Sometimes I work with job-seekers who are preparing weeks or months in advance for an upcoming job search. A college senior anticipating graduation. A young professional who wants to leverage his recent work accomplishments to land a better job. A seasoned professional who doesn’t see herself staying with her current company much longer.
I’ve also worked with individuals who have been suddenly laid off and individuals who have heard about a great opportunity barely 24 hours before the job posting closes. In these situations, we scramble to update and revise résumés as best we can with limited time.
We add recent work history. We make sure contact information is up-to-date. But what else can you do under a tight deadline? What small but important revisions could help you land a new job?
There are three aspects of your résumé you should double-check every time you update it: consistency, precision, and readability. Think of it as résumé CPR.
Perhaps you’ve proofread your résumé a dozen times for accuracy and grammar. But what about the tiny inconsistencies that tend to creep in after a document is edited and updated multiple times?
Look at your work experience, for example. Are all of your employment dates in the exact same format? Or do you switch back and forth so that one is August 2010 to June 2014 and another is 10/1999-03/2006? Is the company name bold in this entry but the position title bold on the next one?
These details matter because they create a barrage of tiny distractions for the prospective employer who is reviewing your résumé. Some readers notice such discrepancies and think you should have edited more carefully. Other readers don’t consciously notice. Subconsciously, however, those inconsistencies feel like a fly buzzing around in an otherwise quiet room.
Get rid of the mental noise by eliminating inconsistencies. For every type of information on your résumé — dates, locations, and so on — choose one way you will write it. Then review for consistency every time you add or update information.
Does your résumé proclaim that you have “excellent problem-solving skills” or that you’re a “team player”? When we’re updating our résumés, we feel pressured to make ourselves sound wonderful. We worry about whether we have enough experience or the right skills. Then we start to use vague, subjective phrases rather than giving concrete, specific examples of our accomplishments.
Vague claims and subjective phrases don’t capture an employer’s interest and don’t help you get an interview. Specific information, on the other hand, gets you noticed. Strunk and White said it best in their classic writing guide The Elements of Style. “If those who have studied the art of writing are in accord on any one point,” they wrote, “it is on this: the surest way to arouse and hold the attention of the reader is by being specific, definite, and concrete.”
The tricky part of removing vague claims from your résumé is knowing what to write instead. You must mention specific experiences. Instead of writing that you have great communication skills, explain how you used those skills to win over a reluctant client or to liaison between two contentious departments. Instead of writing that you work well under pressure, list specific deadlines you’ve met. Quantify your successes. Tell employers how much you increased sales, how much you improved student participation, or how much money you saved the company.
(Need more examples of how to word specific accomplishments? Check out these tips from Monster, Lifehacker, and the University of North Texas. Or look through lists of filler phrases and empty words like these from Monster and The Ladders.)
Everything about your résumé must be easy to see and to read. Reading the document must be a squint-free experience even for people with imperfect vision. You can ensure readability with basic adjustments to your document design.
Check your font size. The standard for a résumé is 12-point, but you may need to adjust up or down slightly. For especially compact fonts (think Times New Roman), anything smaller than 12-point can be difficult for many readers to see. For larger fonts (think Verdana and Bookman), 12-point font can seem enormous, so, when using these, you can experiment with 10- or 11-point size instead. Always print your résumé to judge the font size.
Avoid crowding the page. Delete any unnecessary or inappropriate information, be concise with what remains, and leave some “white space.” That’s the design term for the blank space on your page, the spacing between various parts of the résumé. White space is important because it visually organizes information and because it lets the reader’s eyes rest for a fraction of a second before moving on to the next section of text.
Never reduce font size or crowd sections together to fit more information onto a page. If you have at least a few years of work experience, it may be time to consider a two-page résumé.
Even if you’re not facing a tight deadline, résumé CPR is a great exercise to keep your resume updated and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Consistency, precision, and readability will always serve you well with prospective employers.
What else do you edit when you’re hurrying to update your résumé?