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Résumé Writing Roadblocks

Stop Looking The Same As Everyone Else And Hurting Scannability

Job Seeker's Story

Thomas had been applying for positions for several months with no response. He was very proud of his résumé, which had been created using a document template, and he felt he had saleable job skills, so could not understand what was wrong.

At a job fair, Thomas spoke with Lily, a professional résumé writer. After looking at his résumé, she picked up several others from a stack on her table and held them up next to his. “Do you see any difference between these?” she asked.

Thomas looked at them and said, “Not really; they look very similar.

Lily went on to explain to Thomas that he was using the same word-processing résumé template as many other job seekers. She explained that a résumé is supposed to help you stand out from the competition but when many candidates use the same résumé template, they all end up looking exactly alike. If an employer were to receive Thomas's current résumé, he would just blend into the applicant pool, something he could not do if he wanted to stand out and get reviewed.

She also explained that the résumé template used tables, which might cause problems if reviewers tried to convert his file to a text document and scan it into their key word résumé database. Tables might actually cause content to disappear from his résumé. Additionally, she told him that the template format was limiting him through use of a small font, over-emphasis on employment dates, ineffective content order, no summary section, and lack of visual punch.

Job Seeker's Stumble

Thomas was missing the boat with his generic résumé for all the reasons listed: He did not stand out from the competition, his font was tiny, his format was dull, his skills section was forced to the bottom of page two of the résumé, and his dates were over-emphasized as the first item at the start of each new job description. As long as his résumé blended in, he would not stand out.

Job Seeker's New Strategy

This one is easy: Never, never, never use a résumé template provided in your word-processing software program to format your final résumé. Although it might be a good starting point for collecting your content, you are going to want to use a much more scannable and unique presentation for your final draft.

Your résumé is a marketing and positioning tool that lets you compete against other candidates for an employment position so it must present you individually and not look the same as all the rest. It is important to adhere to basic requirements and sections of a résumé. However, the visual presentation and order of content will depend on what is most important, what you need to deemphasize, and how the document looks when you get it laid out.

A few strategies to keep your document scannable and avoid the trap of a generic résumé template include:

  • • Place your name on the top line of the résumé.
  • • Keep margins clean and neat to maintain adequate white space on the page.
  • • Include dates, but not as the first item in the job description or education listings. Dates are usually the last thing you want to emphasize because they waste time in letting reviewers get to a job title match and can show the job is too short, too long, or too old.
  • • Help reviewers find important information first. For instance, in the Education section, unless the college you attended is more impressive than the degree you obtained, always list the degree first and bold it. This can also apply to the order of sections in your résumé. A new graduate might put education near the top, whereas a seasoned professional would put it near the end.
  • • Use a font size for body text of Arial 10 or Times 11. Avoid using the default Times 10, as it is too small for easy readability. Header fonts should be larger to help the reviewer rapidly distinguish between sections.
  • • Keep in mind that reviewers naturally read left to right (and OCR scanners do the same) so it is a good idea to lay out your résumé that way. Keep your résumé scannable and readable by avoiding two-column template formats.
  • • Utilize visual techniques such as bolding, italics, and capitalization sparingly to make content stand out. Overuse of these visual strategies can backfire by making the content hard to read.
  • • Exclude optional sections recommended in a template format that do not apply to you or help with your candidacy for the job such as affiliations, hobbies, or volunteer work.

The only time you should ever use a résumé template is when it is required by the agency you are applying to or the one that is helping you find your new position. Otherwise, you should create a visual, scannable document that makes you stand out from the crowd.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesJob Search, Job Interview Questions, & Job Interview TipsRésumé Writing Roadblocks - Be Selective And Careful With Your Résumé Content, Caution: Résumé Typos Ahead!, Oh, The Tangled Web We Weave…