary of qualifications – This is a short summary, averaging about five sentences, of your work history and professional background. How you word this part is important. Include strong action words that describe your talent. Instead of “customer service,” try something like “skilled in excellent communication.” If you have trouble being objective about yourself and your selling points, ask previous coworkers or your close friends and family. If you are still stuck, you may consider hiring a professional resume writer.
- Areas of strength – In this section, keywords are crucial since many resumes are now scanned electronically. Whether visual or electronic, whoever is scanning your document is looking for keywords that fit the position they are looking to fill. You don’t want to load this area down with fluff, but you want to incorporate enough keywords to catch the scanner’s attention. Researching the job position and what it entails will help you know what to include in this area.
- Professional experience – From most recent to last held, this is the area where you will list your work history. Include the name of the company where you worked, the dates you were employed, and the title of your position. Then give a brief overview of your responsibilities in that job. Keep your responsibilities in one bullet, then highlight your achievements in a second bulleted area under each job.
It is common for many people to gloss over the accomplishments and achievements portion of their resume since they don’t want to be seen as egoistic and self-centered, but this is actually a very important part of your resume. Your achievements can differentiate you from all of the other applicants who have comparable experience and be the final deciding factor that gets you the position.
- To include the objective or not? – An objective does serve a purpose, but it can also limit you in your job market search. The objective is better suited for a new graduate or someone with limited job experience in the field they are applying for. If these two categories do not fit you, then keep this area off of your resume.
While the content of your resume is important, it is not the only aspect of your resume that you need to concern yourself with.
Choosing Your Resume Layout
The content of your resume is the main aspect of your document, but the correct resume format is the way it is presented. If your resume format is messy, rushed, or amateurish with mistakes, it reflects on your abilities as a good employee and your chances of getting that job are much slimmer.
There are multiple ways to create your resume, from the tried and true paper kind to video resumes. Your resume needs to uniquely share your personal work history and skills, so you need to find a format that does this well.
There are three standard resume formats that you will run into while you are putting together your layout. Each one is geared towards a different focus and emphasizes distinct areas of your history.
- Reverse chronological – Considered to be the most common resume structure, this format highlights work experience over skills or education. Your work is included from most recent to least, with your responsibilities in each job listed as well. It is a very well-used resume, which makes it tested for accuracy, but it also means your resume probably will not stand out from others.
- Functional, or Skills-based – This resume is less commonly used because its emphasis is on the skills you have that will match the job you are pursuing.
- Combination – When you want to highlight your skills but also give a comprehensive summary of your work experience, the combination resume format is the one for you. Set in reverse chronological order, it equally emphasizes work history and skills.
Whichever standard resume format you choose, you must include the following information on your document:
- Contact information
- Your resume summary (as based on the format you chose)
- Your work experience (unless you are doing a skills-based resume)
- Your skills
- Your general education history
No matter how long of a work history you have, you need to fit everything on no more than two pages, and one page is actually preferable. If you need to shorten your resume, try to trim your margins from one-inch to half an inch. Combine sections like your achievements and interests into “Additional Information.”
You can also try to make thorough use of each line. In previous times, your address was separated, with the street address, city and state, and zip all on individual lines. Now, you can eliminate your address completely and place your phone number and email address on the same line.
Change your font size to 10 (except your name, which should always be 14) and then try to play around with readable fonts until you find one that scales your page down.
Finally, you may have to face the fact that you may have to eliminate some content. Consider what is actually interesting to potential employers and what is not relevant to everyone. You might be able to use the information that you take out and put it in your cover letter when you are targeting a job that it pertains to.
When to Use Each Resume Format
Each format has its good points and its drawbacks, so deciding which one to use can be tricky. The layout you choose is important if you want to grab the attention of the person scanning all of the applicants’ resumes.
Even when you choose your format, the design of that format can be tweaked to a specific industry to help make your resume stand out. For example, if you are looking to land a creative job in photography, you can take your format and add your personal flairs to it to make yours more imaginative. But if you are aiming for a top position in a legal firm, your resume should be more traditional and serious.
Reverse chronological resumes are good for anyone with a regular work history looking for a traditional job. This format shows a linear progression in your career and easily tracked by scanning software used by many employers.
The problem with reverse chronological resumes is that if you have any large gaps in your employment history, they are clearly visible. If you are looking to downplay those gaps, you may try a different resume format. This format is also very plain and common, so it’s more difficult to individualize and show your creativity.
Functional resumes are excellent choices for people who have a lot of work experience in one or more areas but are switching careers to an unrelated job area. It’s also good to cover up lapses in work experience because you are focusing on your skills instead of your employment history. The creative arena is the perfect venue for this type of format, but automated systems have a hard time pulling keywords from functional resumes.
Combination resumes take the best of both of the previous formats and combine them into a more interesting style. They can mask employment gaps and be differentiated for multiple levels of skills. However, they require careful planning to avoid repetition or missed information and they need you to be able to come up with enough skills and work experience to fill in all of the empty space.
What Resume Format is Right for You?
No matter which resume layout you choose, keep in mind that the most important parts of the document are your keywords. Without visible, clearcut skills and experience, automated servers, recruiters, and potential employers will skip over you.
Any standard resume format template will help you integrate your information with the layout. How you choose to insert that information, the design you choose to depict your personality and style, and the words and mechanics that you use will speak your story to the reader of your resume, so make it a great one!