Whether you’re contemplating sending out an application to a few targeted companies, or you’re ready for a major career change, your resume has a big impact on how potential employers perceive you. And, well, whether or not they even decide to move forward with a phone screening or an in-person interview. Maybe you’ve even taken the first step and researched the best companies for your dream job, or have tapped Instagram for career advice and inspiration. Whatever stage you’re at in the process, it can’t hurt to start building a smart resume. To lend a helping hand, we spoke with New York City career coach Win Sheffield on how to get your best boots, erm, heels on the ground.
1. There is no “right” format for your resume. “Sure, there’s more latitude for creativity if you are in graphic design than in law, but even attorneys can choose between an objective, a summary or a title expressing their expertise,” advises Win. The takeaway? Don’t stress so much about the visual appeal of your resume that you lose sight of the content. When you’re wordsmithing those bullet points, consider the language used in the job description, and try to mirror it. Don’t be afraid to show some personality, either. This is a great opportunity for personal branding.
2. Feature your biggest accomplishments up top. “Resumes get a 10-second first chance and if you don’t make it through that round, you won’t get a second chance,” says Win. “Think about putting examples of your best achievements at the top of your resume in a key accomplishments section.” They can be from any part of your career (no need for chronological order), but be sure to highlight them off the bat.
3. Don’t stress too much about page length. Suffering from a serious case of trying-to-cram-it-all-on-one-page syndrome? Listen up! “Both one-page resumes and two (or more) page resumes will annoy someone. Use what you need to convey your message. I generally recommend that people with more than 10 years experience use two pages. You’ll probably need it,” Win offers. If you’re junior, don’t struggle to fill up more than a page. “With two or fewer years, most people have to pad to get past the one-page mark,” Win says.
4. Ask your mom or BFF to proofread your resume. “Hard to believe, but spelling errors are common on a resume. When you’re trying to distill your professional essence onto a piece of paper, every detail counts.” Think you can catch every little mistake yourself? It’s not worth the risk. “Don’t be that person,” says Win. Go the extra step and get a trusted friend or family member to glance over your resume. They’ll often catch flubs that you might have missed — even though you scanned it countless times.
5. Fill any gaps in your resume. “Whatever it is you were doing that you don’t want to share, don’t leave a gap on your resume. Whoever is reading your resume will only assume something worse and just discard it,” Win says. If you weren’t actively working for a period of time, consider phrases like “attending to family responsibilities,” “consulting” or “successfully raising three children.” If possible, put down volunteer experience, coursework or freelance gigs you did during that time period. Once you’re at the in-person stage with a hiring manager, you’ll be able to explain in more detail how you made the most of that time. Be sure to think about how you’ll describe it in advance so you don’t get flustered!
6. Avoid these expressions at all costs. Win shared a list of terms that are so typical or vague that they’re not worth mentioning. Delete these phrases now: hard worker, quick learner, professional, team player, strong background, outstanding in your field, produce work that is on-time and under budget, innovative, highly motivated and excellent communicator. “Everyone who has ever submitted a resume is all of these things and you will not stand out by mentioning them!” Win says.
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