The New Rules for Writing a Resume That Will Actually Get You Hired
You can beat the dreaded 11-second rejection with a stellar resume and some smart resume writing—here’s how.
These days paper is outdated and digital is key, but what does that mean for learning how to write a resume, that must-have for any job-searcher? Whether it’s for your first job or your fifth, you’re going to need a polished, professional resume—but those resume writing tips may need a little sharpening. Resume writing (and job searching in general) has changed a lot in the last few years, after all, and whether you’re seeking one of those elusive real work from home jobs or a cushy desk job, you’re going to want to change a little, too.
We asked industry leaders in job hunting and career advancement for their resume writing tips to make your resume stand out without going overboard. Prepare to pick up some comfortable work shoes and one of the best backpacks for work—you’re going to be heading to a new office before you know it.
Impressing the robots
Did you know that 80 percent of resumes are rejected within 11 seconds? That startling statistic comes from Amy Klimek, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at ZipRecruiter, and it proves that your resume needs to be able to pass the robot test.
“The best resume design is easy for both a resume parsing software and a human recruiter to read,” Klimek says. “This means being clear and concise and only including words that leave no room for misinterpretation.”
Major employers use parsing software to scan your resume before a human even sees it. Features such as crazy colorings or nontraditional formatting can send your sheet to the dump pile before it even has a real chance. To avoid that, stick to the industry standards for formatting, and make yourself shine when it comes to your resume’s content, Klimek says.
“Job seekers don’t need to enlist a professional designer to move their resume to the top of the pile,” she says. “Simplicity makes all the difference when it comes to impressing a robot recruiter.”
That said, if you’re in a particularly creative field, consider demonstrating some of that creativity in your resume design—within reason, of course.
Most people are familiar with the rule that your resume should only be one page in length. There is an exception: If you’re a veteran in your field.
“It only makes sense for job seekers with at least 10 years of experience to submit a two-page resume,” Klimek says. “Job seekers with less than 10 years of experience should stick to a one-page resume.”
For many people, that means paring down your job experiences to only the most recent and relevant positions. That might mean cutting the bit about your four-year stint at McDonald’s in high school. Online, though, your work experience doesn’t need to fit into a single page. On sites like LinkedIn, you’ll have more room to list the positions dating back to college if you feel they’re relevant.
Resume layout and style
If you’re in the field of graphic design, you can skip this bit. People in more creative lines of work specialize in unique ways of presenting their job history on the page, and that’s great. But for the average person, a flashy format is unnecessary at best and disqualifying at worst. In this area, the status quo is king.
For resume font, Klimek suggests using a single, black font throughout. Consider a web-safe font such as Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman, or Calibri in size 10 or 12. Once your resume makes it past the initial scanning software, you want it to be readable for any human eyes.
Within the resume, headers should be used to separate content sections. Bullet points can be used under each to order responsibilities and achievements, Klimek says.
In general, there are three standard resume layouts to consider, according to Klimek. A chronological resume is best for most job seekers applying to a new position in their current field. Recent graduates should use an education-focused resume that highlights their academic credentials. And someone who is changing industries should use a skills-focused resume that showcases the skills—think critical thinking, presenting, strong writing skills, and the like—that will transfer to their new field.
Klimek says that, in all three cases, these layouts should have a vertical left to right format.
“When a job seeker uses complicated page designs, unusual fonts, and/or images, they risk making their resume illegible to the resume parsing software, which most employers use,” Klimek says.
The details of what your resume will include are likely industry-specific. But across the board, you’ll want to include the basics. That means including a job history, your academic achievements, any awards or special trainings you’ve completed, and some personal information, such as volunteer work you might do on the side.
“Employers love when candidates are engaged in their community, and regular volunteering can serve as an icebreaker for post-interview small talk or, in some cases, as a substitute for full-time experience,” Klimek says.
Check out these tips on how to include your volunteer work on a resume. The rest of the details can be an added bonus, but aren’t required.
“It’s not necessary to write an objective and a summary,” Klimek says. “That being said, including them at the top gives job seekers the opportunity to explain why they are excited about the specific role they are applying to and how qualified they are for the job.”
A.K.A. if your resume skills and experiences don’t speak for themselves, a concise objective and summary might help your resume reach the top of the stack.
When it comes to your references, there is some tricky etiquette to consider, the most obvious being that you want to list someone who can speak highly of you. Klimek suggests a peer, former manager, or freelance client.
“I’d advise against using either a current manager or current coworkers as references,” she says. “Job-searchers should stay professional and keep their job and their job search completely separate.”
You’ll also want to consider whether to add your reference’s contact information, and which method of contact. Not everyone will want to get a phone call from a recruiter; some might prefer email instead.
If you don’t want to worry about these conundrums, Klimek says you can leave references off altogether.
“Employers typically contact a candidate’s references at the very end of the interview process, right when they’re about to hire them,” she says. “Plus, job seekers don’t want to waste valuable resume real estate on information that’s not yet needed.”
Just be ready to provide a few references when asked—and always check with references before sharing their contact information.
Common resume mistakes
Aside from complex formatting, Klimek says the most common mistakes come from the actual words employees use on their resumes to describe their positions and responsibilities. With resumes, it’s important to be clear and concise.
Klimek says keyword misuse and overreliance on jargon can be a deal breaker, including using the wrong keyword or an obscure job title. Saying you were a coding ninja instead of a web developer can make it difficult for parsing software to recognize the candidate’s experience and skills.
Klimek adds that parsing software also watches for keyword stuffing, which happens when a potential employee strings keywords—collaborate, negotiate, analyze, optimize, etc.—together in a sentence that doesn’t make sense.
Need resume help? Try LinkedIn’s Resume Assistant, which will walk you through the basics of creating your industry specific resume.
Online resume tips
Having a paper resume is still necessary, but these days a digital presence on sites such as LinkedIn is also expected.
“The most highly searched and informative parts of your profile are your profile photo, current position—or education, if just entering the workforce—location, industry, skills, and summary,” says LinkedIn Career Expert Blair Decembrele.
And unlike your paper resume, your LinkedIn account will display with your headshot. So Decembrele recommends making sure yours is a professional image with the proper contrast and saturation. Having a picture helps colleagues and friends recognize you, and can solicit more offers, messages, and results in recruiter’s searches when used.
Additionally, LinkedIn recruiters will want to see your current location and information on your current position and education. Above all, Decembrele says you should elevate your skills, which can boost your profile even if you don’t have tons of work experience.
“Almost 90 percent of professionals feel that skills are even more important than job titles,” Decembrele says. “Including five or more skills can help you get up to 17 times more profile views and 31 times more messages from recruiters and others who can help you get ahead.”