If you’ve been in the job market for more than 5 years, you know how much this one little document and the basics of it have changed over the years. For the purpose of this article, we’ll cover what is now the norm for resumes (not CVs) in the US in 2021.
Number of Pages: No kidding, for most people, resumes should be no more than two pages (preferably one page). Returning to the US (after working in a country where longer resumes are the norm) with a six-page document myself, I thought this was unrealistic at first.
Fonts: Keep it simple. Fonts like Calibri, Arial, Verdana are good choices. Book fonts like Times Roman aren’t as easy on a reader’s eyes, so stay clear. Stay away from artsy fonts as well, like Comic Sans, Broadway, etc. Use bold print to highlight headings, sections, job titles.
Font Color: In general, for most industries, again, keep it professional. Black, Dark Teal, Navy Blue for headers or section headings are good choices. It’s rare that maroon and lime green-type colors would be appropriate.
Format in General: While tables, sections, etc., look neat and tidy, along with diamond bullets or bullets that are checkmarks look classy, caution: beware the objects! Don't risk an ATS not liking that it can't read an object or a section that looks like an object. What used to be in tables can be safely converted to bulleted columns. Those side sectioned formats can also make it difficult for ATS to read. Don't leave it to chance. Keep it simple. That includes the risk that headers and footers with your valuable contact information could be interpreted by ATS as objects or sections it just can't read. Resume formats don't have to have any of this to be eye-catching.
Header/Footer: I personally like to see headers (not formatted as headers since ATS may not read your contact information, name, etc.). Your name should be the first thing we see here, usually in 16 -24 pt. font. On a second line, in 10-11 pt. font: phone number, email address, and a link to your LinkedIn profile. The second page should have a page number included. Make sure you have your contact information on every page. Should someone misplace the first page, you wouldn’t want to hand a great opportunity to someone else because of something as simple as not having your contact information on every page.
Headline/Summary: To begin, resumes need a headline or a strong summary statement. What’s the most important thing you want someone to know about you? If a reporter were interviewing you, and your name with a headline about you were on the first page of a newspaper, what would that say? (This would also be the headline you’d include under your name on your LinkedIn profile.)
Competencies or Core Competencies or Areas of Expertise: Your resume used to include these items in Responsibilities under each employer in your Experience section. No one wants to see this these days, and it’s inefficient for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and people to read all this. We’re in an instant information world now, and we don’t like to read wordy paragraphs unless we’re reading a nice, long novel. Employers want to see bullet points or lists or a format of words (keywords) or phrases arranged in such a way that the eye, like an ATS, can quickly scan for pertinent information.
So, in this section, convert what used to be Responsibilities into words or phrases. The other reason to have this section is it creates a place for you to quickly edit your resume to target keywords from a job ad. In our article about ATS, we described having a match between keywords on your resume and the job ad. Organizing your Competencies in this way allows a quick way to edit your resume to respond to a specific job ad.
Notable Accomplishments: Some resumes can benefit from including this section and placing it on the first page.
Experience: Headings in this section contain the Job Title, From/To Dates, and Company Name/Location (City/State). Timing for this section is employment going back 10-15 years. It should contain Accomplishments or Impact statements (not Responsibilities) about your work with respective employers. If there is a key responsibility that is unusual or needs to be mentioned under a particular employer, exceptions can be made. Be careful to make sure that responsibility also has an impact because you do/did it correctly. There is generally something unique about your expertise that allows this exception.
Accomplishments and Impact bullets within each employment role are read and searched for by ATS as well as people. Run your resume through a free online ATS scanner (Google free online ATS resume scan). One that I use picked up on the impact statements. How much time did you save? How much money did you save? What benefit or outcome was outstanding because of something you did or contributed? Be specific when you can, using percentages, dollars, time, and number of people. Doing this gives you a competitive edge not only when a person reads your resume, but also with ATS prioritizing your resume over someone else.
Finally, in this section, bullet these items, get rid of extra words, and since you’re using phrases, there won’t be punctuation at the end of each line or statement (these aren’t sentences). Keep the number of bullets between three and five.
Previous Experience: This section begins somewhere between 10 and 15 years prior to the date you’re writing your resume. It also contains the Job Title, From/To Dates, and Company Name/Location (City/State). If there are bullets of Accomplishments or Impact statements, there are fewer here (if any).
Education: This section goes generally at the end of your resume if you’ve graduated within the past five years or more. Anything less, consider moving the section to the beginning of your resume (on Page 1). Likewise, no need for the date of graduation unless you’ve graduated within the last five years and the degree is notable/supportive of your profession. Include in this section the Degree level, field in which the degree was earned, the name of the university or college or technical school, and the city/state.
Certifications: Every single certification you’ve ever earned won’t necessarily go on your resume. Certifications that are relevant to your career field or industry should go here. Consider carefully what to include. Again, you shouldn’t need to enter the date the certification was issued. This section would contain the title of the certification, certification number if one is issued (e.g., a certification as a Prince2 Professional would have a certification number assigned to it; licenses for specialties like electrician, builder, etc., would have a license number as well). Also list the issuing authority as well as the city/state.
What NOT to Include:
Reasons for leaving a job
Facebook page links
Photos of yourself or anyone else
…you get the idea.
If you have questions, comments about what we’ve included here, or if we’ve missed something, we’d love to hear from you!