Six best practices for writing a résumé

by Steven Stewart
Vice President at Charles Aris Inc.

As a career recruiter, I’m often asked by candidates to provide feedback on their résumés.

“Is it too long?”

“Is it the right level of detail?”

“What do you think of the ‘Summary of Qualifications?’ ”

“Do you like this font or that one?”

Candidly, I think too much emphasis is placed on the résumé. The greatest résumé in the world may secure an interview, but it will never get you the job. That’s up to you and how you perform throughout the interview process.

Conversely, a poorly written résumé could prevent you from getting the interview, so there are certain pitfalls you want to avoid when revising your résumé for your next job search.

Ask a dozen recruiters and I’m sure you will receive a dozen different opinions. But here are six best practices to keep in mind when it comes to writing a résumé:

(1) The “One-Page Rule” is a myth. I’m not sure where it got started, but the biggest misconception I run across is that résumés more than a page in length get tossed without even a cursory glance. False. If you’re early in your career, you may be able to easily capture your body of work on one page. But if you have a longer career, there’s simply more of a story to tell. In fact, a one-page limit could potentially do you a disservice if you’re intentionally leaving out parts of your story.

(2) Lose the “Summary of Qualifications”. It takes up valuable space on your résumé, and here’s the kicker: No one ever reads it. True, it may include some key buzzwords which will make your résumé show up in a search on a job board, but we typically find that those same words can be used in better context in the body of the résumé. At the risk of offending those I’ve worked with in the past: I’ve looked at thousands upon thousands of résumés over the past 20 years, and I’ve never once read the summary.

(3) Words tell but numbers sell. The best way to demonstrate the impact you’ve had in your previous roles is by listing quantifiable achievements. When possible and appropriate, mention that you “improved time to market by 17 percent” or identified an opportunity that “added $11.5M to the bottom line.”

(4) Include the month when listing dates of employment. For example, “1/2014 – 12/2016” is much preferred over “2014-2016”. Sometimes, listing only years of employment is done because it looks cleaner – and, to a certain extent, I agree. However, we’ve worked with companies who may assume that the months are omitted to bury a gap in employment. In other words, if someone left a job in 2015 and started the next job in 2015, one could assume the transition was immediate, while others might assume there was a six-month gap.

(5) Include your graduation year. Candidates often fear that listing the graduation year will allow employers to make assumptions (e.g., they’re too young, they’re too old, they took too long to get through school, etc.). These are all valid points, and frankly there may be companies out there who could discriminate based on age even though it’s illegal. The truth is they’re going to find out through the interview process anyway, so why not get it out there on the table from the start? Besides, do you really want to work in an organization that treats candidates that way, or would you be better off if you never heard from them in the first place?

I had originally written this with five best practices in mind, but as we go to press with this post, I’m reminded of one more. So this one is on the house:

(6) Tailor your résumé to the position you’re considering. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all résumé that works for every role, especially the more broad and diverse your educational and professional background. If you’re looking at an opportunity that is focused exclusively on growth strategy, be sure to cite projects which highlight your growth strategy experience.

I hope you find these six best practices helpful as you consider your next career move!