There’s a host of dos and don’ts for resumes and cover letters. Over the years I have definitely committed some of the don’ts with intent at times and out of pure ignorance at others. For instance, immediately after graduating from undergrad I decided since blue was my favorite color I would use blue paper as my signature ‘look’. Needless to say a resume of very little experience on heavy resume stock (32lb. weight) in a baby blue paper shade said less about what I had to offer the company and more about my vapidness. it would take a few years before I realized that first resume post undergrad was the equivalent of girls during middle school years when writing reports in hot pink and purple gel pens became all the rage. The less knowledgeable my classmates were about the report area the more likely they were to add flourishes like pen colors and stickers to their report.
While my early job search faux pas was born out of ignorance in my latest search I have attempted to work outside of the norms with a bit of intent and purpose. For instance I have redesigned my resume from the acceptable multi-bulleted blocks of text upon text to one that pops with color and presents information in an easier and cleaner way, which I hope allows the hiring agent to remember my skills better. Instead of going with the staid white, ivory, and ecru (the eggshell of paper colors) I have opted to go with grey. Instead of a heavy resume stock (24 or 32 lbs) I have opted to go with standard weight (20 lbs) with linen or woven finish which gives the resume a tactile experience. For my splash of color I have gone with orange and my accent color is a deep turquoise blue. The combination of the orange with the grey paper represents my university’s color palette. I recognize all of these choice are DON’Ts, and in fact or huge don’ts. However, all of these choices have been made with a clear thought of what experience I want the hiring agent to have when viewing my resume package.
Likewise, I have decided to follow some standard resume dos that I think have a clear rational for doing. Despite being a recent grad school graduate I have decided to lead my resume with my work experience instead of my educational background. The rule of thumb is if you have substantive experience then your resume should highlight that prominently and first. Because there are so many individuals who decided to go straight from undergrad into a grad school program in the last few years I think this is a smart rule to follow. By presenting my work experience at the forefront you give yourself an opportunity to standout with the hiring agent as not just another grad resume. Another resume I do that I am keen to follow is the 2 page max rule. Regardless if the hiring agent is looking at 25 applicants or 250 applicants s/he will not have the patience to look at a resume longer than 2 pages and the last thing I want to do is annoy the hiring agent. Of course, I also suspect the inability to edit your resume represents your real inability to work as an individual — if you can’t edit something as simple as a resume how can the employer expect you to work on a project with little oversight. Of course sometimes corresponding dos are counterproductive as a fellow graduate recognized while reviewing her resume. She asked me to redesign her resume and presented me with her current resume of five pages. — yes, a resume and not a CV. When I asked why her resume was so long she noted the chronological nature of her resume. While, presenting all work experience is a ‘do’ for the chronological resume it loses its power when the presentation becomes longer than 2 pages. So, far I’ve noticed a few things since deciding to break some rules and keeping others with my resume:
- I receive back more responses in general than my fellow grads working the ‘dos’
- For interview opportunities I am more likely to get a positive response for the don’ts
- By being selective in my don’ts I have spent less time speaking to tertiary skills like design capabilities, computer competencies, team working and self-editing abilities
In general here are the don’ts I have decided to break for my resume and/or cover letter:
- use of a bright color (I am using orange which I suspect would be considered ‘bright’)
- going over one page for resume/coverletter (I max out to two pages while most of my cover letters are a page and half)
- don’t forget to include a mailing address on your resume/cover letter (I don’t have it on either my resume or cover letter and I suspect no employer spends postage to mail out a response to a resume and in the age of identity theft I am not inclined to have a piece of paper with some pertinent info floating in the ether)
- Use of colored paper and non-resume stock (I am using grey and 20 lb stock)
- Use of website links (I include a link to my LinkedIn page — but I used the LinkedIn option for a shorter and specific link so the link includes my name and is under 15 characters)
- Don’t forget to include your GPA (I don’t include it simply because most graduate programs require at least a 3.0 – on a 4.0 scale – to successfully navigate and to include it obfuscates the more germane point of what you actually learned)
- Don’t use graphics on your resume (I have a small graphic on the second page which is meant to be a wink-and-a-nod to how infographics dominate our understanding of information and I have designed resumes with this graphic to speak to areas of the world one has worked in)
- Don’t use fonts other than Times New Roman or Arial (I use Aller Regular and Aller Light for both my resume and cover letter)
Of course with the risks of breaking don’ts I am hoping for high rewards and I while I have not locked-in a new job yet there are signs that my risks are paying off. Recently, I applied through an online portal for a position that I suspected would have a high number of applicants and expected I would not get more than the automatic response that my application had uploaded properly. Instead of no response I received a stock ‘we are going in another direction’ email and a personalized email which gave me insight into what I was lacking as an applicant from the person who the position would directly report too. I think some of the rules I decided to break in my application package led to the personalized response based on the positive feedback of the ‘robustness’ of my package. As the job market continues to get tighter even for graduate school attendees you will want to rethink the standard approach to the package you send out into the job market, and will want to be purposeful in the do’s you follow and the don’ts you beak.