6 small resume changes that will have a big impact

featured-on-usnIf you’re sending out resumes and not getting many calls to interview, there’s a good chance that your resume is the problem. If you’re like most people, your resume could use some work – and like most people, you’re probably not sure where to start.

But you probably don’t need to start from scratch. You can often significantly improve your resume by just making a handful of changes. At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about six small changes you can make to your resume that will have a big impact. You can read it here.

{ 73 comments… read them below }

  1. Kimberlee, Esq.

    One tip that I give when I do resume reviews that I feel is not only visually good, but self-affirming during a long job search: Make your name bigger. Your name should be the biggest thing on the page.

    It adds a bit of visual dynamism, as well as a some white space at the top. Do this whether you center or left-justify your name. It obviously won’t make THE difference, but I still vouch for it. :D

    1. RLS

      This is a challenge for me because my name is very unusual, and I feel it easily leads to a lot of prejudice (whether accidental or intentional) when it’s reviewed. My best friend is male and has a very American, simple, distinctly male name and his resume and cover letters are terrible (seriously, godawful), but he gets interviews like nobody’s business! I’m not saying his name is the secret, but when you see his name, his school and major, a very nice picture is painted in someone’s head of a typical, white, all-American guy. There’s no guessing. My name has the same amount of syllables, is really truly very simple, but it looks complex, foreign, exotic, whatever, and I think scares many people off. It’s gender-neutral for those who don’t recognize the origin. It sucks…’cause I love my name, except during job-hunting.

        1. RLS

          It’s kind of amusing when I *do* get interviews, and it’s clear they had a very different idea–the look on their face is sometimes amusing (At least it makes me smile! :) I know I have caught myself doing this when reviewing resumes – I’m sure it’s just human nature and we want to put a face to the name – but I always give the resumes a second or third look-through any way.

          1. PEBCAK

            I have a gender-ambiguous name, and I am used to jaws dropping when people finally meet me in person and see that I’m female.

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.

        Hmmm. I mean, I totally get that discrimination, whether intentional or not, is a thing that legitimately happens, and it sucks. But on the other hand, I think in this case, it’s still good advice. After all, you don’t have the option to HIDE your name; it’s there, whether big or small. If anything, making your name bigger could emphasize visually that it IS simple and easy, if you look at it more than just a passing glance. I still think it would be sound advice for you, but it’s a situation where I can totally understand if you decided not. :)

      2. Serin happy

        I completely agree with you. I have been searching job for now 8 months. I am beginning to think that maybe I need to change my name, or like Chines, put an English name in the front. But my name doesn’t sound weird, instead it has beauty in itself ;) Some of us friends/classmates still looking for job. I realized that those of us who are looking for job are mostly immigrated here through family or as International students.

        Another trend , I found is that those students (mostly int’l students) who speaks Spanish got job much easier and faster than non-speaker. I took a summer class ;)

  2. Julie

    This is really helpful because, while I already follow most of the advice, I didn’t realize that I could leave out basic job duties. I was concerned that if I didn’t include them, a hiring manager might think I didn’t know how to do them, but now I see that this concern is a bit silly. It’s so easy for me to get worked up about the wrong thing when I’m trying to get something “right” or “perfect.” It’s really helpful to get AAM’s advice and the perspective of the commenters on these things.

  3. Anon

    Alison, why were objectives ever a thing? I know my mom used them in the ’80s and I think even in the mid-90s when I was first applying to summer jobs as a student people still used them sometimes (although they were going out of fashion). I always thought they were awkward and left them off. Why did people used to think they were needed?

      1. Chris

        Objective statements are useful:

        a) Career Fairs when you know exactly what position you want to apply for:

        This is when you meet a person at a booth having done your research, checked out the positions open, and know exactly what you are looking for. My experience with this has been favorable and sometimes they will give you more information about the position, and some write down some contact information for depts to send the resume off to.

        b) When you are suspicious that Company X has a resume filtering system.

        Some companies list positions like “Mechanical Engineer 1 Req.# 140001337”. If someone tells you these are words and numbers the software filters for, a place in the resume is needed for them. A short objective in this case works.

        c) Internal referrals / When an “in” directly asks for an objective

        Basically, if an internal referral sends back your resume asking for an objective statement, just write one. Debate time comes later.

    1. Stephanie

      Only instance I could see them being useful is at some mass hiring event like a college career fair where a recruiter could sort through a bunch of identical-looking (as in similar experience, degrees, etc.) resumes.

    2. Joey

      Well the only real purpose they’ve ever served is to say what you’re looking for. That might have been useful back in the day when it was normal to snail mail or hand deliver unsolicited resumes and communication was done mostly through snail mail, or leaving messages with a receptionist or on someone’s answering machine.

    3. Yup

      They sort of filled the role of the cover letter. (Not effectively.) The resume itself was expected to be uber formal and technical, so the objective at the top was the flash of personality meant to convey your general awesomeness. The idea was that the person screening resumes could just read the little blurb at the top to get a sense of who you are and what you’re looking for.

    4. James M

      From what I can gather, an objective can be used as a brief sales pitch when the rest of your resume (and cover letter) doesn’t paint a clear picture of how valuable you would be to the company if hired for .

      How or when it came into common use… I don’t think anyone can say for certain.

    5. Canuck

      I think it did have to do with what Joey mentioned. Before the days of the internet and when printing wasn’t as easily accessible, people used to create a resume and print off a whole bunch of them. It wasn’t as easy to customize your resume for each employer; and I believe this also created the idea of having good “resume paper” to apply to jobs with.

      1. Windchime

        Yes, I agree. I attended a business college (cringing with embarrassment now) back in the days of dBase and typewriters and huge floppy disks. We were taught to use an objective on a resume and type it on “good paper”. I even bought fancy, heavy envelopes to match. I’m pretty sure the objective and the nice paper are leftover relics from way back then.

        1. Eden

          I bought the matching envelopes too. I still have some of that heavy fancy paper (remember making sure the watermark was facing the right way in the typewriter?). I can’t bring myself to throw it away.

          Oh, dBase. You are taking me right back to my first job. Thanks for the memories!

  4. Cruciatus

    Hopefully I didn’t shoot myself in the foot–but I had what I guess you’d consider a profile at the top of my resume but I took it off so that I could get my resume all on one page for a job I applied to on Friday. Otherwise my resume would have been 1 page and 2 lines of the next page. I changed the margins and borders as much as I could that kept the resume looking as normal as possible. And I didn’t want the font to be any smaller. If you have a 2 page resume, does it matter if you only use half or less of the 2nd page? The “Monk” in me didn’t like the asymmetry.

    1. Joey

      I prefer 1 page. If there are a lot of jobs Id prefer to see irrelevant jobs removed or shorter or less bullet points so it all fits, but that might be just me. Because most of the time, at least in my opinion, you can convey pretty much the same substance in 3 or 4 short, well written bullet points.

      1. PEBCAK

        I agree. If you can’t get it all on one page, I worry about your ability to communicate briefly in emails, meetings, etc.

        1. Cruciatus

          So is it then better to cut something (like a profile) to get everything on 1 page? I didn’t have anything extraneous (like hobbies). It was basically, name/address, work experience, education. The end.

          1. Joey

            Yes. Think about the purpose of each line and if it doesn’t add anything of substance leave it off.

        2. Anonymous

          Depends. Have you been working 20 years for 8 organizations, or five years for a couple of places?

          Twenty years in one page is not right unless the person has been in just one or two roles.

          Also, tiny margins generally look bad. Cramped text looks bad.

    2. Kimberlee, Esq.

      Honestly, if you have a 2 page resume, you should use up the entire second page. If you’re at like a page and a quarter, you should probably shorten to one page, but if you must go to two, I think you should use the whole thing. Bump up your fonts, add some white space, do some nice formatting on there. :)

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I think a page and a half is totally fine (assuming you’re someone who’s worked long enough to warrant a second page). A page and a quarter looks weird, I agree — but I don’t think people should stretch 1.5 pages to 2 pages just for the sake of length. After all, the longer it is, the less likely that when a hiring manager is skimming, their eye will fall on the most important parts.

        1. ADE

          Just to add a different perspective to the mix, I once used a page-and-a-quarter format for a job that was a 2 jobs-in-1.. One of my strengths was that I was the rare candidate who possessed skills in both halves of the job equally, so I my resume ended up speaking to two different jobs. So yes, it was longer.

          It might not have been ideal, but it got me the interview.

          My advice would be not to go over a page unless you have a good reason for it and you know it.

        2. Anne

          I’m just wondering how US-centric this advice is. From a quick poll it seems like all my friends here in the UK have 2 page CVs, but I’m not sure whether that’s because it’s actually the best/most accepted length over here or if it’s just because it’s what our uni careers services told us to do.

          1. Alex

            This is very US-centric. I lived in The Netherlands and was often asked to help write US-style resumes because everyone was used to writing multi-page CVs. Do UK CVs usually get sent with pictures of the job candidate as they do in The Netherlands?

            1. Ritva

              I live in Finland and here, 2 pages with a photo is the norm, 1 page if you have little relevant experience. I’ve lately been to several trainings on résumé writing and listened to many recruiters on their thoughts on what’s a good résumé like. In the end, it depends on the person reading it and their preferences. One wants a summary of the core competencies at the top and only a list of the jobs while another wants minute details on each job and no summary. Some read the résumé first, some the cover letter. I’ve decided to pick a format I feel works for me and on which I have received positive feedback from some recruiters.

  5. Confuzzled

    I’m having a bit of trouble figuring out what exactly should be in a profile, and the wording of the content. Does anyone have an example?

    1. RLS

      I struggle with the same thing. Mostly I focus on my particular skill set and leadership/work style, but it usually takes many, many edits.

      1. Joey

        Emphasize your strongest points (or at least the ones you believe will carry the most weight) as they relate to the job you’re applying to.

  6. Lucy

    I find that an objective is good for those that are just starting out. Young people straight out of college with very little to no experience. In my opinion I think if you have a solid work history and you put an objective sometimes it can back fire on you depending on the hiring manager that is reading the resume and what they are looking for. For example, If your objective are to climb the ladder and possibly take the hiring managers job then this will be perceived as a threat. So most likely your resume will be skipped over. If you have to put an objective it should be worded the right way.

    1. Joey

      But by applying to a specific position at a specific company the objective is pretty much known. I don’t need you to point out that you’re looking for a position like the one you’ve applied to. Ad I really don’t need you to say you’re interested in a growth opportunity where you can utilize your skills do I?

    2. some1

      Joey’s right. If a candidate is answering a call for resumes, it’s understood that her objective is to get the job she’s applying for. If someone is cold-sending a resume, they should explain in the cover letter what kind of position they are looking for.

      “For example, If your objective are to climb the ladder and possibly take the hiring managers job then this will be perceived as a threat. So most likely your resume will be skipped over.”

      If a candidate, especially entry-level, wrote that their objective is to climb the ladder and take the HM’s job, I agree the resume may get tossed, because it makes the candidate seem naive, not because it’d be seen as a threat.

  7. Sophia

    Ugh speaking of resumes, I still haven’t used Alison’s resume review that I purchased in August. Kind of had some life changes that rendered it not needed and none of my friends want it. Thinking, I’ll need to pass it on here at some point.

    1. Fiona

      I might be interested in taking it off your hands! I’ve been hoping having a new intern might allow Alison time to run another sale one of these days. ;)

      fjionna at gmail dot com

  8. Eden

    I’m really struggling with my profile statement. It is really THE key for me, because my although my work experience is not that widely varied, it sure looks that way, based on a quick review of my previous titles and fields.

    On the one hand, I want to sell myself, and I do have a specific skill set that I think is valuable. On the other hand, I keep reading warnings about describing yourself as a ‘good communicator’ or similar because it’s your subjective opinion.

    Also, I have worked in many fields, so I can’t describe myself as a Title, or even a Some Field Professional, because I’m in transition out of my last field.

    Anyone else in this boat? Do you write about your strengths as though they are not simply your opinion (I see lots of ‘proven’ XYZ skills on samples I look at), or do you take the view that if you have been using XYZ skill set for 20 years, that indicates some level of mastery (I personally know too many people for whom that does not hold true to want to go that route)?

    1. Fiona

      Me too! I have no advice because I’m also struggling to get away from subjective statements and “AAM-ize” my summary. I would love, love, LOVE to see Alison do a post (hint, hint) with some samples of “good” profile summaries.

      1. Eden

        Me, too. That would be very helpful.

        It’s easier to have some personality show through in your cover letters, but it’s pretty darn hard to convey some sense of what makes me different from the other candidates when we are all possessors of excellent communication and organizational skills, etc., in two shortish sentences.

        I’m left to wonder, why *would* anyone pick me? You’d have to actually think my experience in a variety of fields and positions would be a help, rather than a hindrance, to my ability to do a great job for you. I don’t get the sense that many hiring managers think this way though. And when I know that there are approximately one billion other applicants, and they all have been in that field since the mesozoic era, I am discouraged by my patchwork past.

        1. ADE

          Based on what I’ve seen people do on LinkedIn, I think the most effective summaries are ones that tell a short story about you. You either find a common theme in your eclectic job past that you play up, or find a way to make it personal or appealing in its narrowness. Even if it’s not impressive that you’re the only person in your office who can do XYZ, I think there’s a way to “spin” that so that it sounds distinctive.

          FWIW my LinkedIn profile is pretty business up top, but further down I get a little bit more casual on purpose.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      The trick is to talk about the outcome of those skills — what you’ve achieved by using them. You could have the greatest communication skills in the world, but if you’ve never used them to do anything, no one will really believe it anyway. So don’t just claim the skills; focus on what’s come of them.

      1. JustMe

        Do skills always need to be quantifiable? I know it’s better if they are, but I’m not even sure how one would calculate “number of satisfied customers,” for instance.

        I just revamped my resume a bit this weekend, and I tried categorized bullet points under each job in hopes that it would be easier to scan. (For example– Financial: A/P, A/R, bank reconciliations, etc.)

        Before my weekend revamp, I had a highlights section at the top, but it didn’t feel like it was really serving any purpose, so I removed it.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          No, lots of things aren’t numerically quantifiable. It’s okay for it to be qualitative as long as you’re being objective and could back it up.

          1. Windchime

            I still have trouble with the quantitative stuff, too. As a programmer, what do I say? “Wrote a huge big scary stored procedure that actually worked”. “Compile code on the first try 98.7% of the time (I wish).”

            Not that I am writing a resume, but I suppose it never hurts to keep it current just in case.

            1. De

              Yes, I also have problems with that (same job). I think software developers usually end up with something about which technologies they used, but that’s not really “accomplishment focused”…

    3. Joey

      Get more specific than good communicator. What are you good at communicating in the business world? And frame it in a way that shows how it is valuable to a business.

      1. Eden

        What constitutes an achievement, in this context?

        I was the person the entire staff looked for to get on the phone or interact in person with any disgruntled client. I was also the person chosen most frequently by doctors to relay complex medical information to clients of all backgrounds.

        Skill in dealing with irate, irrational people is not something I was born with, so acquiring it was very much ‘trial by fire.’ I’m proud of it—I made loyal clients out of people with gripes—but don’t want to sound like I’m bragging.

        Another communications example: I was the person all the doctors and our practice manager came to for writing or editing of client correspondence or exam notes, or to write newsletters, or web content. Writing and editing was very much not what my position title entailed.

        So are these achievements? Of course, I have references (boss, practice manager, clients) who would verify this, but to my ears these sound like hanging medals on myself that are hard to quantify.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yes. For example:

          * Built reputation for working successfully with previously unhappy clients
          * Became go-to staff member for relaying complicated medical information to patients of diverse backgrounds
          * Sought out by doctor and practice manager to write and edit client correspondence, exam notes, and web content

  9. the_scientist

    I’d love to hear from people in academia or research about what they consider to be appropriate resume length. Obviously, an academic CV runs pages and pages, but what about a resume? If you include: education, relevant work experience, other work experience, presentations, publications (peer-reviewed), publications (not peer-reviewed), and awards, things can get pretty lengthy.

    1. Fiona

      I’m not in academia, but as someone who has received CVs when resumes were more appropriate, I think you shorten your CV to a more traditional resume lengthy by NOT listing every presentation, publication and award, but rather summarize these sections with bullets and calling out the most impressive/relevant items, e.g.:

      –Published author of 8 peer-reviewed and 25 non-reviewed articles on Socioeconomic Significance of Chocolate Teapot Design and Use in Feudal England

      –Frequent guest lecturer at regional and national History of Chocolate Teapot Design workshops; Keynote speaker at National Chocolate Teapots Conference 2013

      …and so on. If after reviewing your resume they want additional details, you can provide your full CV at that point.

    2. Hunny

      I really agree with Fiona on this one. My nonacademic job involves a lot of writing, presenting on my field, and getting things published for my employer. No way would I ever list them all.

      And since its a resume, which I would assume is for industry work rather than academia, what would be the benefit of providing a laundry list of presentation titles and article names that probably mean nothing to the hiring manager? I’m thinking of my husband’s research right now, which is very theoretical, yours might be more relevant-sounding to industry jobs. Fiona’s solution neatly demonstrates that you can produce a good quantity of good work, and then you get to tell the reader what common threads were in that body of research rather than making them work to figure it out themselves.

  10. Bryce

    Instead of an objective, I have a summary that looks like this:

    “Technical and professional communication specialist with writing, editing, research, teaching, and instructional design experience supporting Federal contractors, corporate trainers, health care, finance, insurance, and academic institutions.”

    I never really used an objective, because back in the late 1990s when I was in grad school, a professor said that “An objective opens up your conversation on a bad note with potential employers by talking about what the organization can do for you. Your resume should be about what you can do for the organization.”

    1. JustMe

      I’m hoping to get into some form of instructional design (technical writing, e-learning, etc.). My inner book nerd smiled to read that someone in the field is a AAM reader. :)

  11. teclatwig

    Hm. I am not sure what a summary statement is — sounds a lot like an objective, with a slightly switched focus.

    I have loathed objectie statements for 25 years, and am so relieved they are firmly in the past.

    On every resume I have reworked for self and friends, for 20 years now, I have created summary sections simply because they seemed obvious, and helpful. The way I do it, the summary section is for painting a quick snapshot of my relevant skill set. I usually end up with 1-4 key skill areas, depending on the job at hand and also on how well past work is already focused on future work’s goals. Each area has 2-3 bullet points.

    So for my husband who has been a jack of all trades but is now ready to specialize, using all of his past work, I actually created 4 headers (something like Sales, Marketing, Engineering, and Training); under each header, 2-3 bullet points listing a demonstrated skill. So, under engineering, one bullet point lists the languages he programs in (Java, Ruby, etc.); under Training the bullet points might describe the size and type of training. This way a hiring manager looking for all these skills doesn’t have to skip around the resume and accomplishments and deduce the categories of special skills.

    I don’t know if this was very clear. I am happy to post more later, and could talk about less-complicated summary sections.

    1. Eden

      teclatwig, I think what you are describing might be a great idea for me. I think I’m going to try a version like that!

      How do you handle potentially duplicate information that appears in the skills listing with accomplishment statements for the previous jobs?

  12. Smilingswan

    Hello, I was wondering if/how the profile section of a résumé should be labelled? Should I just use the word “profile” as a section header, or “applicant profile”, or…? Also, is a profile basically a mini-cover letter?

    1. Fiona

      Definitely not “applicant profile.” Simply “Profile” works. I actually don’t have any header for my profile section. I have my name/contact info at the top, my profile text, and then my first actual header is “Career Highlights” which I think is more interesting than “Summary of Qualifications”.

      I keep going back and forth on whether to keep the profile text. I’m trying to make it less fluffy and more substantive without duplicating stuff I say elsewhere in my resume or on my cover letter, but it’s hard, which maybe is a sign it should go. But aesthetically I like it as a visual buffer between my contact info and my first header.

  13. Anon

    When organizing a resume by date, how do you handle overlap? For instance, I have one job that I still currently hold, and another job that started more recently that I also still currently hold. Job 1 is more relevant, so I want to include it first, but that means Job 2, with a more recent start date, is listed second.

    1. Fiona

      Personally, I think chronology trumps relevancy. If you’ve been at job 1 longer and it’s more relevant, you’ll probably have more to say about it than job 2, right? The more substantive entry will draw the reader’s eye.

      If it’s really irrelevant, you could also leave job 2 off completely, since you wouldn’t have to worry about creating an employment gap.

  14. kas

    My resume was two pages for no reason at all, I just wanted to show that I had work experience but I realized I didn’t have to put every single thing that related to the position (some of it didn’t even completely relate). Since shortening it, I’ve actually been hearing from companies/scheduling interviews. I’m actually embarrassed at what I was sending out, it wasn’t horrible … just unnecessary, especially for a recent grad.

    1. Anne

      This is a bit of a revelation to me too. I thought 2 pages was the accepted standard. I should definitely be able to cut it down to 1, though, so I guess I really should!

  15. Eden

    My resume is 2 pages now. I tried to follow the old 1-page standard, but I’ve been working for 24 years in three fields, and I was condensing to the point it was impossible to make sense of my experience. I really need the skills headers, because without some way to show continuity, it’s hard to see that I have any consistent experience in anything—but that requires more space.

    I have left off my first few jobs, and the jobs I did in college and grad school, and second jobs (like teaching). I have one that is less relevant to the kinds of things I’m looking for now, but it’s smack in the middle of the history, and would leave a gap.

  16. Erica B

    (I posted this on the article page too)

    Do you have an example of good/bad profiles or summaries and how should it be formatted (list in sentence form, vertical form, centered, left aligned, etc)?

    I always hated the objective. It’s very awkward so I am very glad it’s gone, but I haven’t seen any examples of ‘profiles’ or ‘summaries’.

    I have mentioned it before, but questions like this really make me wish you had a Resumé 101 book available for reference

  17. Stephen

    First off, my name is Stephen (pronounced Steven), and I can’t tell you how many times I have gone into an interview and received the greeting, “Hello, Stefen?” It usually doesn’t bother me during the interview, but it has become irritating. Would changing the spelling of my name be seen as dishonest? Also, is there a secret legion of people named Stefen walking around and ruining my job search?

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