I know a lot of people who struggle with the very idea of resume writing – I’m certainly one of them. The idea of looking back over twenty-five years of work experience in order to curate a document that is brief but informative, interesting but concise, has personality but is professional… it’s stressful and even worse, it’s boring. However, it’s a necessary evil.
When planning this post, I started by doing some research on resume writing. It was terrible – there was contradictory advice and “experts” everywhere, but I couldn’t find a consistent answer to most of the questions I had. I took a moment to sit back and consider this informational deluge from the perspective of a job seeker today and I was overcome with anxiety. I can’t imagine being anxious about finding a job, and then having that anxiety compounded by the resume writing process.
Despite all of that, here’s my advice: everyone should have a resume on their computers.
Resumes are living documents, and they grow with you. It is much easier to pull out a resume and add a couple of items before sending it off, than having to write one from scratch while nervously considering a new opportunity.
There are so many “rules” around resume writing and yet there are also no rules at all. I can’t tell you how to write your resume, but I can tell you, as a recruiter, what I find works best in in the resumes I have seen.
Here are my thoughts based on some of the best, and worst, resumes that I have come across.
The rule has always been to not include photos, but recently a lot of people online have been saying it makes sense to include them. A lot of the arguments for inclusion are based on the idea that everyone has a social media account these days and as a result, any recruiter with Google can figure out what an applicant looks like. However, I don’t know many recruiters who are Googling every candidate they come across. When I was a hiring manager in a retail setting, I was told to immediately toss any resumes with a photo on them because there were concerns around discrimination. We weren’t to even read them. This was an odd perspective because the picture was there and I had seen it, so couldn’t we have been accused of discrimination anyway?
So, what’s the deal with pictures? The concern is that a photograph will contain information about the candidate that relates to their possible status as a member of a protected class. An applicant’s gender identity, race and ethnicity, age, and religious affiliation might be identifiable through a photograph, and what’s more concerning is that any assumptions made, whether correct or incorrect, might feed into bias.
I reached out to Dr. Audra Davis PsyD., Managing Partner and head of Organizational Development at The Exeter Group, who leads trainings around diversity and inclusion and cultural competencies, and she said that while it has not been a practice in the U.S., she recommends that applicants do not include pictures. Anyone can use the internet to locate someone’s image. Dr. Davis often discusses unconscious biases in her trainings, and I think that as long as there are people out there who make judgments about people based on their appearance, it might be better to not provide them with the opportunity to discriminate.
While I was researching this topic, I found a great article that reinforces what Dr. Davis said and has more tips on how to create a more multimedia resume, like adding a link to your LinkedIn page: Should you include a photo on your resume?
Functional vs. Chronological:
I don’t like to think of this as this style versus that style consideration, because there are a lot of great arguments for combining the two styles. A functional resume focuses more on an individual’s skill sets, so if you’re someone with experience across varying sectors, or new to the workforce, this might be the best way to create some continuity. At the top of the resume you list your skills, often in columns under headings like technical, management, etc.
Most people are familiar with reverse chronological resumes where you list your experience beginning with the most recent, and each section contains a bulleted list of relevant information.
I like the idea of combining the two styles. Instead of focusing on tasks and responsibilities in the chronological section, one can focus on accomplishments, and allow the lists at the top to highlight unique skills relevant to the desired position.
When I was in undergrad, I worked in our college’s writing center. I really liked the career center’s page on resumes, so I decided to share it here: DePaul Career Center
Which leads me to the next consideration…
To Bullet or Not to Bullet:
If you’ve included a chronological list, this is a great place to highlight your accomplishments. While it’s important that I know that you know how to do your job, I also want to know what you accomplished while you were there. This is a great place to share your achievements. You don’t have to go into detail, I just want to know what I should ask you about once we talk on the phone.
Indeed has a great (and brief) post on this: Listing Accomplishments on Your Resume
1 Page or More?
Another hot topic. As we mostly work with senior level applicants at Exeter, our candidates usually have a significant work history with accomplishments and achievements that would never fit on a single page. However, I have also worked with entry to mid-level applicants with resumes that are longer than a single page and it hasn’t been an issue.
This doesn’t mean that you can get away with some strange formatting choices that make the resume 26 pages long. What it does mean is that you should give space to important experience. There is no reason to leave off achievements that are significant in order to meet an arbitrary requirement.
Nonetheless, if you’re concerned, you can always lean back on the functional resume and use that to save space.
This is the second time that I am referencing The Balance Careers. They have a really nice website that’s easy to read and navigate: How many pages should a resume be?
There are so many people out there offering advice on resume writing, and it’s certainly worth reading through some of it for different ideas. I’m not an expert on resumes, but I have seen many from my time as a hiring manager, my role in our college writing center helping students write their resumes and CVs, and my current position as a recruiter. I’ve been privy to the evolution of styles and “rules.” The one thing that has remained consistent is that there are no rules and there is not one style. What’s important is that your resume is reflective of your experience and shows you in the best light.
Michelle Cahill is a Talent Acquisition Specialist with experience recruiting for healthcare organizations. She is currently pursuing an M.Ed. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling through DePaul University, where she also obtained her bachelor’s degree in history with a focus of study on the First World War. Her goal is to help individuals achieve their highest potential, whether that be in the office or at home.