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Professionalism 101: How to Build Your Resume

November 02, 2017

Whether you're a recent graduate entering the workforce for the first time or an experienced professional interested in exploring new or greater opportunities, your resume is a critical component of the job search process.

Because your resume serves as your first impression to a potential employer, it's hugely important to ensure that yours is the best possible reflection of who you are and what you can offer an organization as an employee.

Use our tips below to help you avoid common mistakes and make the most of your resume potential in the future.

What to Include in Your Resume

A resume is only as strong as the information included within it. How it's formatted only helps present the contained content, so the first step is making sure you've assembled the right information from your background to include.

To help you get started, here are the absolute musts you should include in your resume:

  • Accurate contact information, like phone numbers, email addresses, social media accounts, an online CV, and portfolios or work examples
  • A personal statement, introducing yourself and your career goals, especially if you have less work experience
  • Work experiences, filling in any gaps in employment as best you can
  • Non-paid experiences, like volunteer work, extracurricular gigs, classes not applied toward degrees, community outreach activities, clubs, organizations and more
  • Any awards or honors you received and when
  • Relevant skills and technological fluencies

Now that you know what information you should be certain to include, here are nine tips on how to build your resume and optimize the content and format, so you can confidently hand your resume over to any recruiter or hiring manager.

Resume Tips

1. Turn to templates for inspiration only.

Human resources (HR) or hiring managers have seen it all by now. If you turn in a resume with an obvious Microsoft Office template, you start off on the same bad footing as all the other applicants who turned in a cookie-cutter resume.

Keep in mind: You are not just selling your ability to do the job here; you are selling yourself. Do you want to come across as lazy in an interview for a job you really want? Take the time to format your resume to your individual liking and preference, which leads us to our next point.

2. Formatting matters.

No one is more judgmental than an employer reviewing a resume. Don't give them an easy reason to slide your resume straight into the recycling bin.

Here are some quick tips on improving your resume's format:

  • Keep your information aligned on the left, instead of multiple columns
  • Maximize the white space between sections and along the right side, so your roles can stand out
  • Divide your layout into relevant content sections, like Contact Details, Work Experience, Education, Skills or Technological Proficiencies, and, if you have extra space, your References
  • Use a larger font for your contact details, so your name and number stand out, and a smaller font for the location of your positions and other less important information
  • List your experiences and education reverse-chronologically, from most recent to furthest in the past

And in terms of formatting, nothing is more important in resume building than our next step.

3. Under 10 years of experience? Then stop at a page. Seriously.

It doesn't matter how much experience you have, even if you're as accomplished as a Nobel Prize winner. Your resume should never be longer than one page, unless you want it to end up in the garbage or lost under a pile of other (one-page) resumes.1

Although most experts agree you should restrict your resume to one page in length, since employers are strapped for time and you want your resume to be read above anything else, some human resources (HR) professionals now believe two-page resumes may be OK.1 If you've been in your career for over ten years, you just might need two pages to fit the fine details of those positions that best sell you.

Ultimately, just take caution that your resume is easy to read, doesn't overwhelm the reader, and only communicates details that are necessary for this role. You might have had a life-changing experience 15 years ago—but does it actually have an impact in the role you're applying for?

4. Build your resume for your desired role.

Too often emerging professionals create a generic resume that they send out en masse to all jobs, not taking the time to customize their roles and descriptions to target the role they are trying to fill.

What kind of job are you applying for? This should be readily apparent on your resume, as each position you've opted to include should be refocused to sell your experience for that role. What was your official title in your last role? Is it something that immediately makes your reader aware of your job functions and your potential impact in the business? If not, now's the time to let your literary side shine!

Each role you do can contribute some skill you will utilize in a future role. It's your job to find the connections between your past experiences and your desired future role.

5. Quantify your impact.

Use strong verbs, such as "customized," "executed" and "coordinated," to describe each roles' functions and maximize your quantifiable impact wherever possible. Did your work raise the company's revenue by 54 percent that year? Did you increase leads for the organization by 413 percent in your first year alone? Those are the facts that recruiters cling to, so be sure to show your impact on your organization's bottom line.

6. Objective statements are a thing of the past.

Although this cookie-cutter statement is the most traditionally acceptable way to start your resume, it's become a bit antiquated in recent years, and many professionals are opting to personalize a cover letter instead of wasting precious space on their resume describing their personality and professional goals.2

If you don't have enough work experience to fill the page with your occupational impact, consider using this space to share a brief-but-impactful professional summary that shows a little bit of your personality. The key is making yourself come off as memorable and professionally competent for the role in question. (Be memorable, but no scented pink resumes, please!)

7. Maximize your outside interests.

If space allows, including some of your interests on your resume can be a great way to connect with potential employers who are seeing your resume for the first time, and potentially break the ice during an initial conversation.3

Professional clubs and organizations, philanthropic work, and travel experience are all great options to consider adding to your resume. And imagine if someone you interview with has benefitted from any of these extracurricular activities you participated in.

On the flip side, always avoid including potentially controversial topics like politics and religion, and irrelevant activities like "hanging with friends" or "shopping." Trust us—your employer doesn't care, and you look unprofessional.

8. Proofread, proofread, proofread.

This seems obvious, but it's still something that many people overlook or ignore during their job search. Triple-checking your resume can make the difference between getting that initial phone call or never having your resume come across the hiring manager's desk.3

When you're writing, your mind often moves faster than your fingers can type, so making simple mistakes is very easy. Be sure to read your resume aloud to yourself to catch those simple mistakes and awkward phrasings before anyone else does.

9. Have a friend, Admissions Advisor or career service review your resume.

With so many online and alumni resources available, you should strongly consider sending your resume out for professional review to get some additional feedback. If you're applying to a university, try sending your resume to your Admissions Advisor first, since they know what the university wants from prospective students and can help yours get in better shape.

Many recruiters and HR professionals will immediately dismiss a resume that has careless typos and grammatical mistakes, assuming the applicant isn't competent enough to proofread the document they've submitted. Can you blame them?

Is Your Resume Ready?

Once you've reviewed and taken our tips above to heart, your resume should be good to send out to prospective employers!

Ready to embrace your executive side? Learn more about the secret sauce of leadership, or check out our secrets to an executive career.