how to write a resume that doesn’t suck

No offense, but your resume probably sucks, because most people’s resumes do. That’s not surprising, since it’s hard to be good at something you might only do a handful of times over the course of your life. But do not panic! We’re going to walk through exactly how to make a resume with a minimum of pain and angst. That’s not to say you will love this process, because you will not, but at the end of it, you will have a resume that will not shame you and will hopefully encourage people to hire you.

1. Start by listing out all the jobs you’ve held – or at least the ones that make you a stronger candidate.

Write out the basics of your work history, starting with your current or most recent job and working backwards. Include the name of the employer, your title, and the dates you worked there. This is going to be the framework for your Experience section, which we’ll flesh out in a minute.

As you do this, know that you do not need to include every job you’ve ever held. Your resume is a marketing document, not an exhaustive accounting of everything you’ve ever done in life. You’re allowed to pick and choose what to include, based on what will and won’t strengthen your candidacy. That means that you don’t need to include a job you were at for two months four years ago, or a part-time job outside your industry that you picked up for extra cash, or a job you got fired from and would rather not field questions about. (You might still choose to include some of those so that you don’t have long gaps in your work history, but know that there’s no rule that requires you to.)

2. Now, create a bulleted list of what you achieved at each job – focusing on achievements, not responsibilities.

This is where the real action is on any resume, and it’s the part that will separate great resumes from mediocre ones: What did you actually accomplish at each job you listed? We’re not looking to regurgitate your job description here. We’re looking for what results you achieved.

Most people’s resumes don’t do this. Most people list things like “managed website” or “coordinated events” or other activities that they were assigned to do. But that tells the person reading your resume very little. It tells them that you held a job with a job description, yes, but it doesn’t say anything about how good you were at that job, when the latter is the thing they want to know (and the thing that will make you seem better than your competition and help you get interviews). Instead, your resume should focus on what you achieved in doing your work. For example:

  • Revamped help desk ticket system, reducing average response time by 25%
  • In first three months, cleared out previous nine-month backlog of cases

If your job doesn’t have easy quantifiable measures like that, that’s okay! Your accomplishments can be qualitative as well. Here are some examples:

  • Acted as a gatekeeper for a busy 15-person department, ensuring all callers felt warmly welcomed and received prompt, accurate answers to queries
  • Became go-to staff member for relaying complicated technical information to high-profile clients, earning regular compliments for making complex transactions easy to understand

Those things say more than just what your job description was. They give the reader a sense that you’re good at that job.

If you’re having trouble thinking of your job in terms of accomplishments, imagine a really terrible temp filling in for you – or even imagine yourself if you were checked out and not trying to do well. What would go differently? What would fall to pieces? The gap between that scenario and your (hopefully excellent) performance is what you want to capture on your resume.

3. Add a section for your education.

For most people, the Education section will be just a line or two, listing where you went to school and what you degree you obtained. If you’re a recent graduate, include your graduation year; otherwise, it’s fine to leave it off (it’s very common for people to exclude it in order to avoid age discrimination).

Generally your Education section should come after your Work section, since for most people, employers will be most interested in your work experience. (You might be an exception to this if your education is your strongest qualification and you have little relevant work experience.)

4. Consider adding a Profile section at the top.

Profile sections are a trend in modern resume writing (and have replaced the awful, old-school Objective that everyone use to have). This section is just a short list – like two to three sentences or bullet points – summing up who you are as a candidate and what differentiates you from other people with similar professional backgrounds. The idea is to provide an overall framing for your candidacy.

A good trick to writing one: Try thinking about what you’d want a contact to say if they had 20 seconds to sum you up to someone who was hiring for the work you do.

Note that this section isn’t necessary. You can skip it if you want – and you should skip it if everything you come up with for it sounds generic. But if you can up with something that captures how, say, a former boss who adored you might describe your work, without giving yourself over to the utterly subjective, it’s worth including.

5. You probably don’t need a Skills section – but maybe you do.

In most fields, you don’t need a Skills section; your skills should be obvious from the accomplishments you list in your Experience section. That said, some fields are an exception to this, like I.T. or other highly technical fields.

If you do include a Skills section, limit it to hard skills, like software programs and foreign languages you’re fluent in. Don’t list subjective self-assessments like “strong written communication skills” or “visionary leader” or “works well independently and in groups.” People’s self-assessments are so often wildly inaccurate that these won’t carry any weight with employers and just take up space that would be better spent on something more compelling.

6. Other things you may or may not need

If you’ve done impressive or relevant volunteer work, list it in a Volunteer Work section. But it’s fine to skip that section if you don’t have anything particularly notable to list.

Some people like to include a Hobbies section. Some hiring managers find those interesting and others don’t care. I don’t recommend taking up space on your resume with them, but some people swear they’ve gotten interviews because the interviewer shared their love of scuba diving or bookbinding.

And if you’re a recent grad, it’s fine to include information about extracurricular activities, but they should come off after a few years, when you’ll hopefully have more work-related accomplishments to include.

7. Limit yourself to a page or two.

Most hiring managers spend about 20 seconds scanning your resume initially – if that – which means that you need to be concise. The longer your resume is, the less likely their eyes are to fall on the parts you most want them to see.

The general rule for resume length is that you’re limited to one page when you’re in school or a recent grad, but you can go up to two pages after you’ve been out of school for a while. You go over two pages at your peril – many hiring managers roll their eyes at long resumes (and you’ll come across as someone who can’t distill information down to what’s most important).

8. With design, less is more.

If you’re tempted to get creative with your resume design – perhaps thinking that it’ll help you stand out from the crowd – resist the impulse. Hiring managers want to get the info they’re looking for on your resume as quickly as possible, which means a concise, easily skimmed list of what you’ve accomplished, organized reverse-chronologically … in other words, the traditional resume format.

Stand out from the crowd based on your content – compelling descriptions that show you’re great at what you do – not your majestic purple header or other design innovations.

I originally wrote this for New York Magazine.

{ 125 comments… read them below }

  1. Hey Nonnie*

    I’ll just note: resume design CAN be helpful, but design for function rather than form. Some layouts are more easily scannable than others. As one example, using a different (but not obnoxious) color for job titles, so they don’t get lost in a sea of bullet points. Or put your hard skills in a sidebar, so it’s both on the first page and easily seen, AND not pushing down your work history to a second page. Some resumes end up looking like a wall of text, so strategies to break that up and lead the eye to where important blocks of information start is to your advantage.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Yep, this. design is important but only insofar as it aids rather than inhibits the ability of your reader to understand what you’ve put on the page.

      People are always trying to stand out, but I would rather receive a resume that used one of the default templates you can get in Word (because they’ve mostly been designed for legibility) than to modify or create from scratch something that might increase the chances that the resume becomes unreadable. Most people don’t have design skills and that’s okay; there’s a reason these resources exist.

      1. Hey Nonnie*

        I came across this layout last year, and with some minor modifications really like it. It’s really easy to read.

        I’m a fan of including a list of (hard!) skills in your resume — it’s an easy way to get your keywords in there for machines, and it’s very human-friendly, too. You don’t have to repeat “SQL” in every job title you’ve held, and the hiring manager doesn’t have to go hunting for it in the sea of bullet points if it’s right there in an easy-to-read list.

        1. NotAnotherMananger!*

          Whereas I could never see another two-column resume again and not miss them at all. This is why it’s so hard to guess what hiring managers are looking for – we’re all a mass of contradictions and subjectivity. :)

          1. Hey Nonnie*

            Yeah, this is going to depend on the resume. If you’re not in an industry where including a list of hard skills makes sense, then there’s very little need for a sidebar. I mainly like it because I have a pretty extensive list of skills by this point, and while I need to highlight them to be competitive, I didn’t like having the skills list push my work experience so far down the page. Now the two most relevant things I can share are both at the top of the page.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, I’m not a fan of them because it usually results in less info being in the work experience section / tends to make those sections much more sparse.

            1. designbot*

              yeah my main complaint about the linked template is that it works for the example person because they’ve only held 2 jobs in the last decade. The rest of us need more room for the meat and fewer side dishes.

          3. Jesmlet*

            Might just be my ADD but whenever I try to read a 2 column resume, my eyes tend to flit back and forth and I can never fully concentrate on it long enough to digest the important bits.

        2. nep*

          Wow if this is what resumes should look like, mine is way too plain. Mine is strictly black and white, all one font…some bold here and there. Readable, but if this is the standard my resume will be mind-numbingly boring to look at.

      2. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)*

        I switched to LaTeX templates for my last job search and it pays off really well. Most of them are for academia, but there are tons of business examples. I chose moderncv with a soft shade of blue for sector divisors. Classy, easy to read and well designed.

        1. Tau*

          I use LaTeX for my CV as well (I learned it for my maths degree and it’s my go-to for creating professional-looking PDFs), but this did come back to haunt me once when a recruiter cheerfully asked if I could please send him the Word version of my CV.

          Me: …what Word version?

    2. Logan*

      I find that most job applications these days require me to submit a text for my resume. As in – just like this box into which I am typing – I am not submitting a file but rather am copy/pasting onto a website. I don’t know if this is unique to my field / part of the world, but I think that it’s great as it really emphasizes the content. It gives me permission not to worry about the little things.

      1. Hey Nonnie*

        Those that I’ve seen, there’s a place to submit a text-only resume to be read by machines, and a place to submit a pdf/doc resume, to be read by humans.

        Alternatively, you submit your pdf/doc and the machine attempts to convert it to plain text… often badly, which you then must edit, so that sentences and bullet points are not mismatched or in the wrong place.

        But yes, it’s often a good idea to create a plain text version of your resume for this purpose. ALSO keep the human-friendly version handy, since plain text gets back to the wall-of-text problem.

      2. 2horseygirls*

        I dumped my master resume into Notepad or Wordpad – it will (rather brutally) remove all formatting, and essentially leave you with the ASCII text. This gives you the opportunity to edit it to make a version that will read well when pasted into fields on automated systems – you’ve removed the funky spacing, triple returns, etc. You can use (judiciously) * and – and — to highlight and separate sections, and will not be surprised when it comes up for your review as you might be copying and pasting from, say, Word. It will be all tidy and organized.

      3. N/A*

        Oven noticed this with some of the part time retail positions I’ve applied. You can upload your resume and it will auto fill for you, but I am 90% sure no one read the actual resume I attached, based on my interviews. So much for that cover letter.

  2. InfoSec SemiPro*

    “That’s not to say you will love this process, because you will not” This is the kind of straight shooting honest support I come to AAM for.

  3. Anon for this*

    I do look at hobbies, and I’ve called some people for interviews (and ended up hiring) based on their hobbies. I work in a version of content moderation and having people with a wide variety of interests makes us a much better team.

    Also, I want to include a link to this article in every job posting I have.

    1. CM*

      You should! I bet job searchers would appreciate it, and you could tell who actually bothered to read it from the quality of resumes you get.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        As an established professional, I would be slightly put off by a job posting that told me how to write my resume. I know most resumes are terrible, but you’re not going for those. I’d rather have the bottom 90% of my candidate pool submit poor resumes than lose one person from my top 5.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          I understand that it can feel overbearing and am not convinced including a link would do all that much good, but the Anon for this’s goal clearly is a good one: to avoid losing someone from the top 5% of the candidate pool whose only shortcoming is that they’ve been badly advised on how to construct a CV. Or someone who doesn’t come from a background where they absorbed this as a matter of course, but need to be told. Frankly, if you’re hanging on to your dignity so strongly that an effort to reach out to the brilliant candidates that may hide in less privileged corners of the candidate pool makes you drop your candidacy, you never were in my top 5% anyway.

  4. Let's Talk About Splett*

    Also, if you can, get a friend to proofread your resume & cover letter before you send it. Spell check won’t pick up things like using your when you should use you’re. At least if you are like me and your own errors are hard to find until you have already emailed it.

    1. SarahKay*

      Or if you don’t have time to get a friend to proofread, but do have access to a printer, print it out and then read it out loud. I find I can catch half a dozen typos that way that I’d missed when just reading it on the screen.

      1. BRR*

        In addition to reading a hard copy, changing something about the text format helps catch things. I love taking one of those partially translucent, colored binder dividers and placing it over whatever I’m proofing but I’ve had success with changing the font color and size. I also like using a second piece of paper and going line by line. If not my eyes dart all over the page.

    2. Amaryllis*

      If you don’t have another fresh pair of eyes, do a CTRL + F for homonyms/homographs/homophones to catch these. There are lists on dictionary sites and Wiki if you need help thinking of them.

    3. BRR*

      Word (and all of office) now has a text to voice feature that has been incredibly helpful for me, although it wouldn’t catch the your/you’re type. Prior to that I would copy and paste sections into a website that would do text to voice.

    4. 2horseygirls*

      Or read it backward from the bottom up. Sometimes, our brains put things in order subconsciously. Reading a sentence word for word backward breaks that tendency.

  5. Turquoisecow*

    This is really great advice, and is helpful for feeling less overwhelmed about the process. Definitely sharing.

  6. irene adler*

    Question: if one leaves off the college degree graduation year to avoid age discrimination, how should one “disguise” the job start/end dates? These dates also indicate one’s age.

      1. irene adler*

        So I’m basically screwed since I’ve held my current job for over 20 years….right?

        1. fposte*

          You can’t disguise the fact that you’ve been in the work world for at least 20 years, but that doesn’t make you screwed.

        2. Ali G*

          Have you had progressive job title changes? If so, maybe you can leave off the very entry-level ones and focus on the last 2-3 that are most relevant. So if you worked at the same place from 1998-2018, but your first 2 roles were entry level, maybe start at 2005 and list your most recent job titles and work experience.

        3. NotAnotherMananger!*

          It depends on what you’re applying for and where? I just hired someone BECAUSE of their 20+-year tenure with an organization known as being a leader in their area of expertise. The interviewers commented very positively on their years of experience and felt more like we got extra lucky getting someone that knew exactly what they were doing.

      2. Tableau Wizard*

        Thank you!! I have a colleague who is trying to disagree with me on this fact and I’m baffled by her thinking that they are optional and it’s incredibly common to just not put dates or even duration of time with a company.

      3. Eve Sundquist Sande, Ph.D.*

        I just got my only interview when left off job dates! Telling.
        But overqualified and can’t leave STEM Ph.D. off and now am accounting for paid mother’s care for years.
        Age discrimination is real, and it will not change.
        Likely Knew 56 and female, the “diversity” candidate to fulfill requirements.

    1. Sal*

      If you have tons of years of experience with many jobs, you can leave off jobs from way in the past that might be less relevant or low-level/entry-level. If you’ve been at one job…might be harder to do.

    2. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

      Ideally, you’re probably only going back like 10 years on your resume. The exception would be if you’ve been in jobs for a long time (so, you can’t capture your full relevant experience without going back more than 10 years), in which case, it is what it is. The best way to combat ageism, generally, is doing all the things you want to do on a resume anyway: demonstrate that you know you’re stuff, you’re current in your field, and that you’re always learning. Good things for everyone, exceptional things for anyone who’s worried they’re being discriminated against due to their age.

      1. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

        (I meant, like, maybe your last 2 positions together go back more than 10 years; I think my first sentence was confusing. I have a friend who has been at her current job more than 7 years, so her resume goes back more than 10, just because of that! But if the job is your 5th one back and 17 years back, it’s probably not worth including.)

        1. Tax Nerd*

          This is good to know. I was a job hopper early in my career, and I think it’s hurting me now. I’m getting very tempted to just take a chainsaw to my resume, and leave off the first 7 (of 18 years) in the workforce.

    3. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, I just saw a resume from someone in their 70s that didn’t include the graduation year, but did include a complete work history including things that were totally irrelevant. Oh well.

      1. Eve Sundquist Sande, Ph.D.*

        Uh, do you understand age discrimination? Breaks for caregiving? You are person I Do Not Want To Work For.
        But clearly I will not.

    4. Dzhymm*

      I just have to say, that whenever I’m in a position to review resumes I always notice right off when the college graduation date has been omitted (and yes, I’m over 50 and may have done this once before finding myself on the other side of the desk…)

  7. BRR*

    7) Resume length: We just had a candidate with a three-page resume and I fully agree with Alison’s statement that you’ll come across as someone who can’t distill information down to what’s most important. While they comparatively had the most relevant experience, it was filled with so much useless information (not just for this role but really any role) that it ended up hurting their candidacy.

    1. Greengirl*

      I second this. We are hiring for a position that is entry level and of the 7 candidates we advanced to the next round, six of them have one page resumes. I can’t focus on what’s important if your resume is four pages long and goes back to high school. Also unless you are in college, I don’t care about what you did in high school.

    2. Eve Sundquist Sande, Ph.D.*

      This gets difficult when one has had two paths that overlap and both are required for job, but are skipping between years.
      Like my Science research and science grad education, and science education for other ages, public outreach, etc.
      I have tried to split my resume between sci, sci and other ed, emphasizing outreach.
      Try to tailor to job but then I get the “missing time” problem.

  8. Lily Rowan*

    The only thing I’m not clear on is if it’s OK to rip the three-hole punched paper out of my trapper keeper once I’ve finished writing my resume??

    1. lionelrichiesclayhead*

      And when my awesome resume gets me an interview, are outfit-coordinating sweatbands ok for professional dress offices or just business casual?

    2. Red Reader*

      I got a resume that had been hand written in pencil on a page torn out of a spiral notebook once. With a coffee cup ring on the bottom of the page. Sigh.

  9. Hiring Mgr*

    Very solid tips. Which paper weight and color would you suggest for the finished product….32/Ivory?

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      Depends on the field. I’m environmental, so textured recycled paper is all I use.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I think this was pretty clearly a joke and unlikely to devolve into a derailing argument.

        1. Les G*

          Really, of all his posts, this one is clearly a joke? This dude usually says something like “every Friday I make my employees parade around in a dunce cap” and people lose their sh!t.

          Now, I’m a long time lurker so I’ve got this hombre’s number. But as a lifelong Fountainhead (industry term for fountain pen collector) I was excited to see someone talking about luxury office supplies. Then I scrolled up to see the name and realized. What if I hadn’t seen it was a joke account and posted a serious reply?

          1. Hiring Mgr*

            That would have been cool! I would love to learn something about luxury office supplies..

            1. Eve Sundquist Sande, Ph.D.*

              I am actually reviewing my OLD resumes and many ARE on specialized paper, some textured!
              And I did have to go to specialized office supplies shops back then, fyi they were called “stationary stores”.

          2. Rat in the Sugar*

            I don’t think his comment was really any different than Lily Rowan’s above where she asks about writing her resume on three hole punch paper in a trapper keeper.

  10. Amaryllis*

    How do people feel about listing skills by set rather than individually? Say, “Microsoft Office Suite” rather than “Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, etc.”? Worth it for sleekness/space saving, not worth it to lose out on keyword searches?

    1. Janey-Jane*

      I encourage students to group them, unless the job description calls for a specific program. (IE, just lists Word as a requirement.)

    2. Phoenix Programmer*

      Drop the skills section all together. Seeing you write “expert” PowerPoint means nothing to me. Plus the number of PPT experts who don’t even know about slide master is astonishing. Demonstrate your skill in achievments. Achieved x using y.

      I dripped the skills section and it helped tremendously. Made the resume look so nice and much more polished.

      1. Washi*

        Yeah, if the kind of skill you are listing is Microsoft Office Suite, then it’s probably not necessary at all. My bullet points prominently mention work I’ve done in Salesforce and Excel, so I’ve never felt the need to list them separately as skills.

        1. Amaryllis*

          I picked Office as an example for simplicity. I didn’t think AAM commenters wanted to bog down into SQL dialects and the like.

      2. BRR*

        I would agree with all of this (recognizing there are fields where a skills section is appropriate). I would respond much better to a bullet on using *advanced excel feature* than a bullet that only says excel or office. As you point out, there’s no standard definition for office skills.

        1. Flinty*

          So true. I don’t think I would know how to describe my excel proficiency in one word anyway. My office thinks I’m a magical wizard since I know how to use vlookup. Other places would probably call me a beginner because I can’t write macros.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Shhh people think I am also a magical wizard because of vlookup, pivot tables, and conditional formatting. Don’t tell them I’m not! :)

            1. NotAnotherMananger!*

              See, and I’m trying to normalize this – it’s nothing special, people! It’s on YouTube. You do not have to call me with every single Excel question you have! Give tech support or training a shot sometimes!

              I am always happy to help – hence the reputation – but they ALWAYS call at approximately the worst time.

            2. Hiring Mgr*

              I had a boss years ago who told me “just learn vlookup…you’ll be surprised how far that can take you” Can’t say he was wrong!

    3. Info Architect*

      You have to be careful with this. As online application systems are being used more frequently, you can get eliminated by not using the same terminology as in the job ad. For example, if the ad lists “Microsoft Office Suite,” but you list each program individually on your resume, the machine isn’t smart enough to know those are the same thing.

      So until the machines can have synonyms and “will accept” lists, you’re stuck with matching your skills to the job ad so you’re not arbitrarily rejected. Check out the Jobscan website to see how your resume ranks against a particular job ad.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This is kind of a myth. Competent recruiters/hiring mangers are going to search for all likely keywords, not just one. The process isn’t so automated to the point that it just goes off the ad.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          I think the problem is that job applicants see no evidence to the contrary of the myth.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Perhaps so, but my point and Kimberlee’s point is that people are shooting themselves in the foot by agonizing over this when they don’t need to. That’s not something employers are going to go around taking out billboards to educate people about; you find out by listening to people who do hiring and are trying to explain it.

            1. Eve Sundquist Sande, Ph.D.*

              I have gotten two jobs where I mentioned on resume I can drive a standard shift pick-up!
              [=manual shift.]
              One was total scientific research, other sci-type work–I saw people in other places turn down job and/or quit when told necessary.
              This is clearly industry-specific but I add it as a skill because now more candidates cannot and many older workplaces have and need people who can drive these trucks!

    4. Hey Nonnie*

      This is going to depend on the field / specific job. I don’t even list MS Office products anymore, because I’m in a field where that’s expected as a basic level of competence. I would expect that to be true of most office-type jobs, with the possible exception of entry-level clerical positions.

      Beyond that, I combined the two approaches, like:
      MS Office Suite: Word, Excel, Sharepoint
      Productivity Software: Basecamp, Google Docs

      etc. This way I can justify not using one-app-per-line and taking up a lot of space, but all the keywords are in there.

      I would NOT recommend including anything subjective in the skills list. Don’t include “good communication skills” and don’t subjectively rank your competence in a skill like calling yourself “Expert-level” in SQL. You can demonstrate your level of competence (in both soft and hard skills) by how you describe your achievements in your work history section. The skills list is JUST that, a list of objectively relevant skills. This not only helps you with keywording for machines, but if the job requires SQL, the list highlights that skill in an easily-scannable way so the hiring manager doesn’t have to hunt for it in your work experience descriptions. The hiring manager may look at your resume for about 3 seconds in her initial weeding-out process, especially if there are a lot of resumes. If the she has to hunt for the skill she needs, she might miss it and throw your resume on the reject pile for not having it. If you remain in the “consider” pile, you have a shot at her reading your resume more thoroughly, where she can absorb the full content of your job descriptions (and how “expert” you are in any given skill).

      1. Tau*

        Hmm. It’s interesting that people are saying not to rank skills – I added a skills matrix to my CV last job search, because I wanted to distinguish between “I know the basics of this and won’t be starting from scratch but there will be a lot of muddling involved”, “I use this regularly and manage OK but am not supremely confident with it” and “I use this on a day-to-day basis and am confident I can figure out a way to do most things that might be required.” Not all those distinctions would have been clear from my achievements; some wouldn’t even have been clear to my coworkers at the time.

        (Software dev, so this was mainly different programming languages but also frameworks, source control systems and IDEs – my understanding is that we’re one of the exceptions to “don’t list skills”.)

    5. Someone else*

      Only group it if you really mean the whole thing. Like, if I need someone who knows SharePoint, and yours just says Office, I don’t know if you actually know SharePoint or if you’re saying Office but mean you have basic competence in Word, Excel and Outlook. Especially if the job description listed particulars, you’re better off listing those particulars, assuming you actually have the skill. If the listing doesn’t explicitly mention any one particular item you’d be grouping together with other stuff, then it may not matter at all, but in that case, you also may not be in the boat of needing to list the skill(s) in the first place.But if you’re grouping them together because you really mean “everything included in X” then I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, but it will beg the question.

    6. Not Today Satan*

      When someone says Office Suite I assume they mean they know how to use Word and type data into an Excel spreadsheet. Also do they really know how to use lesser-used programs like Access, Onenote, Publisher, etc.? If the job required it I’d rather have each software individually with proficiency level.

  11. ArtK*

    Nice stuff. Question: Can you give some concrete examples of what might go in a Profile section? I started thinking about it and ended up down the path of “Proven software development leader with experience in multiple applications and technologies.” That just sounds too close to “Great communicator!” and other useless things.

    What I’m really looking for is a way to get around some of the “hard” requirements that show up in software jobs that really shouldn’t be there. “5 years Python development,” gets me eliminated, even though Python isn’t significantly different from the 10 other languages I’ve programmed in. I’d like to communicate that I am highly adaptable and not tied to specific technologies.

    1. hayling*

      I’d go with a format like this: [Job area] expert with X years of experience, specializing in [function A], [function B], and [function C].

    2. The New Wanderer*

      I’m in the same boat as ArtK – I’m really good at what I do and I learn new things easily and well, but it’s mostly not quantifiable by typical success metrics like 25% improvement, brought in $X million in funding, or shipped 10 products.

      I’ve been going with profile wording like hayling suggested along with having a skills section, and trying to stress in cover letters that I have a proven ability to become a recognized expert in new topics (and that I’m interested in New Company’s topic because), because it’s typical that the job I’m applying for would mean learning a new topic for me.

      1. Armchair Analyst*

        The line my resume writing coach told me was did you either 1. bring in revenue/members/whatever is considered “top line” in your organization or 2. save money?

        I am not a producer. I am a saver-of-money, by reducing risk. So that’s what I emphasize, completion of projects that reduced risk for clients.
        So that’s one perspective.

    3. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

      Soooo, I think this is the most classic case of what Info Architect was talking about above; ultimately, one of two things will happen:

      1) They’ll look at your resume, including 10 other languages, and conclude that you’re a good programmer who is adaptable and can learn Python, and call you for an interview, or

      2) They’ll see that you don’t know Python, decide that what they really need is someone who *really* knows Python without a learning curve, and not call you for an interview.

      I do get that lots of coding skills are very transferable, but there’s a lot of transferable skills in any industry, and I think it’s still reasonable for an employer to decide that they want someone who can jump in at an advanced level Day One over someone that will have a learning curve (even if they have every reason to believe that that learning curve would be very short).

      I’ve read a book on how to pitch and I’m pretty sure I could pick up being a PR person very easily, in large part because I’m a good writer with more media contacts than the average person, but I wouldn’t consider myself qualified for anything more than an entry-level PR job.

      I hope this doesn’t sound snarky, it’s not intended to be! And you know your field better than I do. I think your best bet, in the scenario you paint, is to learn some python and then lump it in with, say, “8 years of programming experience, including Python, (list the other 10 languages you know).” That’ll get past the screening, probably, but I’m not quite convinced that you can substitute 5 years of Python with a straight 5 years of “generic other programming language.” Lots of people are adaptable, but that doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be great at every programming language you try.

  12. mialoubug*

    My daughter JUST graduated college and we are disagreeing about where to put her education. I say bottom; she says before work experience for a couple of reasons For one particular job, she found out that she and the hiring manager are alumni of the same business school. And 2, she was a summa cum laude honors scholar with a 3.92 gpa that she is (and should be) very proud of. Regardless, though, even if she has a year of relevant work experience, shouldn’t the education be on the bottom?

    1. Info Architect*

      Your strongest assets should be on top, and a lot of times for recent grads, that’s their education. Generally they leave it on top for 2-3 years because by then their relevant experience will be the stronger asset.

    2. Lisa B*

      Was her year of experience the same job or multiple? If it’s just one or two jobs I can absolutely see leading with the education- it’s very common for new grads. Eventually it’s proper place is the bottom, as she builds more experience and hiring managers will be far more interested in what she’s been doing in past jobs as opposed to her college GPA (which is impressive! Congrats!).

      1. mialoubug*

        It was the same job. Her summer internship turned into a parttime job for the school year, and is now a full-time job for the summer. It’s ok but not very strong.

    3. Hey Nonnie*

      Or consider trying a format with a sidebar. Work experience at the top of the main column, education at the top of the sidebar. Both easily seen at a glance.

      I would only do this if her work experience were at least equally relevant to the job she’s applying to. If her degree is more relevant to the job than her work history — say, she’s applying for marketing jobs and her work history is waitstaff — then I think listing the education first is better. In this case, the work history is mostly only there to show that she HAS worked before, not as a reflection of her most transferable skills.

    4. Greengirl*

      I left it on top for my first year out of college and then it went on the bottom, per the advice of my internship supervisor. GPA can stick around for a year and after that, people won’t really care.

  13. Madeleine Matilda*

    I work for the US Federal Government and a two page resume isn’t the norm here as it is in private industry. Generally we expect to see very detailed resumes and length is anywhere from 3 to 10 pages.

    1. Greengirl*

      That sounds miserable for the people hiring. That’s so much information to dig through to figure out whether the person is qualified or not!

    2. Not All Who Wander*

      At a MINIMUM. For higher grades or more complicated positions it can be even longer. People need to remember that in federal hiring we need to essentially know everything there is about you from your resume. I think it helps if people frame it in their minds as an APPLICATION not a resume.

      HR needs to be able to score you in comparison to every other candidate exclusively from your application. Only a certain number will be forwarded on to the hiring office. (For reference, when I left my last position, they had over 100 qualified applicants…the hiring official was forwarded 20. That was a mid-career level job in a desirable location but known crappy office.) The hiring office will then need to score who they are going to interview off of those applications. That scoring is an official record and can (and has been) examined by auditing agencies when claims of discrimination in hiring arise. It MUST be justifiable based exclusively upon what is in the resume. Then we get to the interview….where most agencies require every candidate be asked and scored upon the exact same list of questions.

      There are, of course, offices who don’t follow the official policies and bend the rules to a greater and lesser extent. But do you really want to work for an office that is willing to violate regulation and policy in their very first interaction with you? (Spoiler alert: I took a job with a hiring official who did and it turned out to be very, very indicative of what the bigger issues were with that manager.)

    3. Eve Sundquist Sande, Ph.D.*

      Yes c.v. s for academia are as extensive and more, I have been struggling to pare down for years.

      1. Eve Sundquist Sande, Ph.D.*

        Like writing skills, I refrain from listing and citing papers in journals–which is crucial in academia–just wrote, “Wrote and published my research in scientific journals, presented talks at meetings.”
        I still doubt that most people understand what a huge time-consuming activity this is, and what a score!

  14. smoke tree*

    I do try to stick to accomplishments rather than job descriptions, but sometimes I just want to address that I have experience doing a thing and there isn’t much I can cite in terms of accomplishments–or the accomplishment isn’t as impressive as some of the others, but I still want to cover that I know how to do the thing. How do others handle this?

    1. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

      I usually do one or two bullets that are a rote list of job descriptions, more or less. So, I’ve had a couple of catch-all jobs; you know the type. Office manager (admin, HR, operations), editorial coordinator (admin, contracts, project management, events), and in those types of jobs, I definitely recommend having a bullet that’s like :

      – Ran payroll, registered business in new states, onboarded employees, managed events, coordinated with vendors for facility mainenence, HR and legal compliance

      And then you’ve still got 3-5 bullets free for accomplishments, but you’ve covered the rote job stuff that people DO want to know you’ve done.

      1. Armchair Analyst*

        Some of these could go under “Skills”
        And put the bullets for job descriptions AFTER the accomplishments – you want people to see the accomplishments FIRST, because those are MOST impressive.

    2. AudreyParker*

      I usually begin with one line that describes the position tasks in general (since some of my titles are so generic, clarification seems merited) and then do accomplishments in bullet points below. If there’s nothing that’s really an accomplishment, no bullets for that position.

      1. AudreyParker*

        TeaTime Drinkware LLC
        Admin Asst
        Managed calendars and travel planning for marketing, sales, and art departments.
        *Reduced travel spend by 10% by consolidating team plans
        *Did something else really useful that would be relevant
        *And more call-outs here

        1. smoke tree*

          That’s a good way to handle it! Any suggestions for how to gracefully add something that’s mentioned as a job requirement but isn’t a major part of your previous/current job and doesn’t have much of an accomplishment attached?

          1. AudreyParker*

            I’d personally just add it to the summary bit, i.e. “Managed calendars and travel planning for marketing, sales, and art departments. Maintained content for company WordPress website.” (Note, not an expert at this beyond spending way too much time trying to figure it out myself!) Some people say you can skip that and just include it in your cover letter somehow, except I’ve heard enough *other* people say they never read/receive the cover letter that I think it’s in our best interests to try to find a way to get it on the resume as well. But this is why I structure mine the way I do, to give myself a zone to include things that may be relevant but aren’t “accomplishments”. YMMV

  15. krysb*

    My question is how to talk about an accomplishment when it’s something you did with someone else. For example, my boss and I have increased the revenue for our department by 30%. But it was a joint effort. I have no idea how to word this.

    1. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

      Was it a specific project? What role did you play specifically? Was it a 50/50 effort, or something else?

      Some ideas:
      “Collaborated with management to build new system”
      “Owner and primary driver of new project”
      “Worked with manager to improve responsiveness on x, increasing revenue”
      “Spearheaded collaborative project to increase…”

    2. Armchair Analyst*

      Lead with the result.
      – Increased department revenue by 30% YOY by EMPHASIZING YOUR OWN INDIVIDUAL EFFORT as part of a 2-person team.

  16. Armchair Analyst*

    In Atlanta, I called my grad school for resume help, and they recommended a resume coach/writer, and I paid $125/hour for 3 hours. That was in June. In July I got a callback and started work in September. So, do what you can – AAM really helps and so did a William Quillen book that I got from my library — but it’s ok to ask for more help.

    1. Close Bracket*

      Do you mean the Delaware Supreme Court justice, the musicologist or the physical therapist? Do you remember the name of the book, because googling William Quillen did not help :)

  17. AudreyParker*

    Ugh, Skills section. On the one hand, I want to mention that I have used certain pieces of software, but on the other, there’s nothing I use at a level that I would consider advanced enough to merit a spotlight without explanation. I kind of assume if you put it under Skills, it means you have expertise (same thing if you say you’re “proficient” – I Google too much to consider myself *proficient* at anything! Other than possible Googling how to do things). People I had recently redo my hash of a resumé pretty much think that if you’ve used something at all, it goes under Skills — however, they also created a Personal Skills section, so not sure whether to listen to them or not!

    And to make things worse, I was in a Twitter chat last week where the recruiters were disagreeing on almost all the details of resumé presentation other than including accomplishments (long vs short, skills vs no skills, gaps, years…) so as far as I can tell it’s a real crapshoot as far as whether the way you choose to present yourself on paper makes its way to someone who isn’t going to ding you for something you did thinking it was “right.” So frustrating!

  18. Tangerina*

    God, I know I’m so incredibly lucky to be in a job that’s super hot right now. I’m not kidding when I say I could submit a piece of paper with my name and phone number at the top, and below that, just: “I know Googlyhoo” and I’d get more than zero calls.

    It really bothers me because that these companies want the “quick fix” of hiring someone who knows Googlyhoo rather than training from the inside! The software has incredible training support, and these managers fail to realize that it’s far easier to train someone than to try to find an outsider to fit into the team.

    That internal trainee with existing ties to the company is going to be so much more valuable to you than a new hire whose resume is still circulating out there and will continue to be bombarded by recruiters with better and better offers.

    1. Dzhymm*

      I find it really annoying when employers refuse to train workers because “what if we invest in training them and then they go get a job somewhere else?”, to which I respond “Well, why don’t you make sure your company is the kind where employees would want to stick around?”, or alternatively, “What is it about your company that would make trained employees want to leave?”

      1. Tangerina*

        Exactly. I was very lucky that a company took a chance on me to train me up. After a year I saw that my job was being advertised at least $20k/yr more than I was making with 1 year experience in the system.

        It was a very toxic environment. I was staying up until 2-3am to try to stay on top of work. They They claimed they couldn’t give me any more money. I loved so much about that job, but I was just so exhausted. So I left and got a $25k/yr increase. I might would have stayed another year for only $5k/yr more and the occasional full night’s sleep.

        They had to pay the person they brought in behind me literally double what I was making when I left. She quit after 4 months. I could only laugh.

      2. AudreyParker*

        Totally. How on earth am I supposed to learn SalesForce if I need to know it before I can get a position that uses it??? I don’t understand the logic.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      Adjacent to that “quick fix” problem are the companies that want a single person to already be a specialist in X and Y in equal parts. I’m a specialist in X and trust me when I say, having expertise in both X and Y is rare because you would have to do two simultaneous and conflicting training programs to get there. Usually the company gets a specialist in Y who took a course in X because it’s easier to fake X expertise than Y expertise, and then their product is crap and they don’t know why, because the supposed X expert doesn’t know what they’re doing. (The reverse is rarely true because Y is an objectively measurable skill that takes years to develop, so an X expert who took a class on Y would fail on the first semi-challenging interview question)

      Incidentally, if you have ever used an application or website and been confounded by the terrible interface? This is why.

      1. Tangerina*

        YES! The software I specialize in is multi faceted. I don’t know if there’s a single person out there who’s an expert in more than 4-5 aspects of the system. Gotta either train someone up or accept that you need multiple people (of a FTE + consultant hours)

  19. Elegance*

    Oh no! I’m almost always completely in synch with Alison’s advice, but not this time. I’ve been on a lot of searches for higher education (teaching positions and library positions) and for the love of cheese and crackers, you need to put your education FIRST, and don’t ever put a profile or skills area. (Ok, if you are an IT/systems librarian, that’s the exception.) And for librarian jobs, it’s fine to list your job responsibilities; saying “Designed course-specific Libguides” is adequate. Save the accolades about how much they were used for the cover letter.

    In conclusion: rule #1 in writing anything is know your audience. For resumes, that translates into, know the norms of your field.

    1. AudreyParker*

      +1. One big caveat that comes up repeatedly is different norms between academia and “corporate America,” another is differences between countries – a CV in the UK may serve the same purpose as a resumé, but norms/expectations are definitely not the same.

    2. Forking Great Username*

      Yeah, you definitely have to know if your industry is the exception to any of these rules. I just started applying for jobs and have been told by those in my field that the very first thing on my resume should be the areas I’m certified to teach. Makes sense but isn’t standard resume advice.

  20. Mimmy*

    I’ve always had difficulty with accomplishments. First of all, I have a long gap between paid jobs; in the interim, I did a lot of volunteer committee work, some of which I really enjoyed; however, everything was pretty much a joint effort or I was one of several people doing the same thing, e.g. reviewing grant proposals.

    Also, my current job is quite narrow – I have received a lot of positive feedback, but I’m not sure how you can spin “teach blind people how to type” into an accomplishment.

    1. the gold digger*

      I actually think that’s really admirable! Being able to describe a process to someone who cannot see and describe it well enough that she can learn to do it herself? That is an impressive ability to understand the steps involved in a complex process and to communicate that information in a creative, non-standard way while remaining very patient to people who might be (rightfully) frustrated. I don’t think most people could do what you did.

      As in, you can understand an underlying process
      in a way that many people don’t
      and explain that process
      without using any visual aids
      and help people reach a difficult goal
      without alienating people who might find the process challenging

  21. MissingArizona*

    I just had to go through the NIGHTMARE of creating a narrative resume, and I seriously hope I never have to do that again.

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