I’ve been writing resumes professionally for over 10 years now and in that time I’ve seen expectations change a great deal. I am continually changing the style and structure of my resumes to appeal to today’s hiring managers and recruiters and, now that we’re into the new year, it seems like a good time to share the ideal 2018 resume format with you.
First some basic resume format rules:
Keep it concise.
One page resumes are best if you have less than 5 years of experience, otherwise you will likely need two pages – but NO MORE! Attention spans continue to shrink and recruiters simply won’t pay attention to long or overly wordy resumes. It’s important to discipline yourself. Keep sentences short. Make sure there is lots of white space on each page to make the resume easy to read, and use formatting to draw attention to key points.
Keep the format conservative (with a small c)
It’s tempting to want to stand out by creating a unique resume structure or format but in most cases, this is a mistake. Recruiters want to skim your resume quickly and se the salient information – they can’t do this if they are trying to figure out where the key points are. For this reason, please avoid writing a functional resume.
Lead with your best stuff
Make sure that your key selling points are communicated right up front by creating a compelling resume introduction and begin with a headline that says exactly who you are and what position you are targeting. You may decide to include a skills listing in your introduction in this section or perhaps a glowing testimonial or two from your LinkedIn profile. Whatever you include make sure this introduction shouts “HIRE ME!”
Focus on results and impact
Employers don’t want to read a lot of fluffy stuff about how great you are with people and what a good communicator you are – they will decide that for themselves when they meet you! At this stage, they just want to know whether you have done a good job for other employers – the best way to show them this is to write action-packed accomplishment bulet points (see more about this here).
Include web links
At the very least, you should have a fully completed LinkedIn profile and the link to this should be prominently featured on your resume. If your resume is missing this, recruiters will assume you are behind the times and this will hurt your chances of an interview. If you have a professional presence on Twitter, Instagram or any other social media site, include those too – and if you are in a creative professional you absolutely must have a web portfolio link prominently on your resume. (note – if you use Twitter to post political polemics, or Instagram to post photos of your dog, leave them off your resume).
So what does a good resume look like in 2018?
Here are 3 resumes that have ideal formats for today’s market. (Each were written for real people but have been disguised).
You can see that this resume begins with the client’s name immediately followed by a description of what he does. This makes things really easy for busy recruiters. Next the introduction which leads with a result (75% growth) and also includes a quote for extra impact. Notice that, when we get to the career history, each bullet is results-focused and most of them include actual numbers. Always do this if it’s possible.
Here is another example, this time for a digital marketer:
Here the introduction is kept more concise and bullet points are used to make this section really easy to read. A skills listing was used to ensure that keywords were included in the resume. Again each of the accomplishments is focused on the impact my client made.
Here is one last 2018 resume format:
Again, the introduction is bulleted. I’m increasingly favouring this approach as it means busy recruiters don’t have to scan a dense paragraph to find the key information. Quotes are again used and the format (right-alignment) breaks up the resume and gives some nice white space. The beginning of each accomplishment bullet point is bolded to draw attention to John’s successes in each of his prior roles.
Make 2018 your best career year yet by upgrading your resume
One of the nice things about my job is that I see the positive effects of my work every day. My clients get hired faster – and often into better jobs – than they expected. But it’s not because I have a magic wand. It’s simply because I follow my tried and true rules for writing an effective resume. If you follow them, you will see the results too.
For more resume help, sign up for my free resume writing course or shoot me an email if you would like a free quote for me to rewrite your resume. (As a blog reader, you get 10% discount on our services – just mention the blog in your email).
We recently added this sample project manager resume to our collection of free resume samples and I want to take you through the resume so you can see how and why it was written this way. If you have to write a resume for a project manager position, this should be a big help. But even if you are applying for a different type of job, many of these same principles apply.
The resume introduction
Your resume introduction is one of the most important parts of the resume because you have a very brief time (research shows between 6 and 15 seconds) to make an impression with your resume. That means the introduction must clearly address employers’ needs, quickly illustrating why you are perfect for the vacant position.
The resume headline
Always begin the resume introduction with a headline that states the position you are seeking. This is important because the same HR department that advertised the project manager job has also advertised for many other positions and the resumes are coming in for all of them. Make it easy for the recruiter or manager to categorize your resume.
Then write a one or two-line sub-header that communicates key points. In this case, the sub-header communicates that my client is already employed as a project manager for a well-respected company (although I have removed the company name for confidentiality reasons). This removes any doubt about his qualifications. It then goes on to communicate that his technology work advances business goals, which is key, and closes by emphasizing his strong project management knowledge.
The resume profile
Next there is a short paragraph summarizing his key selling points (e.g. that he completes projects on time and on budget) and including important facts about the size of staff and budget that he has managed.
This is an optional extra. In this case, my client had provided some positive performance reviews and I wanted to include some of them to stress strengths that hadn’t already been mentioned in the introduction. Quotes are a great way to ‘boast’ about yourself without feeling like you are boasting. And they have added credibility because someone else said those things, not you.
A skills summary is also optional but it’s a great way to make sure that important keywords are included in your resume. Most companies and recruiters use automated systems that search for keywords and identify only those resumes which contain them. I created this listing for my client but I also suggested that she edit it each time she applied for a specific position. That way she could always go through the job posting and make sure that all the important qualifications were included as keywords.
The main body of the resume
Here is where you describe your work experience in chronological order (most recent first).
So many people get this part of the resume wrong. Don’t be one of them!
For every position a client has held, I write a job description in paragraph format and a bulleted list of accomplishments.
The Job Description
Notice how straightforward, concise and factual the job description is. From this brief description, employers get a real sense of the scope of my client’s responsibilities. They know that he managed 15 people, that he had responsibility for the full project lifecycle (very important for a project manager), and that he managed multiple concurrent projects (this will be important to employers in larger companies who want someone who can juggle a lot of different roles). They also know that his area of focus was business intelligence.
Besides the introduction, the accomplishments are the most important part of the resume. This is where you tell employers exactly what your impact was. Most people make a mess of this part of their resume, focusing too much on what they were responsible for and not enough on what they achieved. Telling an employer what you were asked to do is only one part of your story – what they really need to know is what difference you made. How was your employer better off because they hired you?
If possible these accomplishments should be quantifiable, but you might not always be able to do that. If not, just focus on describing the impact (a nurse might improve patient care, for example).
In this case, our project manager client had lots of numbers to emphasize her success and I used bolding to highlight them. `This ensures that a quick read through gives a powerful impression of success, even before the reader has focused on the details.
The great strength of this project manager resume is that it was written with employers in mind. We don’t focus on what the candidate wants, we focus on what the employer needs. And we use every word to emphasize that our project manager has exactly what they are looking for.
In the old days, before we had email, we all used to mail our resumes off to potential employers. Along with the resume, we would attach a letter explaining why we were the right person for the position. Because this letter was generally attached to the front of the resume with a staple or paperclip, it became known as a cover letter.
Nowadays, it’s highly unlikely that you will ever need to mail a resume via postal service, but the tradition of the cover letter lives on. Only now, it is sent either as an email attachment with the resume, or pasted into the body of the email.
Do you need a cover letter?
Before I started my resume company, I used to manage HR departments and I saw a lot of cover letter during that time. The truth is that I rarely read them. I preferred to just skip straight to the resume. My boss, however, was a different story. He always read the cover letters and he put great store by them. This means that, although there there is a chance your letter will never be read, it may matter a great deal. You simply can’t risk not sending a good cover letter.
What goes in a cover letter?
An effective cover letter tells the employer one thing and one thing only: why he or she should interview you.
It’s the equivalent of your ‘elevator pitch’ and just like an elevator pitch, it should quickly get to the point. Its main purpose is to convey the following:
That you understand the nature of the job being advertised.
That you are qualified to do it exceptionally well.
That you are enthusiastic about doing it.
Let’s look at these one at a time:
1) You understand the nature of the job: You’d be amazed how many generic cover letters employers receive. One after another written by people who clearly use one letter for every opportunity. You can set yourself apart by showing that you have done your research and clearly understand what the employer is looking for. This is as easy as starting your resume with a sentence like this one: “Are you looking for a marketing manager who can think strategically but also roll up her sleeves and make things happen?” Or “I saw your recent posting for a marketing manager with both strategic and executional skills …” The words are less important than the fact that you read the posting and know what is needed.
2) You are qualified: Since you know what they need, you can now demonstrate that you fit the bill. Do this by outlining the aspects of your experience that directly relate to their needs. Carefully go through the job posting highlighting the key requirements and then use your letter to demonstrate that you can do the job. Let’s say X company is looking for a marketing manager with over 5 years of fashion industry experience a background in digital marketing. The ad also states that the person must be able to work in a fast-paced environment. You could say
“I have 8 years of marketing experience within the fashion industry and have created digital campaigns, websites, and social marketing strategies for leading brands such as Calvin Klein and Donna Karan. I thrive in fast-paced environments where change is a constant.”
3) You are excited about doing it: Make sure you express enthusiasm in your letter. This can be enthusiasm for the company (“I was excited to hear about this opportunity as I have always admired your approach to marketing”) or for the specific role (“I was excited to read about this position because I am passionate about social media and would like the opportunity to dedicate myself to building a powerful social presence.”) Just make sure that your enthusiasm is genuine as you may be asked about it in an interview. Nothing would be worse than facing an interviewer who asks “so what is it specifically that you admire about our approach to marketing?” and being able to come up with nothing!
How to address your cover letter
If you know the name of the recruiter or HR professional, you can address the letter to them by name. But in most cases you won’t have that information.
Therefore, I recommend starting the resume with one of the following:
“Dear Sir or Madam”
The common mistake that will ruin your cover letter (and your chances of an interview)
I read a lot of cover letters during my recruiting days and by far the most common and damaging mistake was forgetting to change the name of the company in the letter. For example, for a job with ABC Corp, the candidate might write “I am excited about this opportunity with XYZ Corp.” When they see this mistake, recruiters know that you are sending out multiple applications and have forgotten to edit the letter. It’s an easy mistake to make but it’s one that is rarely forgiven. Employers want to feel special. They want to know that you are keen on their particular opportunity rather than just needing a job.
So whatever you do, check and double check that you have personalized your letter correctly.
How to send your cover letter
You will most likely be submitting your resume online, either by email or via an online job posting. If sending your resume by email, I recommend pasting the cover letter into the body of the email and also attaching it as a separate document.
If you are attaching your resume to an online form and uploading it, it’s best to include your cover letter as part of the resume document rather than as a separate file. So just cut and paste your letter into your resume as page one.
In order to make a powerful impression, your resume should start with a hard-hitting summary – a section that quickly introduces you and provides readers with a brief overview of your skills and abilities. Done correctly, your resume summary will wow potential employers and ensure you get an interview.
I’ve written about creating a great resume summary before (see 5 Ways to Start your Resume with a Bang), but, given the importance of this section of your resume, I want to offer some additional ideas. After all, you only have a few seconds to impress recruiters and the resume summary is the first thing they will see.
So here are 6 ways to liven up your resume summary …
Choose two or three powerful quotes that show employers how respected you are. These can come from LinkedIn, performance reviews, letters or any other source.
The key is to choose quotes that emphasize key qualities for your target position. For example, if you are going for an account manager role, choose a quote that emphasizes your skills in customer relations or revenue growth. If you are applying for project management roles, a quote about on-time shipping or how well you manage project budgets would be very powerful. Where possible, use quotes that are more recent – if the only testimonials on your resume are from your college professors 15 years ago, employers will assume that no-one has said nice things since then.
If your impact can be quantified, highlight some of your best results in the introduction. That’s a sure-fire way to grab attention.
For example, one of my resume clients was a sales rep. He had always delivered strong results until his most recent role. Through no fault of his own, the company was struggling and he was worried about how this reflected on him. To address this, I began the resume with a summary that listed 4 of his best sales achievements in bullet point form. This impressive opening ensured that employers understood exactly how successful he had been
Highlight Awards and/or Recognition
If your work has received awards – either internal performance awards or external recognition – you can list those in the resume summary. This also applies to any other recognition such as regular speaking engagements or media articles. Recognition like this is an easy way to communicate your worth to employers by showing how much others value you.
Include some personality
Too often, resume summaries sound dry and predictable. Recruiters and managers have read it all before and are often tempted to skim quickly over the summary to get to the meat of the resume. That’s why it’s helpful to inject some personality into them. One way to do this is to describe the way you approach your work and write in the first person. For example, an HR director might say:
I am passionate about the importance of creating a positive employment culture. I believe that true business success can only come when employees feel fully engaged and are empowered to contribute their very best work.
Making such a bold declaration has two positive effects. First, it attracts the right employers. If a CEO feels the way you do, he will want to interview you. Second, it turns off those companies who don’t value what you value. This is a good thing as you would never be happy there anyway so don’t be afraid to state who you are boldly and clearly.
Use Bullet Points
One option is to break the usual paragraph into one-line bullet points with each one describing a key selling point. This means you need to really understand your target employers – what do they want? What do they value? What makes you qualified to to help them?
Once you understand this, you can craft bullet points that speak directly to their concerns. And if you’re not sure what those concerns are, study the job description – you’ll find clues in there. For example, if a company advertises for a project manager who can introduce Agile methodologies, it’s a safe bet that they are struggling to deliver products on time (otherwise why would they change?). In this case, a bullet point might read:
Expertise in Agile methodology: Consistent record of delivering complex projects on time and within budget
If you have worked for respected companies, well-known public figures, or well-known brands, be sure to highlight them in the introduction. (Don’t assume that readers will see key information when they read through the whole resume – most people only skim resumes very quickly and often miss all kinds of important details). In one case, a client of mine who worked in TV news had a glowing letter of recommendation from Tom Brokaw. Needless to say, I quoted the letter and used his name at the very beginning of the resume.
Use the resume summary to put your best foot forward
Not all of these strategies will be appropriate for you, but by picking and choosing the ones that do suit your situation, you can greatly strengthen your chances of securing an interview.
Writing your resume can be daunting – especially if you’ve had quite a long career or achieved a lot in each of your positions. I know many people find it hard to know what to include. How do you sift through all those years of experience, all those challenges, all those results, and come up with a concise job description and a few bullet points for each position?
Some people give up and just include everything, winding up with a resume that is 3,4 or even 5 pages long. The problem of course, is that no-one will read all that information, so even the most salient points will be lost.
In all but the most extreme cases, your resume should be no more than 2 pages long and this means you do have to make hard choices.
So how do you do it? There are a few methods I use when writing resumes for my clients, and I thought you would find them helpful.
First, I look at job postings. I choose positions that are similar to the ones my client is targeting and I look for the commonalities. Yes, different companies look for different things, but there are always common themes that run across all job postings. When I find those, I make note of them. The resume I create needs to directly address them.
Next I consider the type of company my client wants to work for. Does she prefer to work within large, corporate entities that are process-driven, or is she accustomed to small, entrepreneurial environments where things are constantly changing. If she is most comfortable in start-up or rapid growth companies, then I need to select content that emphasizes her past success in similar situations and I can eliminate anything that doesn’t do that.
Next, I think about my client’s unique value proposition. What makes them different from other people seeking the same position? What makes them suited to work for the types of companies they have chosen in the positions they are targeting? By the time I come to write the resume, I will have a very clear idea of this and this means I can select content that emphasizes their unique value. For example, perhaps my client is looking to sell IT solutions and has a prior background in engineering combined with more recent sales experience. His unique value proposition may be his ability to relate to clients on a technical level and we can choose accomplishments that show how he has used this ability to close sales. Information that doesn’t relate to this can be omitted without damaging his chances of interview.
If I still have a resume that runs over two pages, I read every sentence again and ask myself: “is it possible that omitting this sentence will prevent my client from getting an interview?” If the answer is yes, the content stays but you’d be surprised how often the answer is ‘no.’
Finally, there is one additional problem you might run into, one that doesn’t affect me … because you are writing about your own career history, you have personal associations with each part of your history and those associations can blind you to what makes the most sense. As an example, I recently worked with a client who had made a career change mid-career. She had worked in technology marketing for the last 7 years and planned to continue in that field. However, her prior experience was in real estate working for large retail corporations. In one of these positions, she had been extremely effective. Given that she was targeting technology marketing positions, I knew it was important to play down this unrelated early history in order to tell a clear, consistent story of marketing success. But my client was very proud of that early experience and it was hard for her to accept that it shouldn’t be the focal point of the resume. It’s important to distance yourself from your feelings about any stage of your career and instead focus on one thing; what does my target employer need and how can I show that I can provide it?
If you follow the steps I laid out above, you’ll be able to write a resume that does just that.
Writing a resume for career change can be a daunting prospect. How do you present your past and current experience in such a way that it appeals to hiring managers in a totally different field? Would-be career changers often get discouraged and give up at this point, while others make futile applications using their old resume and never hear back.
The good news is that there are many ways to tackle this problem. As a resume writer, I work with career changers all the time – here are a few of my favourite resume secrets.
Don’t use a functional format!
As you research resume writing for career change, you’ll no doubt come across various articles recommending that you use a functional resume
This is the term given to a resume that doesn’t follow the traditional chronological experience formula. Instead, experience is presented in terms of skills, with only a cursory reference to career chronology (usually placed at the end of the resume). The theory is that this resume structure will demonstrate your transferable skills without the distraction of seeing that your job titles are in another field.
The problem is that every recruiter and hiring manager in the world knows what a functional resume is and why it is used. Therefore, the trick won’t work. In fact, speaking as someone who has made hundreds of hiring decisions, I can tell you that a functional resume usually hurts you. That’s because the recruiters know you’re using it to hide something.
So please – ignore the advice to use this type of resume resume (advice which is only ever given by people who haven’t hired anyone) because it will cost you opportunities.
Understand the employer’s needs and concerns and show how you can address them.
So if you can’t use tricks, what can you do?
Every employer has specific needs in mind when they look for a new employee. In part they’ll usually want experience and, if you’re changing careers, you may not have this. But they’ll also have specific requirements about personality, ethics, work style, level of commitment, and soft skills such as communication or teambuilding.
To understand what these might be, study your target profession to understand that drivers of success. And when you’re applying to a specific company, get to know that company inside and out, so you know what personality traits and soft skills matter most. This will help you write a resume that appeals to hiring managers and HR folks at that company, even when your experience is less than ideal.
Present freelance and unpaid work as if it were a full-time position. If you want to be a web designer but the only design work you’ve done has been for friends and family, it still counts as experience. It doesn’t matter whether they paid you or not. The point is you did the work and you need to show that on your resume just as if you had been compensated. (And if you don’t have any unpaid experience in your chosen field, now’s the time to get some!)
Communicate your passion and dedication
Your resume needs to show employers why they should take a chance on you. Too often, people want to change careers without having thought it through fully. Employers will worry you might be doing the same.
Emphasizing any and all experience will help, but also it’s important to make sure that your resume clearly communicates your passion for, and commitment to, this career change. That will go a long way towards convincing employers that you will stick with it over the long haul.
For more help …
If you’d like detailed instructions on how to write a strong career change resume, check out our innovative new training program The Complete System for Career Change. In four comprehensive modules, I’ll walk you step-by-step through the career change process, giving detailed instructions on everything from writing a resume through networking all the way to successful interviewing techniques.
Recently I got an email from someone asking if a Google Docs resume template is a good idea. At first glance, this article from Lifehacker may make a lot of sense. Like they say “why waste time…” And the Google template is attractive, so where’s the harm?
The problem is that your resume is your only chance to make an amazing first impression. Using a one-size-fits-all resume template is a surefire way to send the clear message “I am pretty much like everyone else.” (And unless you’re applying for a job that calls for ‘average Joes’, that’s not likely to be the message you want to send!)
Even if you don’t use a template, you might be tempted to steal a format from resume samples you find online.
Here’s why not to do that …
When you use a resume template, or copy someone else’s format, you’re allowing someone else to dictate what you say about yourself and how you say it. You’re squeezing yourself into a box that may or may not be a good fit for you. That doesn’t make any sense.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t take ideas from other resumes. By all means use our gallery of resume samples for inspiration.
But don’t be afraid to take ideas from more than one resume, so that the resulting document suits you and not someone else.
When determining how to lay out your resume, consider what message you want to convey.
What are your main selling points?
Why should employers be interested in you?
What makes you different from other candidates?
Once you know these things, you can choose a resume style that fits you, rather than trying to shoehorn your background into a set template.
The bottom line
The number one key to a successful resume, one that grabs attention and makes employers want to call, is that it stands out from the rest. The only way to do that is to create a document that is as unique as you. And you can’t do that if you’re copying what someone else already did.
If you’re ready to write a unique, one-of-a-kind resume that gets you noticed, here are some more articles that will help you get started:
This post is part of an ongoing series documenting resume makeovers. Each resume was created by the Blue Sky Resumes team for one of our clients, although the details have been changed to protect confidentiality. We hope the resumes, and our strategy explanations will inspire you to makeover your own resume.
Ravi Dhruba came to us looking for help with his social media resume because he had been putting in job applications for several months without success. In his most recent position, Ravi had discovered a love for social media marketing. He enjoyed using it and he was good at it. He wanted to parlay his experience into a position that was more focused on social media and less on traditional marketing.
Here is the resume he was using:
The problem is that his resume didn’t highlight his social media experience, skills or successes. Instead it focused on the breadth of his marketing background.
Focus is vital in resume writing. You have to help employers understand exactly how your skills and experience matches what they need.
Therefore, we completely transformed Ravi’s resume by going into a lot of detail about his social media and blogging experience and almost eliminating unrelated achievements from his most recent position. Even though many of those achievements were impressive, they were distracting readers from the skills that are important in social media marketing.
This is a key point – keep your resume focused on what your target employers want to know and be ruthless about eliminating information that doesn’t serve that purpose.
Here is the revised social media resume:
Notice the dramatic shift difference between the two resumes and how that impacts your own impression of Ravi and his background. It had the same impact on employers. Once he started to use his new resume, Ravi was quickly hired to manage social media marketing for an e-commerce company – all because of a simple change in focus.
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