How to Create the Perfect Resumé

Ah, resumés, the necessary evil of the job search. They can make or break your search, and they’re remarkably easy to mess up. While many people have tried to break down the exact science of the perfect resumé, few have achieved it themselves. And that’s because we’re all operating under certain myths and traditions that are holding us back from making our resumé the most powerful tool in our job search.

First, let’s tackle some myths:

Myth 1: Employers make a decision in a split second after looking at your resumé.

Sometimes this is true, but honestly, much of the process is automated these days, so your resumé doesn’t even make it into a hiring manager’s hands unless it meets certain criteria. When someone does look at your resumé, they’re not necessarily going to glance at it and make a snap decision.

In fact, my colleagues and I who have reviewed resumés often scrutinized them more than you might imagine, and we are looking at different things depending on the job. Which brings me to…

Myth 2: Your resumé should reflect all of your experience.

Big nope. If you switched career paths or if you worked short-term jobs for years, you might be inclined to list it all to show the breadth of your experience. And if you had extended periods of unemployment, you might feel it’s necessary to disclose that.

But employers aren’t interested in reading your entire work history. They will be looking for red flags and they will be looking to see if your experience lends itself to the position you’re applying for. I’ll discuss this more in a moment, but for now, get it out of your head that you need to list your entire life story on your resumé. It should be strategic and tailored to the job you’re seeking.

Myth 3: Hiring managers are going to use your resumé to determine your salary.

I can’t stress this enough: Ask about salary in the interview and do not sell yourself short. You shouldn’t even put past salary information on a resumé, but you may have had to disclose it on the application. It doesn’t matter. Ask for more and ye shall receive.

You’re worth more than you think, and if you don’t communicate that to employers, they will gladly hire you at 70, 60, or even 50 percent of your value. Trust me, it won’t hurt to ask for more, because of a concept called perceived value: If you offer yourself as cheap and affordable, they will treat you as disposable. If you offer yourself as high-value and worthy, they will treat you as valuable.

Now that we’ve covered some of the myths, let’s get to some of the traditions and how you can stand out.

Tradition 1: Simplistic, text-heavy resumés.

Remember what I said about how we scrutinize resumés? Well, we’re looking at the design. You may think a Word doc that lists out your experience is professional and classic, and it is. But so often, companies are looking for dynamic, forward-thinking, problem-solving individuals, and having your story laid out in 12-point Times New Roman just doesn’t scream “innovator.”

If you’re applying to be a designer of any type, your resumé really has to pop. The more creative, the better. Think about interesting ways to lay out your experience, to tell your story visually. And even if you’re not applying for a design-oriented role, a fresh, engaging resumé will definitely stand out from all the linear, black-and-white ones we receive.

And by the way, less text is more. Which brings me to…

Tradition 2: List all of your experience in chronological order.

Speaking of scrutinizing resumés, yes, we are looking for employment gaps, and if your resumé lists all your jobs in chronological order, it’s easy to track the years and see if you went months or years without working. That’s why I recommend organizing by type of work and highlighting your best experience. For example, my resumé separates Digital Content Management from Publications, rather than listing all my temp and contract jobs in chronological jobs. This way, I can get the hiring manager to focus on my best work rather than trying to find the holes.

Any gaps, you should fill by listing your other, relevant endeavors. Were you volunteering on a board for a nonprofit theatre? Were you writing on Medium? Hey, that’s work! Make it sound that way.

Tradition 3: Include an objective at the top.

For years, objectives headlined resumés by listing what the applicant wanted. Obviously, you want the job — that’s why you’re applying! Objectives are too easily full of fluff and can come off as entitled. Instead of talking about what you want, use a professional summary to tell potential employers what you can offer them.

Your professional summary should be brief and free of buzzwords. It should portray you as a competent, savvy asset, rather than a hardworking cog in the machine. It’s a great place to highlight your strengths and make a strong statement about what makes you unique.

Now that we’ve gone through myths and traditions, it’s time to lay the truth on you: there is no perfect resumé. “Gasp! But the title said — “

The perfect resumé for you is the one that tells your best story. That’s what your resumé is: a formatted, strategic device to tell your story and convince a potential employer that you’re the best candidate for the job. If you send them a Word doc with a black-and-white, linear listing of your experience and a brief statement saying you want the job, you’re going to seem like the other hundreds of applicants. If you send a colorful, dynamic document that begins with your elevator pitch and shows that you’re an innovative thinker with big ideas, we’re going to give you the time of day. So, use your resumé as your number-one self-selling tool. It should excite you when you look at it. If it doesn’t, how can you expect it to excite anyone else?

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