It’s 2015. What’s a Good Resume Look Like Now?

Liana Simpson & Michael Kraft

sps-good-resumeFirst a definition: a resume is a chronology of your work experience and other related items. But that’s not a resume’s purpose. Its purpose is to get the interview for the specific job you’re seeking right now. This should be your touchstone.

What does getting-the-interview as the touchstone of your narrative mean?

  • It means that you will need to customize your resume to fit that job. Yes, this means reworking the resume, at least a little, time after time. The best way to do this is to get the job description for the position you’re applying for and read it to see how your skills fit, including skills you may have left off their resume as insignificant or too long ago. Bottom line: speak to the job qualifications requested.
  • As a general rule, reverse chronological is a good way to go, leading with your experience and showing at a glance the depth of that experience. (However, pay attention to the cautionary tale of Richard below.)
  • It means that you should include credentials as part of your name when they are key to a job, and, we would argue, only then. Applying in the academy makes that Ph.D. after your name really sensible. If your Ph.D. is in French Literature, and you’re applying to be a financial analyst, you can include your education in the education section but probably shouldn’t look all snooty and humanities-leaning in your name at the top.
  • If you are coming back into a field, think about how you show that you know that field. We recently saw a resume for someone we’ll call Richard. Richard was applying to be a nurse, but had recently served as a paid elected official. He didn’t put the “NP” he earned (nurse practitioner) after his name and, in the work chronology of his resume, led with his elected office. You had to get to the second page of the resume to see that Richard was actually well-qualified for this position. Don’t be a Richard.
    Now, a few more resume tips:

    • If you Google “good resume,” what you find are a lot of samples of copies deemed good and bad. We won’t repeat that content much. Michael adds that Business Insider had one of the better sample/critique packages he’s seen in their November 2013 issue.
    • You are probably aware that you need to catch someone’s attention quickly. How quickly may surprise you: according to The Ladders, it’s 6 seconds. This means that readability and clarity are as important as ever, and that you need to present the most compelling information well.
    • You should also realize that it is quite possible to write over the head of your reader. Realize that resume screening is often performed by people who are not in your field and may not know your jargon.
    • An objective section is no longer recommended. Having an entire paragraph explain what you are looking for or what your strengths is now considered to be wasting valuable space on your resume and a bad use of those six seconds. There is time for that when you land an interview. Again, a resume’s job is to entice and make the employer want to interview you (get to know you in person). Don’t talk them out of that opportunity by being too open right off the bat.
    • Michael’s pet peeve: there’s nothing magic about a one-page resume. One or two pages is fine for someone with significant experience. For most jobs, longer than two pages is subject to the law of diminishing returns, although some industries particularly in education and research value very long documents typically called a curriculum vitae. Liana adds that for senior management, she will see good resumes that go as long as three pages.
    • Liana’s pet peeve: It is a mistake to submit a resume for a job that you are clearly unqualified for. Why? The same company might have another position that is more suitable in a few weeks but you will have demonstrated two things: desperation to take or try for anything; and lack of good judgment.
    • Realize that many employers/recruiters are going to look you up on line. Our recommendation is to make this easy, and just give them your LinkedIn address. You may not control every photo of you that is tagged out there on the web, but you can make the first view someone has of you on line both controlled and positive.

    And from us both, Happy New Year, and happy hunting!


    The information provided in this blog is intended for general information purposes only. Readers should seek the help of an HR professional for guidance on specific issues.