With online job applications feeling like a never-ending maze and "responsibility" jargon just being downright confusing, knowing how best to sell yourself in your résumé can seem pretty daunting.
That's why we spoke with the director of talent acquisition for Pearson North America, Robbi Cowley. Leading a team of passionate recruiters, Cowley works at effectively tracking down the perfect candidates for well-known employer brands. Really, who better to answer our burning questions about the do's and don'ts of résumé writing?
Here's what we learned.
Is it ever acceptable to have a résumé over one page?
Robbi Cowley: It depends on where you are in your career. If you have minimal work experience, stick to one page. Otherwise, two-page résumés are most common these days.
Does it matter what kind of paper you print your résumé on?
RC: Few places even accept paper résumés anymore, so paper type rarely matters. If attending a job fair that is collecting paper résumés or bringing a copy to an interview, use a high-quality paper. Know that you will likely still need to apply online, so it’s more important how your résumé looks digitally.
What is the sweet spot in regards to the amount of bullet points to include under each form of experience?
RC: Three to five bullets are ideal. This forces you to prioritize your most important and impressive accomplishments.
Does getting ~fancy~ with formatting help or hurt (i.e., in terms of structure and the best fonts to use)?
RC: Keep it simple! Recruiters review 500+ résumés each week, so making sure your résumé is easy to read is the best possible choice when it comes to formatting. Fancy format choices only work if they’re not distracting from the content — and of course it depends on your industry or profession.
If applying for a job in a city you don't live in yet, should you include a friend's address who lives in that city and pretend it's yours or be honest?
RC: We want you to be honest! If you’re worried about being rejected out of hand, the recommendation for this scenario is to list your name, phone number, and email address. There’s no need to list your physical address.
What are the most effective action verbs to use to describe responsibilities?
RC: There are loads of these to choose from. My advice is to use the verbs listed in the job posting. Those will most likely correlate with the company’s culture and help show you are a good fit for the position.
At what point in your career, after college, should you stop including your GPA?
RC: You should stop listing your GPA after you have landed your first job and have some work experience to include on your résumé. That becomes much more important than your GPA anyway!
Should you take off jobs that aren't relevant to the position you're applying for, even if it leaves a gap in your résumé?
RC: No, you should list them but highlight the transferable skills that matter for the job you are applying to now. Besides, you will likely complete a background check for the new company if you are hired, and previous employers will show up there anyway.
What is your stance on adding volunteer experience for a non-volunteer-based job?
RC: I like to see volunteer experience on résumés. It can show qualities like a service mindset, teamwork, and leadership skills. Plus, in the interview context, it can help to give you and the person interviewing you something to talk about that “breaks the ice” while still keeping things professional.
Is it important to tailor your résumé when everything about your experience is already represented on LinkedIn?
RC: Yes, definitely! Ideally, your résumé should be tailored to the job you’re applying for by using as many keywords as possible. It’s best to find keywords in the job description. Applicant tracking systems use keyword matches to sift the most relevant résumés to the top of the list, making them more viewable to recruiters. If you’re able to tailor your résumé to each job you apply for, you have a much greater chance of securing an interview.
What information is best to include on a résumé and left out for cover letters?
RC: A cover letter is usually submitted as a separate attachment in the applicant tracking system. Often, recruiters don’t read cover letters when submitted this way. However, if you’re communicating directly with recruiters or hiring managers, you can email a cover letter directly to demonstrate your interest in the company and a particular position.
Speaking of cover letters, how conversational/formal should they be?
RC: The cover letter is a chance to reveal your personality. Make it friendly yet professional. This is also a good place to explain any gaps in employment.
How important is it to have a website to showcase your portfolio in addition to a résumé?
RC: It really depends on the industry. For example: If you’re applying to a creative role, it is a good idea to have a portfolio you can link to from your résumé. Otherwise, it is not typically as important.
And finally, what are some absolute no-nos you’ve encountered while reviewing résumés?
- Don’t clutter your résumé with unnecessary information. Keep it clean, concise, and easy to read (remember those 500+ résumés recruiters read every week!). Highlight your key accomplishments at each job rather than listing every task and responsibility
- There is no need to include your LinkedIn URL or a picture of yourself. A savvy recruiter will find you on social media if they want additional information
- Finally, be sure you have a professional email address — and that you’re not still using the one you created when you were 13 using your favorite band’s name.
Headers by Son Tuyen Huynh / BuzzFeed