4 Tips for Writing a Short, Focused and Impactful Resume
A resume is just a stepping stone to an interview, not an all-inclusive record of your career. With that in mind, here are a few easy tips to keep your resume short, sweet and successful.
- Less is more.
Many professional resume writers will attest to this: it’s much easier to write a long resume than a short one. Being concise on paper requires strategy, effort and time. It’s much easier, but less effective, to provide a laundry list of weak job descriptions. For young professionals with limited work experience, a 1-page resume should suffice. Seasoned candidates can make use of a second page, but it is generally ill-advised, even for senior level executives, to exceed 3 pages. Putting energy into a long resume “booklet” is a waste of time, because most recruiters and hiring managers are interested only in the professional summary and the most recent experience — both of which should fit easily within the first page. To help with limiting your options, start out with an old-fashioned pad and pen to identify the top few points you want to get across. Look to it throughout your writing process.
A long-winded resume also signals that you’re unable to prioritize your skills and accomplishments, and prioritization is an essential skill in any profession. If you’re struggling to edit your resume down to size, ask yourself, “Does this sentence make a strong impression on the reader? and Does it relate closely to the job I’m applying for?” If the answer is no, chances are it should be axed.
- Easy on the job description, heavy on the accomplishments.
Job descriptions within resumes are often weak and passive, merely listing what an employee was “responsible for”. Many resumes fall victim to this trap when instead they should highlight your skills and specific achievements. It’s the difference between “responsible for management of the sales team” and “single-handedly managed a team of 15 inside sales “. The latter is active, specific and impactful – all qualities which a hiring manager is seeking.
By eliminating, or at least significantly abbreviating, the list of mere duties and responsibilities, your resume will become much more concise and focused, demonstrating what hiring managers really want: someone with a penchant for action.
- There is strength in numbers.
When listing your professional accomplishments, try to quantify as many of them as possible. Vague accomplishments prompt red flags. Specific, granular numbers sell. Some professions — like finance, sales and marketing — will be easier to quantify on paper than others, but anything can be a valid unit of measurement: products sold (dollars), project completed before deadline (time saved), year-over-year sales (percentage increase), size of team you managed directly (headcount), etc. Recruiters and hiring managers don’t spend much time per resume. When they’re skimming the most recent job experience section, their eyes will be drawn to numbers. If those numbers are notable or impressive, they’ll be that much more likely to give you a call, and you’ll be that much closer to getting your foot in the door.
- Formatting IS important.
Certainly, the content of your resume is the most important element of all, but even the most accomplished candidates can shoot themselves in the foot with poor formatting. Common blunders include text that is too frilly or too large (can seem juvenile) or text that is too small (can be illegible). Additionally, unless you’re applying to a truly out-of-the-box creative agency, most employers are looking for clean, simple fonts, not revolutionary typography. Indeed, the applicant tracking systems (ATS) that scan, parse and rank your resume may choke if they encounter an uncommon font style. The moral of the story: keep font and formatting clean and simple. If your resume is just under a page or just over, you can play with the formatting slightly (e.g. margins, font size) to ensure that your resume is compact and does not leave too much negative space. A resume with a sentence spilling onto an additional page will appear less assertive and compelling, sloppy even.
The resume is often the first visual impression you make, so make sure it’s a strong one.