I’ve been working in Human Resources for some time now and I think it’s about time I actually write a post related to my actual full time job! On a typical day I review at least 30 resumes for various positions. I asked if you would want to see a guide to the ideal resume and give some tips and insights and you said yes! I still have a lot to learn but I feel like I have a good enough understanding of what the employer is looking for in a candidate to write a full post about it. I’m hoping my unique perspective can shed some light on the intimidating world of applying and interviewing for jobs.
I reached out on Facebook and Instagram for questions and you guys definitely delivered! In this post I’m going to start at the basics and break down the ideal resume. There are a few subjects that I will definitely dive into more in future posts though but if you want to see something specific comment at the end of the post. To keep things simple we are going to go about this as if you are applying for an entry level position. A lot of these tips can be applied for most position levels but sometimes we need to get back to the basics!
Before you can even begin to apply for jobs you need a resume. Creating a resume can be a daunting task because there is such a thing as a bad resume. There are so many “do’s” and “dont’s” when creating a resume and the pressure is real! Your resume is the first impression you give to a potential employer and first impressions mean a lot. I will say that having a good resume is crucial but it does not define if you get the job; but more on that later.
Let’s breakdown the fundamental basics that every resume needs:
- Phone number
- Job history with descriptions
- One page
That’s it! Doesn’t look too daunting right? Some of the above seems pretty obvious but you would seriously be surprised how many resumes I get that don’t have an email or phone number listed! Hello, I can’t get a hold of you if you don’t give me a way to contact you. Remember in grade school how you you would lose a point on a test or assignment because your forgot to put your name on the paper? Yeah, same concept but with a much larger consequence! Let’s break down some of these elements even further to get a good understanding of the “why” behind them.
Use an email that you actually check. I feel like this shouldn’t have to be explained but time and time again I get emails from people asking why they never heard about a position. I would say 25% of the time it was in their junk/spam inbox and the other 75% of the time they respond “oh I never check that email address!” If you don’t check an email address don’t use it as your point of contact on your resume. Applying for a job does not subscribe you to a bunch of spam I promise. Entry level positions get dozens, even hundreds, of applications so recruiters often mass email. Mass emailing makes our job faster and easier to narrow down the pool of candidates. So check your spam/junk folders and use a simple email address.
I see so many email addresses that are just a little ridiculous. Please don’t use firstname.lastname@example.org as your professional email address. It takes a couple of minutes to create a new email address that is more clean and professional and it’s well worth it. I know people with common names tend to have a harder time with this but get creative! You can do email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com. It doesn’t need to be this formal but try to keep it as simple as you can. You can use this new address specifically for job hunting, as long as you check it often when applying for jobs. It’s okay to have numbers and things in your email address, it’s when you add other characters that it gets crazy. Check out the domain “ymail” on yahoo for email addresses! This is a newer domain so the odds of getting your actual name are greater.
Pro tip: I also recommend having some sort of signature when you respond to emails. This is definitely not a requirement but frequently someone will email me back without signing their name and their email address gives me no indication who they are. When this happens I will spend a few minutes searching for them and that is annoying and wasting my time.
When I’m reviewing a resume I’m looking at a essentially one thing – does this person have the skills required for the job. If I’m being honest, 90% of the time I don’t care what extracurricular activities you do or what publications you have. While those things do show me what type of person and worker you are I can often find those things in your job descriptions or an interview. When I’m reviewing applications I’m looking for very specific things that I know will apply to the position. The Skills section should showcase 7-15 of the following in any combination you see fit:
- Specific programs you are familiar with that are applicable to the position ex. Microsoft, quick books. social media platforms, etc.
- Things that show the type of person you ex. adaptable, punctual, loyal, friendly, critical thinker, etc.
- Any other skills you see applicable ex. 80 WPM, languages you know, SEO, etc.
Pro tip: List the most impressive skills first. If you have perfect work attendance for 5 years I want to see that! Any special programs you’ve use or other non generic skills should be showcased in case the person reviewing is just skimming quickly.
Job History and Descriptions
As you already know, this section is the most important part of your resume aside from your contact information! The sole purpose of a resume is to share your job history and how it is applicable to the job you are applying to. This is where recruiters spend most of their time reviewing because it gives them the most insight as to who you are as a potential candidate. The job history section should include the following:
- Job title
- Exact or approximate dates
- Brief description of duties and responsibilities
Depending on your work history there are two ways to go about formatting your description. If you have a lot of job history keep the descriptions short and to the point. You don’t need sentences, just bullets to showcase your responsibilities. If you have very little job history you can expand a little further in sentences. It’s important to keep in mind that the descriptions should not be too long but highlight key skills and responsibilities. As I’m reviewing I’m looking to see if you can handle to job you applied for. For example, if you only have experience as a pizza delivery driver would you be a good fit as a personal assistant to the owner of a company?
Below I’m going to show a resume I recently received and was asked to review. The person who sent this to me did give me permission to share but of course I redacted any personal information. This resume overall was pretty solid but had some common errors so I thought it would be the perfect example to break down.
Let’s start with the first page. There is a name and contact information (not showcased), an objective, and experience. At first glance I noticed right away that the margins were way off and the name/info was off to the left side. Those aren’t big things but making small adjustments can make a huge difference! Margins for should be 1″ or even .5″, this is a great way to add a little extra space. By having the name and contact information in the center not only does it make the page less cluttered but it also showcases the candidate. Think of your resume as if you are writing a paper for school. Every paper needs a title to highlight what to look forward to and for your resume that is your name!
Next the objective. I personally think objectives are pointless. I never read them for entry level positions – if ever. However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be added to your resume, especially if you have little job history. In this case though they had plenty of job history so I omitted it. Also note that the objective actually raised a couple red flags for me. They state that they are looking for a flexible job and to gain experience for future endeavors. That tells me 1) they may not be fully committed to the position and 2) they may not be a long term employee. Very few employers are going to be able to accommodate your schedule. Especially with entry level positions remember you are expendable and the most junior person on the totem pole so you won’t get much flexibility in the beginning.
Pro tip: If you choose to have an objective make it specific to the company and the position and keep it 2-4 sentences. Remember to edit it for each different company or position though!
For the experience portion it was actually pretty well done. There were mostly some formatting and grammatical changes! The employment dates and location (not listed) should be flush with the right edge and not all of them were. You will see I also changed up a lot of the verbiage or took out a lot of the responsibilities. I did this for a few reasons. First, I was trying to get everything down to one page. Second, there was a lot of unnecessary things written. For example they put “acting store manager from September – November while manager was on maternity leave”. I don’t need to know “why” you were asked to be acting store manager. I am impressed with the sole fact that you were trusted and experienced enough to be. Quite a few things were also either common knowledge or could be reworded and condensed to take up less space or could be listed as a “skill” so I removed those as well.
Now for the second page I have the education, professional development, and operation systems/software sections. First I took out the last two sections and combined them under a “Skills” category because that is essentially the same thing but again, taking up less space. Instead of listing them each on their own line I displayed them side by side with bullets in between. This is a great trick to take up less space but still get the maximum amount of information! You can also do this for your job descriptions. For the Education section I omitted one of the schools completely because they did not earn a degree so personally I didn’t feel like it was necessary.
With all those changes let’s see what the final product looks like!
Much better! You’ll noticed that I ended up taking out the entire education section. I did this because it still didn’t fit on one page with it included and I didn’t want to sacrifice the more pertinent information. The final product is clean and gets right to the point! You could still change up a couple things like move the Skills section above the job history or bullet the job descriptions similar to the skills section but those are personal preferences.
I truly hope this helps give some insight to the intimating task of creating a resume and wondering what HR recruiters actually pay attention to! Keep in mind that you can still have fun with your resume by changing the layouts or formats a little bit. Remember to not go too crazy though! You don’t want a bunch of crazy fonts, font sizes or colors.
FAQ’s and other Pro tips
We covered a lot and I could probably keep writing even more but I will save some of those topics for a later date. To wrap up let’s address some common questions that don’t necessarily need a huge breakdown.
- Can my resume be longer than one page? For entry level positions, no. For upper management positions, yes but try to stick to 2 pages.
- Should I add references to my resume? References are a given and most entry level positions won’t contact them so there is not need to add them to your resume. If an employer wants references they will ask you for them. This also applies to adding your past Supervisor contact information.
- Do I need a cover page or objective? Honestly if a company doesn’t ask for a cover letter don’t send one. Objectives are also something I just ignore. But if your resume is super short add it and make it specific to each company you’re applying to.
- What should I wear to the interview? If you are unsure, always over dress. You will look more out of place if you dress down than up. Girls, nice slacks/skirt with a blouse or nice dress. Not too many accessories and nice shoes. Boys, slacks a button up shirt, tie, and nice shoes. Stick to your true self and be comfortable though!
- Should I follow up after the interview? Yes but wait at least one week! Often there are interviews after yours and managers like to review all the candidates with their team for a couple days before making a decision. Follow up if you don’t hear anything but don’t continue to follow up if you don’t hear anything.
- Is it possible to be overqualified for a job? The simple answer is yes. If someone has been working as a Director of Finance for 5 years are they really going to be okay starting at an entry level position? And if so, why?
- Does having an employee referral increase my chances? Yes of course but it does not guarantee anything! Having a referral basically means they will review your resume but that is it. You still need to be qualified for the job and interview like everyone else. And hope that your friend is a good employee! If not, it could reflect poorly on you and vice versa.
- I don’t have a lot of job history. How can I sell myself on my resume? If you have zero to no job history this is where you add things like extra curricular activities and service! Show that you have skills like organization, commitment, teamwork, etc. in those areas. It really is important to be part of clubs and things in high school!
- Should I have more than one resume? I do and I love it! I have one Aviation related, one Blogging/Creative content related, and one business/HR related. This just helps me apply to jobs faster because all of the applicable information is formatted to fit the industry I’m applying for and I just have to make little tweaks.
- Read the entire job description. SO often people apply for a position, come in for an interview and the job is not what they expected. Everyone’s time is wasted now because someone didn’t take the time to read the entire job description.
- Write down the jobs you applied for. This may seem silly but when you are applying for a lot of different jobs it can be helpful! Write down the company, position, and a short description and carry it with you. That way when someone calls you about an interview you can quickly reference and jog your memory!