The first thing many of us do when we start a job search is to look up advice for building or updating a resume. We find a plethora of books and websites full of advice—and resume rules. And we find experts who insist that we will not get interviews or jobs unless we follow their rules. A few of these so-called rules deal with issues such as:
- Contact information,
- Years of experience,
- Resume length, and
- Use of images and graphics.
Experience has taught me that hard-and-fast rules do not work. Everyone faces a different career situation, so their resume has to be adjusted accordingly. Nonetheless, we can suggest some best practices to guide us.
Technology has changed the way prospective employers contact jobseekers. The vast majority of employers and industry contacts reach out via cellphone, email, or LinkedIn. They do not send information via the Postal Service so we do not need to include a street address on our resume.
Hiring teams need reliable and quick ways to reach you, so provide your cellphone number, email address, and LinkedIn profile address.
Use a personal email address, not a work email, on your resume even if personal use of your business email is permitted.
The contact information heading on your resume, then, should include your name, city, state, zip code, cellphone number, email address, and LinkedIn profile URL.
Years of Experience
There are lots of “rules” about the amount of work experience that should be included on a resume. A common guideline is to include only the most recent 10 to 15 years of employment, and this works in many cases. Listing 20 or 30 years of employment can result in conscious or unconscious age bias. Jobs one held 20 or more years ago may be difficult to verify. The skills used in these jobs may also have changed markedly as technology has evolved. Nonetheless, arbitrary limits do not always work.
My approach is to use the experience that will be most beneficial for the jobseeker. For example, a fashion industry manager insisted we include a job that ended in 2005. After some discussion, we agreed because a key accomplishment at the job involved digital transformation of her job function. Among other things, she reduced pre-production time more than a week, reduced cost and rework, and increased margins. Digital transformation skills are still relevant today, so we included the experience while cautioning the client about an increased risk for age bias.
Remember that your resume and LinkedIn profile are not your life history or bio. Resumes and profiles rarely reflect every job you have held since finishing school.
Many jobseekers should not limit their resumes to one page. The “one-page resume requirement” was an idea I heard a lot when I graduated from college in 1979. But it is not a good guide for most of us now.
Resume length should be dictated by the amount of relevant content you have. A one-page resume is often appropriate, I’ve found, for recent graduates that have little work experience. Also, I have generated one-page resumes in some cases for clients that have had one job for the last 20 years, and one college degree.
On the other hand, I prepared a three-page resume for a C-level executive with about five years of work experience. We settled on a lengthy resume because the client rose through a half-dozen jobs in a short time with amazing accomplishments in every role. The detail demonstrated the client’s rapid rise from new grad to chief operating officer at a publicly-held healthcare company.
Employer representatives usually read resumes on their screens during the initial review, so they may not notice the number of pages in the document. Nonetheless, it is wise to keep a resume brief because hiring team members can spend only a few seconds on each one.
Images and Graphics
The majority of us are visual people, so we like to place graphics on our resumes. Placing graphics—photos and images—on resumes is so popular, MS-Word includes templates to make it easy.
It’s also counterproductive in many cases to include images on resumes. Resumes become part of candidate databases in applicant tracking systems, known as ATS systems. These systems use keywords entered by hiring teams to advance applicants. ATS systems won’t see your fancy graphics, so the design will not help your resume reach the hiring team.
Even worse, certain kinds of graphics can hide your text from automated searches. For example, keywords in an MS-Word text box will not be scanned. Also, recruiters have told me that they do not want to see anything, such as a candidate’s photo, which could create bias.
Melanie Woods, a recruiter in Houston, TX, feels so strongly that resumes should not include images that she has posted a YouTube video urging jobseekers to avoid using MS-Word templates, especially those with graphics.
Photographers, graphic designers, and other visual artists should consider two versions of their resume—an ATS-friendly text resume, and a graphic version that matches their artistic style. For example, a fashion designer I collaborated with reformatted the ATS-friendly resume we created together using her specialized InDesign software.
In short, graphics take up space that could be used for keyword-rich text. So, you don’t need them.
Experts say ATS scanners reject up to 75 percent of resumes fed to them. Then, team members spend a few seconds reviewing each document that gets through. As a result, your resume should be a brief document designed to be scanned electronically for content before a hiring team member reads it. Don’t get caught up in misconceptions about document length, elegant design, the need for a complete work history, or the need to show exactly where you live.