With the start of summer just around the corner, many students have begun polishing up their resumes to land the perfect job or internship. But before students hand in their resumes to potential employers, they should take a second glance—some of the age-old advice that their resumes follow may be outdated.
NerdScholar asked experts what they consider the most misleading rules for resume writing. They responded with eight pieces of advice that, in their opinion, should be tossed out of the resume rulebook.
[Want more career advice? Check out our Job Search Guide for Gen Y.]
1. Employers will read your entire resume.
Don’t assume that employers will sift through cluttered text to find what makes you stand out, experts agree. Instead, they will typically scan your resume for about seven seconds, says Steve Langerud, deputy director of global development at Maharishi University in Fairfield, Iowa. “Make every word count,” Langerud says. “Remember, we read from left to right and top to bottom. Keep the emphasis on key words on the left side of the page.” In addition to succinct content, employers will likely spend more time on a resume that is neat and organized. “White space is welcomed to the reader,” says Sharon Reid, assistant director of career services at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy in New York City. “It gives his or her eyes a chance to rest and also offers a moment to reflect on the information that you have included.”
2. You must fill the entire page.
You do not need a resume chock-full of experience to impress an employer, Reid says. Quality, not quantity, is what matters most. In order to make each experience shine, especially if your experience is limited, Reid advises that students explain how the experience “allowed [them] to progressively take on more responsibility and demonstrate leadership.” Students should also highlight experience that lasted longer than a few months or allowed them to return. “If the experience was more ‘long-term,’ it shows that you are committed and that your employer found you valuable,” Reid says.
3. List tasks to describe your experience.
While this is not untrue, simply listing your tasks will not carry your experience very far. “Job descriptions should actually be ‘accomplishment statements,’” says Reid. “Describe projects or programs on which you worked—even if it was only a small part of your duty. Discuss your actions (whether as part of a team or as an individual) and highlight the results of your contributions. What were the positive outcomes?” Whenever possible, you should always quantify your experience by adding numbers. If you cannot quantify, Reid says, then qualify, or prove that your system or program has been integrated into the business operation.
4. You only need one resume.
Students should adjust their resume for each application, instead of distributing identical copies to all of their potential employers. “Cater your resume to a specific job description and use experience that demonstrates knowledge of the position,” says Stephanie Kinkaid, program coordinator at Monmouth College’s career center in Monmouth, Illinois. For some applications, this may mean eliminating irrelevant experience from your resume. For others, you may have to extend your resume beyond the controversial one-page limit. Be conscious of what your resume tells each potential employer and how it demonstrates that you’ve obtained the skills required of a position.
[Learn how to write a standout cover letter.]
5. You must list your experience in reverse chronological order.
Students and recent grads should organize their resumes by leading with relevant skills and work experience, instead of their most recent job, says Larry Goldsmith, a career strategist at St. Petersburg College in St. Petersburg, Florida. “The issue is that most students are not working in the area of their college major,” Goldsmith says. “The first things the employer sees are companies and occupational titles not associated with their degree and their studies.” Remember that your resume tells a story—put what you want to be known for up front.
6. You should only include paid experience.
Experience is experience in the eyes of employers, whether or not you got paid for it. “Volunteer work and unpaid internships can be just as valuable as paid experience,” says Mona Patel, a career counselor at the University of California, Riverside. Reid also recommends including student or professional association memberships and extra-curricular activities that demonstrate leadership and engagement with your community. However, Reid adds, hobbies such as skiing or rock climbing do not belong on a resume. “Don’t seek to connect with employers by listing your interests,” Reid says. “Interests alone will not get you an interview.”
7. You must include an objective.
Objectives are optional and should be left off unless they serve a specific purpose. “If you only want to be considered for one particular position, then it may be a good idea to include a short objective,” Patel says. “However, if you are applying to several different jobs all at once, it may be a good idea to leave your objective off.” Kinkaid reiterates that “resumes are for demonstrating measurable descriptors of education and experience”—most objectives are best left for the cover letter.
8. You must include “References available upon request.”
This sentence is a given, Patel says, and it’s better left off. If employers want to pursue your application further, they know that they can ask for references. Patel advises students to plan ahead by creating a separate page for references. “You can use the same header style that you use for your resume and cover letter,” she says. “List three to five professional references (past college professors, supervisors, or internship coordinators).” And when you cinch an interview, this list a good item to bring along.
Sharon Reid currently serves as the assistant director of career services at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy through The New School in New York City. She has spent more than a decade working at and consulting for university career centers and has held a variety of titles.
Mona Patel is a career counselor at the University of California, Riverside’s career center. She also serves as a liaison with the UCR School of Business Administration, where she assists students starting their professional careers. She is a graduate of California State University, Sacramento.
Stephanie Kinkaid is the program coordinator for Career Services at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. She serves as a career counselor and facilitates all career programming on campus.
Larry Goldsmith is a career strategist at St. Petersburg College in St. Petersburg, Florida. He is also the author of Building the Looking Résumé and has helped more than 20,000 individuals improve their potential by teaching them how to make informed career and life decisions.
Steve Langerud is the deputy director of global development at Maharishi University in Fairfield, Iowa. He is also a workplace consultant and executive coach through Steve Langerud & Associates.
Resume image courtesy of Shutterstock.