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Resume Writing Tips
By Nancy Molloy

When it comes to writing a resume, even the most articulate person can end up staring at a blank page. A great resume and short, focused cover letter can get you an interview for the perfect job…and a poorly-done resume will take you out of the running before you even get started. Fortunately, you can write a very good resume by following these simple principles.

Keep it brief – create a chronological history of your professional life, putting your most recent experience first, covering the last 10 years of work experience. Most resumes should be one page long. Two-page resumes are acceptable if you have many years of experience or are including an addendum of transactions or publications, for example. If you have a two-page resume, be sure that your name is a part of the heading on the second page.

Make it strategic – if it’s early in your career (three years of work experience or fewer) or you are changing careers, list your “Education” first followed by any “Related Experience” and then “Other Experience.”

Be selective – if you graduated with honors of any kind, or a 3.2 GPA or better, include this information on the resume. Unless your high school is notable, such as Stuyvesant or a prep school, or unless you graduated valedictorian, do not include high school on your resume.

Include specifics – describe each job with accurate dates of employment as well as the duties and responsibilities you performed. Develop a list of major accomplishments, placing the most emphasis on your recent achievement. You can use a list or bulleted format in describing responsibilities, or put them in paragraph form. Whichever format you decide upon, be consistent!

Highlight special skills – if you have computer skills, exceptional writing, research or public speaking abilities, or are multilingual, list these attributes under the heading of "Skills" or "Additional Skills" or "Languages." Your resume should include all your talents.

Use the third person – never use the word “I.”

Keep it consistent – the description of your current job should be in the present tense. All other descriptions should be in the past tense. It is critical that your tenses match. Proofread your resume with this in mind.

Make it easy to read – Never reduce the type font size to force-fit your resume onto one page. Better to use two pages than to make it difficult for a busy recruiter to read your resume because the font is too small to read without eyestrain. Use a traditional font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, which is easy on the eyes. If faxing your resume, remember that the quality of a faxed resume is already compromised so keep the resume format and font simple.

Proofread, proofread, proofread – even the most impressive credentials fall short if there is a single typographical error on the resume. Using spell check is just the beginning – because “to” or “tow” will both pass spell check even though you meant to write “two.” Read your resume aloud to find any misplaced or misused words. Then have someone read it. Keep going till it’s perfect. REMEMBER, typographical or grammatical errors on your resume will likely cost you an interview.

Resume Bloopers

In order to emphasize the importance of proofreading your resume and cover letter, I share with you a few resume faux pas...

The most common mistake made on legal resumes is misspelling Lexis and Nexis (the legal software tool). It often reads Lexus and Nexus which is incorrect. Keep in mind that spell checking will identify Nexis as Nexus.

One applicant writes of his experience as a manager. This is also a very common resume typo and we find a steady stream of qualified “mangers” looking for jobs. You may want to try and alter your application's spelling dictionary so that it will no longer recognize “manger”. One gentleman lists under the heading of languages: Fluent in Russian, English and “Body language” (the quotation marks are his).

Choose your fonts wisely. Small fonts can be hard to read. Bear in mind that hiring managers and recruiters have numerous resumes to read on a daily basis and they need to read them quickly. Generally, 10-point fonts are acceptable, but be mindful that depending on the style you choose, certain 10 point fonts can appear smaller than others which could make the resume difficult to read.

Do not use unprofessional email addresses. Use an email address that is suited for an opportunity in a well-established or corporate environment. Your name is, of course, a great choice and easily identifiable. A resume is a traditional “art form”. There is no place for humor, personal philosophy, or other subtleties in the context of the resume. Include just the facts in a clear, concise, well-organized layout. Keep the format simple.

It is perfectly acceptable to have more than one version of your resume as long as your experience is reflected accurately. The purpose of more than one version would simply emphasize one experience over another i.e., you have both litigation and corporate experience or corporate and real estate experience. Version “one” might lead with your litigation experience while version “two” would lead with your corporate experience and so on. You should track which resume you send so that you can be consistent.

If you still need help with writing your resume there are a number of resources available. Your local library should have stacks of how-to books on resume writing; or there are several excellent software packages which provide formats and prompts; or a resume writing service will customize a resume from an outline that you provide for a fee; or an employment service will assist you in “polishing up” your resume, often free of charge, although they will not likely assist you in creating your resume from scratch.

Finally, in order to keep your resume current, update your resume every year to reflect new skills acquired, a new title or any other relevant information.

Frequently Asked Questions

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