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10 Improvements You Can Make to Your Resume Right Now

10 Improvements You Can Make to Your Resume Right Now

resume

    I spent several years behind a desk at an employment agency. The first thing we would ask any client was how recently they had updated their resume. The question’s objective wasn’t really about making sure that every applicant had their most recent job down on paper — instead, we wanted a chance to assess just how bad each resume was. Some people had well-crafted documents ready to send out immediately, but a surprising number had more of a rough draft. When we ‘updated’ a resume, we could address the other errors that we found. Most errors are actually easy fixes: just running down the checklist below could whip the average resume into shape in a matter of minutes.

    1. Ditch the funky fonts.

    Hard-to-read fonts are a fast way to get your resume on the bottom of any HR manager’s stack. Stick to something simple, like Helvetica or even Times New Roman — and while you don’t need to put it in 72 point, don’t drop down below a 10 point typeface either. I know that the designer in you is crying out, but as emailing a resume becomes common practice, it’s crucial to use fonts everyone has.

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    2. Put your skills up front.

    Most employers care more about your skills than anything else. Sure, they’ll want to know where you learned your skills — past employers or schools — but putting your skills right below your name lets you convince a hiring manager right off the bat. As long as you’ve got the appropriate skills and certifications listed for a job, you’ll at least make it past the initial resume review — the one where all the unqualified applicants are filed in the trash can.

    3. Proofread past spell check.

    Just about everyone runs a spell check on their resume. But I’ve seen so many typos that a computer can’t catch: misused words, misspelled business names — I’ve even seen a resume with the applicant’s name misspelled! You should always read over documents to double check them, and if you can get a friend to read over your resume, go for it.

    4. Make everything match.

    If you’re sending references and a cover letter along with your resume, make them match. Print them all on the same kind of paper, use the same fonts, and make your writing sound like it’s all from the same source. At the very least, a prospective employer will be able to keep them all together if they look the same. You’ll also present a more professional front. If you’ve got the opportunity, try to make your portfolio, website and other materials look like a cohesive whole with your resume — most employers will be looking far beyond your resume to decide on your application.

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    5. Minimize your job descriptions.

    In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need to describe each position you’ve held. Your title should say it all. But many people wind up with responsibilities above their pay grade: if that’s the case, it’s reasonable to include that information in your resume. But try to limit other descriptions. If your job title was ‘accountant,’ a hiring manager can generally figure out what you did.

    6. Put dates at the end.

    Most people load the front of their resumes with dates — “2005-2008, McDonald’s, Cashier” — but, to a certain extent, prospective employers don’t actually care about the dates you worked. Move those dates to the end of the sentence, instead, and put the important stuff up front.

    7. Don’t leave big gaps in your timeline.

    Been out of the workforce for several years? Don’t just leave a big hole in your job history. List your volunteer work, time spent taking care of an elderly relative — anything you did during that time that could be construed as work. Many HR managers assume that there’s always a significant reason for someone to leave the workforce, and they rarely assume anything positive.

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    8. Keep religious information out of it.

    Don’t list anything that could be the basis of discrimination. The issue is not that some HR managers are likely to discriminate against you on the basis of religion or anything else; instead, that sort of information makes a hiring manager cringe because just seeing can open her up to all sorts of accusations. The same goes for including a head shot for any job opportunity that doesn’t actually require it.

    9. Align everything.

    No matter what you lay out your resume in, you can generally make the alignment pretty simple. It is crucial, though: jagged lines of text look unprofessional and make most resume reviewers more than happy to move on to the next one.

    10. Adhere to your industry’s conventions.

    Your industry may have a specific style of resume or CV that has become the norm. Try to stick with those conventions. If a prospective employer is looking for an employee in your industry, they’ll be looking for a resume in the conventional style, containing conventional certifications and terminology to prove that you really are familiar with the industry.

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    Having a polished resume ups your chances of making it through the various levels of the application process. If a hiring manager gets a large number of resumes in response to a job listing — an especially common problem lately — she may use even small problems with a resume as a way to cut the number of prospects down.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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