I have reviewed thousands of resumes in the last several years, and – in far too many cases – the writers' hopes are dashed because of some fairly basic mistakes. Well, maybe "mistakes" is the wrong word for it: the bloopers are more likely due to a lack of understanding: most know why they must have a resume and when they need to use it, but what is it supposed to do exactly, and how do you convey the proper information?
My thoughts on this topic can be valuable to job seekers across many different industries, but it's especially important in advertising and marketing, where presentation and storytelling skills may be judged by a much higher standard.
At its core, a resume is an opportunity to impress a complete stranger in a way that makes him or her want to meet you in person to learn more. Unfortunately, that stranger will most likely skim your entire life story in 15-30 seconds, so it's really important to highlight only the most relevant things you've done: the items that will make you stand out from the rest. Your resume is often being reviewed alongside dozens or hundreds (if not thousands) of other applicants, and the slightest red flag could quickly filter your resume into the "no" pile; make sure that every detail – from font to word choice – delivers the most incredible and colorful representation possible.
I've seen so many resumes that look like someone thought to themselves "hmmm, what have I done?" and just started listing each thing that came to mind. Going through that exercise is important, but it's critical to edit mercilessly in order to tell your story on one page. Unless you have more than 15 years of experience, it has to fit on one page – no exceptions. Be clear and concise, and pay attention to details. Consistency is also important with regard to spacing, indentations, bullets, fonts, bolding and all other formatting. It may seem silly to you, but the care you take with the document represents the care the reader believes you are likely to have in every other situation.
Most of your content should be bulleted. Group points that fit together using strategic wording, and remove anything too basic that isn't necessary to mention (like filing). I recommend no more than 3-5 bullets per job, with older jobs only requiring 1-2 bullets. Make sure the wording of your bullets are in sentence form, and pay attention to past versus present tense. Don't go over 1-2 lines per bullet, and avoid orphans (lines with only one or two words on them). Lastly, the order of your bullets should go from a high-level view down to specifics.
Be mindful of spacing between lines and overall readability. Try to create visual "sections" that make it easy for the eye to navigate the page. Don't take up too much space at the top with contact information; keep it to two lines max. Use circle or square bullets, not dashes. Use bolding, capitalization, font sizes, and italics to differentiate content and highlight key points.
The flow of your resume is important because it will dictate the order in which your story is read and the context in which someone will think of you as they are reading it. The sections I typically recommend are:
Profile (if you have a few years of experience): A short, high-level blurb about yourself that provides an overarching view of who you are and your expertise.
Experience: The jobs and roles you have held, and their associated responsibilities. If you are still in college, include ad hoc work like tutoring, campus leadership positions and volunteering.
Education: The schools you have attended and from which you have graduated, including any relevant coursework, extracurricular experience and honors.
Awards: Outstanding achievements you have earned.
Skills & Interests: Computer skills, language skills, any other skills (music, acting, athletics) and a few of your interests that make you a real and interesting person.
I don't recommend the typical "References available upon request" line. Always assume that prospective employers will ask for references and have them ready at all times.
If you are still in college or just out of school and applying for your first job, I recommend starting with "Education." When you find yourself looking for your second job, you can start with an "Experience" section.
Your resume is one of the most important documents you will ever create, so spend the necessary time to make it as perfect as possible. Your career may well rest on your resume alone, as it is the first (and sometimes only) impression you make on a hiring manager. Be meticulous about consistency and every detail, from flow to wording to fonts to spacing. Once you have the perfect resume, you'll be so much more confident walking into interviews or even applying for jobs. Hopefully these tips help you get there. Good luck!
About the Author
Ezra Surowicz joined MediaCom in 2012 as associate director of strategy. In this role, he develops overarching communication strategies that guide marketing efforts across paid, owned and earned channels for clients such as Bayer, American Eagle Outfitters, TOMS and Lindt. In his spare time, he is also an electronic music producer and a classical pianist; he has five songs signed with Ultra Records and has performed at major New York City venues including Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall. He holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Columbia University.