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The average employer spends six seconds looking at a resume. Six. Seconds! That means that you only have those few seconds to convince a future employer to keep you in the running for a job. The basics are important—your resume must be easy to read and free of mistakes. If you aren’t sure where to start, use a template from a reputable source (like these from the Stuckert Career Center). But beyond that, your resume needs to be appropriate for the job in order to help you stand out. You should apply to some jobs with a basic resume, some jobs with a more creative resume and other jobs with curriculum vitae.
Every basic resume must include your name and contact information and experiences relevant to the job you are applying for. For students and recent grads, highlight your education and internships first. Include skills, relevant coursework, awards, activities and other information as you see fit, but keep it at one page. Also consider including an objective, though professionals are divided about their effectiveness. I don’t personally have one on my resume. Note that the rule of thumb is that your resume can be one page longer for each subsequent degree that you earn.
For a basic resume, there are two generally accepted ways to organize: chronologically and functionally. A chronological resume focuses on your work history, listing your paid and unpaid experience in reverse chronological order and highlighting your accomplishments at each position. This is the most widely used type of resume.
A functional resume focuses on skills rather than work experience. It lists skills in order of relevance to the position, with accomplishments that demonstrate those skills listed underneath. Individuals without much job experience or who are switching career fields and don’t have very much relevant experience may prefer this type of resume.
A hybrid resume combines elements of both chronological and functional resumes—highlighting both work experience and general skills. Many resumes start with education, next touch on relative experience, then skills, and finally some type of honors, awards, or activities section.
The key is to always include items in order of their importance. Your name should be in fairly large text and go at the top, along with your contact information. It should be followed by your most important info (for students or recent grads, this means put your education first!). Always include relevant dates and company information.
Most people write their resume in a formal tone, using third person to describe their activities. However, you can choose to use “I” and add personal voice to your resume, as long as you use proper grammar. If you use “I,” know that it is much less common approach, so some employers will like the change of pace but others will not approve. Liz Ryan, founder of Human Workplace advocates for adding a “human voice” to your resume.
Beyond the content, formatting is important! Bullets points are your friends. They help separate information and increase readability. Use bold, italics or underlining sparingly to add emphasis. These features can be good to divide sections or separate pieces of information, like a school or employer’s name. Regardless of the format you use, do not include a picture because it makes employers feel uncomfortable. They are trying to choose candidates based solely on skill, not appearance. Photos may also cause a problem with the resume scanning systems that many employers use.
Microsoft Word is one place to create a basic resume, but Adobe InDesign offers much more control over the layout, if you have access to this program. Keep equal margins on all sides of the paper: ½ inch to an inch is the general rule of thumb. Make sure that your resume has clean lines and that all of the sections line up properly—if something in the alignment is off, it can be incredibly distracting. White space will also help keep your resume easy to read.
Take a six-second look at your resume and make sure that you easily find the most important info. If you get distracted or don’t get the gist, then change your resume. Once you think you’ve got it down, have a friend take a six-second look and revise again. Stick to black ink on white or off-white paper, too.
As long as you tailor your basic resume to the job you’re applying for, it should be your go-to for most instances. As a general rule of thumb, use your basic resume when applying for any job in the business realm (finance, accounting, engineering, marketing).
For people in a creative industry, like advertising, your resume is a chance to showcase your creativity, within reason. The basic principles of clarity and readability are still key, but you have more freedom than with a basic resume. Abode InDesign or Illustrator are definitely the way to go for a creative resume.
Add some design to your contact info by creating a catchy header but keep it pretty basic. Avoid giant typography, swirly fonts and flashy colors—the idea is to show some sense of style, not to distract the viewer. A toned-down “creative” header can even be appropriate as part of your basic resume.
Consider using mild graphics or embellishments to separate your education, work experience and other aspects of your resume. Highlight the area you find most important. Just don’t get carried away. Once you reach the point of being distracting, design hurts you rather than helps you. These resumes may look cool, but they are hard to read and would only work in very limited situations.
Even among creative industries, different companies have different opinions about creative resumes. That’s why it is important to tailor your resume to the company. If it’s a fun, risk-taking company, they are likely to appreciate a bolder design. A more traditional, straight-edged company might toss your too-bright resume into the trash without reading it. When in doubt, go with a basic resume and highlight your design skills and creativity with a portfolio once you make it to the interview round.
This is an example of a good creative resume. Though the hot pink may not be everyone’s color of choice (and could be too much for a very conservative employer), a little bit of personality is a good thing.
A resume, whether basic or creative, should be limited to one page. A curriculum vitae, or CV, on the other hand, should be more expansive. The example below is page one of a three page CV.
In some fields, CVs are used instead of resumes. For the most part, CVs are limited to academia and positions in education, science or research. A CV includes the information found in a resume, plus a detailed list of all related research or teaching experience, publications, grants, fellowships, professional associations and licenses. CV design should be basic. You’d be fine to include a simply-designed, black-and-white header, but keep the rest of the information straight forward.
If you aren’t in a research or education field, you will probably never need a CV. If you are, then be sure to keep an updated resume and an updated CV, and use whichever a job application requests. If you are expected to submit a CV, it should clearly say so.
Whether you’re submitting a CV, a basic resume or a creative resume, the most important thing is to figure out what the employer wants. That’s why research is an essential part of the job search—it’s how you figure out that you’re interested in a job, how you decide what type of resume they expect and part of proper preparation for an interview.
When applying for a job electronically, submit everything in the requested format (.pdf is usually the safest way to go), and be sure to follow all other instructions like file naming guidelines and size restrictions. Many companies don’t consider incomplete applications and applications that don’t follow their directions, so if you’re not sure you are doing something right, ask! Check with the company, the site hosting the application, or with the Stuckert Career Center if you’re on campus.
Finally, be sure to follow-up after submitting any application. Call or email to express your interest and to be sure that they have received your application and have everything that they need to consider you. Hand written notes work, too. Just don’t include any kind of gift, as it puts employers in the uncomfortable situation of being seen as taking bribes.
If you’re printing your resume, avoid scented, pink resumes like Elle Woods’ in Legally Blonde. Instead, keep the paper white or off-white, and be sure that the print quality keeps everything looking sharp and easy to read. Consider using a heavier-weight paper that may have a subtle texture.
Your resume should be constantly evolving based on new experiences and your career goals. Take the time to keep it up to date and you’ll save yourself the hassle of starting from scratch in the future!
Keep a list of references handy, as well. Some job applications will ask for references and some employers ask for them during an interview. This list should be separate from your resume, but can follow the same formatting style. Also be sure to ask permission before listing someone as a reference. They need to be prepared to answer questions about you, and must be willing to take the time to do so. Choose your references carefully so that employers get the best, honest recommendation of you.
While you are a University of Kentucky student, take advantage of the Stuckert Career Center’s free services! For resume advice, a professional look at your resume or a Quick Career Consult, stop by at your convenience Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
And for more resume help, visit these websites:
Creativity in Resumes
Finding Your Voice in Resumes and Cover Letters