Imagine that you can get solid job search advice directly from someone with a background in recruitment and human resources. Wouldn’t that be helpful? Now you can do just that thanks to our new series of interviews Recruiter Reveals! Every month I interview our resident HR expert Christy Morgan on various job search topics, whether it’s resumes, cover letters, job interviews, or anything marginally career-related.
Welcome to the second episode of our new interview series. Recruiter reveals with Christy, our resident HR expert.
This time, we are talking about resumes, the inevitable part of your job search.
We’ll go through some of the most common content and layout mistakes and answer the questions of all job seekers: What should an ideal resume look like?
Let’s talk about how you can create a perfect resume to help you land that job!
In this interview, you will discover:
- What are the most common design mistakes?
- What are the most common content mistakes?
- What does an ideal resume look like?
- Which sections are mandatory and which are not;
- If you must write it in the first or third person;
- How to make your resume stand out;
- What is the best way to submit a resume?
- Is it worth using a resume writing service?
Throughout your career, you have seen many resumes. What do you think are the most common resume design mistakes job applicants make? What should they avoid?
First of all, many job applicants are trying to cram all the blank, making your resume difficult to read. Or, on the other hand, try to distribute it or use large font sizes to make it seem like they have more experience.
Another problem is the margins. Sometimes people try to get everything on one or two pages and use very narrow margins. Firstly, it doesn’t look good, and secondly, if someone is printing it and it loses the margins, it doesn’t make a good impression.
My advice regarding resume design is to pay attention to margins, don’t get too freaked out by white spaces and use them effectively, and don’t make it look like a wall of text. Ideally, keep your resume to a maximum of two pages, use a clean standard font, nothing too big or too small, something between 10 or 12 is fine (11 is generally best).
Also avoid text boxes because ATS systems cannot read them. If you are using columns, make sure they are not next to each other. This is when the ATS can read it incorrectly. If you opt for a design resume, make sure the design is appropriate, attractive, and looks professional.
What about images on a resume? To use them or not to use them? For example, graphics, icons, bullets …
Yes, because that can be read correctly and it also helps guide the reader’s gaze through your resume, whether you are reviewing the ATS or read manually. There is also nothing wrong with adding small graphic elements like icons. The ATS won’t read them, but from manual reading, you can see it. Just make sure they look professional and the emphasis is on the content.
As for the graphics, the ATS can’t really read them. Also, most of the graphics I see on resumes are not relevant. For example, saying you are 75% proactive, unless it is 100% or very close, leaves a negative impression. It is also very subjective. What is your 100% may be 60% from your previous employer. So I generally say, in general, leave the graphics. Unless you are in a field where you need to provide some statistics.
I also recommend not putting the information only in graphical form. For example, many people put hobbies on icons instead of writing them down. ATS can’t read that. Therefore, always use text, even with icons.
So what about the content? What do you think are the most common mistakes in resume content?
First of all, not including the right content or, more specifically, not focusing on the relevant content. In the old days, you included every job you had, from that paper delivery job in your teens. Now, we generally focus on the last 5 to 10 years. Also, people include things in job descriptions that are not relevant to the job they are applying for. For example, if you are applying for an accounting job, having a job description for a secretary position is not very relevant and takes up space.
Then without including a good balance between responsibilities and achievements. Accomplishments are really important today as they show what you really did in that job. Some people feel modest doing that, but that’s what recruiters are looking for too. Ideally these should be measurable: percentage, dollars, whatever you can quantify. It has a much bigger impact.
Sometimes people get too creative with titles too and it can be a disaster because ATS systems search for specific keywords like education, work history, and so. For example, I have seen someone replace a professional summary title with the word “Snapshot”. Sounds great! But the ATS doesn’t know what that means, therefore it doesn’t know how to categorize it.
What about grammar mistakes?
You get it a lot, even with copywriters! Sometimes you get so focused on not making a mistake that you do. In particular, it seems unprofessional if you are in communication, language, or education. Therefore, I advise you to pay attention to that for sure. Even ask someone else to look at it with fresh eyes if necessary.
That’s funny because the main thing that always stands out when it comes to resumes is that you should always check it out.
Yes, exactly. In fact, you can click and the computer will do the spell check for you. However, these are not always that reliable. Ideally, ask someone else to double-check.
What about the buzzwords? Are recruiters really that allergic to some cliche phrases?
Oh yeah, because you see it constantly! 😀 Things like “I’m detail-oriented”, “professional”, “passionate”,… There are many. Everybody uses it, so nobody pays attention to it. It is a kind of waste of space. It is also very subjective. Stick to the facts. Rather, say you are a senior account manager with 15 years of experience rather than a dedicated, detail-oriented account manager.
So doesn’t it make sense to use those words because recruiters will ignore them anyway?
Yes, exactly. However, there is this tendency to refocus on soft skills. But still, hard skills are the most important thing on resumes. I’d say, keep soft skills off your resume and put them in your cover letter. Cover letters are more personal and persuasive, so they’re better suited to explaining your relevant social skills and motivations.
Of all these mistakes you mentioned, which one would make you turn down a candidate?
None. I always try to be as unbiased as possible and look at the actual content. Things like “I am the most fabulous manager that ever lived” or something like that. But again, you look at the evidence and what they actually have on their resume. If they are in the communication field, for example, I would definitely look at it with a much less forgiving eye, because it is a reflection of their abilities. But otherwise, it wouldn’t.
That’s interesting, because roughly 70% of employers They say that even minor details, like unprofessional email addresses, are enough to turn a candidate down before they even finish reading the resume. What is your view on this?
Email addresses can be tricky. For example, there are recruiters who might think you are out of date because you have a Hotmail account. However, I can forgive you for that. On the other hand, I’ve seen some pretty questionable addresses over the years! There are people who have addresses like [email protected]. Good to know, John! 😀
It’s definitely unprofessional, but I wouldn’t turn them down on that basis. Oh, and never use your work email address. I know an IT person who used to check his colleagues’ emails that came in with subject lines like “Respond to your request” or “Invitation to the interview”. So, use your personal email. Please … one that sounds professional!
Let’s talk a bit about the ideal resume composition. How to write resumes of students and recent graduates?
This is a very general question, so I can only give a very general answer. The best resume composition for students / recent graduates is a one page resume, carefully formatted and when it comes to sections, putting education first, then work experience, key skills, volunteer experience, and other volunteer sections.
How about a resume summary? Should students / recent graduates use them?
If they mention any relevant experience, that’s fine. Something like “I am a recent graduate in marine biology and engineering with 2 years of experience in the field of practice “. But I advise you to avoid having a bland factual statement like “I’m looking for a job in marine biology”. We know this, so it is redundant. Be a little more detailed about who you are.
Let’s say I’m a marine biology student with volunteer experience. Should I present it as regular work experience, or rather include it in a separate section?
Yes, you can, if it is directly relevant to your field. For example, if you want to be a marine biologist and you volunteered at SeaWorld, you can incorporate that into your professional experience and simply put (Volunteer) after the job title. But if you have more extensive work experience, volunteering can be listed in a separate section.
What about the composition of the resume for more experienced professionals?
They usually have two-page resumes, but it’s okay if it’s longer as long as there’s a specific reason behind it, e.g. Eg you are an educator or a project manager. When it comes to content, start with a career brief followed by your key career skills, career history, education, certifications, relevant technical skills, language skills, volunteering, and other optional sections like professional memberships.
Put key professional skills before work history? Why?
Because the recruiter will immediately see that you are a potential candidate, whether you are reviewing your resume through an ATS or manually. It also makes it much easier to tailor your resume to specific jobs. Just go ahead and look at the keywords in the job description and quickly go back and tweak your key skills at the top (as long as they’re really relevant to your experience, of course!) If recruiters can see who you are first (in the summary), then what are their key skills, and then what is their most recent job, etc., it’s much easier for them.
When it comes to the work experience sections, many resources say that you should only highlight accomplishments and skip homework. What is your view on this?
I usually say have both. I recommend putting some of the most important tasks first because that is adding the context and then the accomplishments. Maybe you can get away with just the achievements if you are in an achievement-focused role, for example, sales. But in general, I would recommend having a combination: context plus impact.
What about sections like Key Achievements? Is it better to highlight achievements in the work experience section or dedicate a separate section to them?
Sometimes having a Key achievements top section Work history that’s okay, because it helps recruiters see right away what your accomplishments are, if they are significant. Otherwise, I would say incorporate the accomplishments into the job descriptions. That’s where they are most relevant and where the context of your accomplishments is, so it makes the most sense to the reader. But you can also mention anything particularly amazing in your summary. Something like “Award Winning Seller” it will immediately grab the attention of recruiters. You can then mention the specific awards in the job descriptions.
What sections of the resume are mandatory in your opinion?
These days, I’d say a Professional resume Y Key skills They are essential. Later Work experience, Education. And of course include Contact details at the top of your resume, it goes without saying. Other sections are optional depending on your job / industry and level of experience.
Of the optional sections, which ones in your opinion are completely useless? For example, references, hobbies, etc.?
Do not include references. Hobbies are debatable. If you go for a Hobbies section, make it relevant and interesting. We can use the example of marine biology again. A relevant hobby would be diving. That’s relevant, interesting, and also a good conversation starter in the interview.
But there are people who put hobbies like reading, listening to music and other things that do not differ at all. So, you can include hobbies, but make it interesting: calligraphy, splitting the sky, I walked the road in Spain, I make the best brownies in the world, etc.
What about other sections such as Publications, Social Networks, Awards …?
The posts are relevant to people who work in academia. But on a normal resume this is not a section you need. If you have a portfolio, for example if you are an IT professional, you can mention the link in the contact section.
As for a Social media section, it would normally only include LinkedIn. If you are on social media or in a creative field and have your portfolio, I would probably be more inclined to use it in the contact details section; recruiters can check it out right away without flipping through sections. In general, if social media is personal, don’t include it on your resume.
Awards – the same as for Achievements. If you have extensive experience or have done something really impressive, highlight it right away. But if you’ve been employee of the month twice, that’s something you’d include in the job description.
And what do you think of the custom resume sections? For example, if an IT person has a section Custom projectsor a writer adds a section Media for which I have written? That’s OK?
Yes, it is absolutely fine. Alternatively, if you want to save some space, you can add a link to your portfolio in the contact details section.
Now imagine a situation that is quite common: a job applicant wants to reduce his resume to one or two pages. Where should they start?
Achievements can be added to job descriptions, you don’t need a separate section. It may be important to include languages, however you can save some space and mention them in your abstract. Tech skills: if relevant, include them; otherwise, you can skip them. You can also skip the References, Hobbies, Social Networks, or Strengths sections.
However, it’s not always about cutting out sections, but about being relevant and concise with bullets. Cut the fluff and get straight to the point. You don’t have to write down absolutely everything you did on your job. Focus only on the relevant things.
When it comes to resume writing, should job applicants write their resume in the first or third person? What do you think?
Good question! With two answers. 😀 I recommend writing a professional summary in the first person because it is something personal, you are presenting who you are. But write the rest of your resume in the third person because that’s more objective. Also, you’re trying to be concise and we know it’s about you anyway. You can also get away with first person in the hobby section, for example “I am a fabulous brownie baker! Raise $ 1,500 in a 2019 charity baking contest. “.
Well. So, I wrote my resume, went through the ATS, and you’re reading it as a recruiter. What is the first thing you notice?
Good things: if it looks well formatted and easy to read for me, and if it is relevant. That encourages me to keep reading.
Negatively, the same: bad format, the walls of the texts are very unpleasant and, again, when it is not relevant to the job they are applying for.
So if you want to make a great first impression, it’s really important to have a nice and clean resume design, use bullets, and highlight relevant keywords and skills.
Yes! By doing this, you are making the recruiter’s life easier. It will be almost a pleasure to read your resume because there is nothing that takes me too long or confuses me.
Okay, but then I’m thinking: these tips are pretty general, and in the end, all resumes can look alike. So how do I make my resume stand out?
Well, that depends. In the ATS system, they will all look alike because you normally reformat them in the same way. But when you know that it will be revised manually, feel free to use a design template because it will make you stand out and look good. And just make sure it looks clean, nice, and easy to read. I know it might not sound that exciting, but if you are reading resumes every day, these things really please you.
Is there a way to stand out if I send a resume to a company that uses ATS?
Make sure you fit the role as closely as possible. Pay attention to keywords and the experience / skills to back them up. Design elements are usually removed, so expecting it to stand out on that basis without the proper content to back it up won’t work. Relevant content in an ATS-compliant format will make you stand out compared to inappropriate or unreadable apps.
So what is the best way to submit a resume? Through job boards, email, LinkedIn?
These are all valid ways to submit a resume and it really depends. Often times, companies advertise work through multiple channels and everything goes to the same ATS. The same goes for email – it’s usually forwarded directly to the ATS, but in this case, you run the risk of not contacting the right person or of not getting forwarded if you don’t do your research and find the correct email address.
Sometimes LinkedIn has the advantage if the company offers “Quick Apply”, which means you don’t have to fill out the forms, a big problem for many job seekers. However, the key is to follow the instructions. If you are asked to apply through the job board, then for sure you should apply there.
Or if you know someone in the company, you can approach the person directly.
Exactly. You still might have to go through the ATS anyway, but at least you have the advantage of knowing someone and they might recommend you.
What about the old school way of submitting the resume in person? Are people still doing this?
Yes, some people still do that. It’s funny but there is nothing wrong with it. If you are a junior or if it is a smaller company, you can take it there personally, if it passes security. 😀 Small businesses might even appreciate it. They are probably not using any ATS, HR may not even exist so there is no harm in it.
But still, I would recommend emailing it as well, just in case. Then it won’t get lost, which is a risk if you have a hard copy of something. I remember with shame when I was just starting my career as an administrator in the hiring company and sometimes the resumes didn’t get where they should because there were so many of them. We had paper everywhere! Or we would put them aside to give to the right person the next time we saw them, and for some reason he forgot. Things like that happen. So keep this in mind.
Lastly, what do you think about what’s really popular today: job seekers paying other people to write their resumes?
Good question. It is also something that I do, as it is part of my profession. In the most objective way possible, I think there is nothing wrong with it. Because at the end of the day, you shouldn’t be hired because of how you wrote your resume, but because of your skills and experience. So I don’t see it as a bad thing and it may actually be a smart move if word writing isn’t your thing.
Key takeaways: what should a resume look like?
- Resume layout: Pay attention to margins, have enough white space, and use it efficiently. Use a standard font, neither too big nor too small, between 10 and 12 points. Avoid text boxes or columns because ATS generally cannot read them.
- Resume content: Avoid full paragraphs, use bullets. Write your summary in the first person, the rest of the resume in the third person. Be relevant and concise. Use numbers.
- Curriculum vitae of students / recent graduates: Keep your resume on one page. Use a professional summary if you have relevant experience, followed by education, work history, volunteer experience, key skills, and then any optional sections.
- Experienced Professional Resumes: Keep your resume at most two pages (ideally). Start with a career summary followed by your key career skills, career history, education, certifications, relevant technical skills, language skills, volunteering, and then optional sections.
- Resume optimization for ATS: Have standard headings, include relevant keywords from the job description, use standard fonts, avoid graphics (especially if the text cannot be “read”), columns or text boxes.
- Submit a resume: Follow the instructions. If there aren’t any, please submit the request via LinkedIn or email if you want to skip filling out forms. If you are a smaller company, you can also hand-deliver your resume to them.