5 Rules for a Great Resume
Your resume is the same thing as your CV. Call it what your prospective employer wants you to call it; they are the ones doing the hiring, right? Either way, this document may be the only thing anyone at the hiring organization ever sees. They may only look at the first half of the first page before they decide whether to put you in the “save” pile or the “discard” pile. So make that first 5 inches really good!
1. White space is your friend.
White space is just as important as space with print on it; sometimes, it’s even more important. Do NOT fill up your resume with borders, bullet points, crazy fonts, or unnecessary descriptions. Make sure to offset crucial elements with indentations, carriage returns, and plenty of white space to draw the eye toward them, rather than obfuscate them.
2. Objective is key.
Begin with a clear, specific Objective. “To acquire a job in international development” is as vague as it is unhelpful. “To acquire a job that will work toward reducing poverty in low-income countries via financing micro-institutions, securing food, and disseminating information” is specific and interesting. Your objective should change along with each organization to which you apply — you can find buzz words in their mission statements and on their websites.
3. Skills should be targeted toward achieving objectives.
Follow with a Skills section. This should highlight the skills you have acquired in your jobs, extra-curricular activities, and coursework. DO NOT LIST YOUR JOBS AND COURSEWORK here; instead, focus on the skills you can bring to the job you want. This section is your chance to convince your prospective employer that you have the skills necessary to attain your objective. Think analyze, write, compile, review, acquire, assess, lead, motivate, etc. Be sure to use parallel structure for each item — they should all be verbs, or nouns, or gerunds, or whatever you choose.
4. Parallel is paramount.
Your following sections (Education, Experience, Service Activities, Papers, etc.) should be parallel in style — same font size and type, same levels of boldness, italics, carriage returns, etc. Whether Education precedes Experience or vice versa depends on which will be more attractive to the job for which you’re applying.
These sections need to highlight the tasks you performed (or skills you picked up) that will be most relevant to you moving forward. Did you plan a founder’s ball for your sorority? Good for you. That doesn’t help you work with lobbyists in Washington, DC. But I’ll tell you what does — coordinating schedules, dealing with vendors, securing venues, organizing and overseeing committees, delegating responsbilities, hosting dignitaries, and mediating disputes among colleagues — all of which went into planning the ball. It’s time to think of yourself and your experiences in a positive light.
5. That was SO high school.
If an organization requires that your resume be limited to one page, do so. If not, you can allow for two. Make sure the most crucial elements are on the first page — leave service activities, extra-curriculars, and the reference statement for the second page. Do not include high school events or honors unless they are extraordinary, such as winning a Nobel Prize. Did you win a Nobel Prize? Really? Is that why you don’t have a job yet? Uh huh.
Speaking of high school, remember how fun it was to play around with borders and font sizes and neat styles? Don’t do that here. If you’re applying for a graphic arts position, you should have a portfolio where you show off those talents. Your resume is a place to show off your minimalism and ability to communicate information succinctly in 1-2 pages. Combining Wingdings with Garamond isn’t going to convey your ability to do that.
Get ready to put your best image forward! That means this document is visually appealing and filled with a positive, strong image of who you are and what you can offer. Go get’em!