The Six Cardinal Rules of Résumé Writing

Experts say put a little more vitae into your curriculum vitae.

Fred Runyan didn’t want to be left holding the bag when the Northern California-based management consulting firm he worked for completed a pending merger. After 10 years with the firm, the senior consultant knew there would be big staffing changes ahead, and decided to explore opportunities elsewhere.

He needed a résumé, though, so he shuffled through his desk to find the one he’d used to land his current job. He thought a few paragraphs about his decade-worth of consulting assignments would update it sufficiently, so he jotted them down. Next, he dug up a résumé he’d received six years ago that had an attractive format.

He handed the revisions and original copy to his secretary and asked her to make the finished version look like the sample. In an hour, his new resume was done and he felt ready to interview.

Six months later, Mr. Runyan was still waiting for an invitation to interview. He’d received a few phone calls from employers, but nothing more. Discouraged and confused, he didn’t know why the response to his mailings was so poor. He had worked for good companies, held responsible management positions and delivered strong results. Couldn’t prospective employers see that when they reviewed his résumé?

Apparently not. By not thoughtfully redrafting his document, Mr. Runyan failed to address key issues of résumé-writing, according to résumé writers and career coaches nationwide. To ensure your resume makes the best possible impression, it’s essential to meet six challenges regarding its presentation, format and content. These challenges and resume writers’ advice on solving them follow.

1. Presentation

You’ll need both a print and an electronic version of your résumé. Each version has different visual issues.

Your print resume is considered your primary marketing document and its appearance is critical. To survive next to those of hundreds of equally qualified candidates, it must look sharp and dynamic. Don’t have it typed on an outdated word processor and printed onto plain bond paper, as Mr. Runyan did, and don’t model it after résumés from years back, says Martin Yate, author of “Resumes That Knock ‘Em Dead” (Adams Media Corp., 2000). “Your résumé must be current in its style, format and tone,” he says.

Give your document an up-to-date style that attracts attention. This doesn’t mean using an italic typeface, cute logos or an outrageous paper color. Instead, be conservatively distinctive. Choose a sharp-looking typeface such as Bookman, Soutane, Krone or Fritz, or, if your font selection is limited, the more prevalent Times Roman, Helvetica or Arial typefaces.

Unless you’re seeking a position as a graphic artist, don’t put logos or artwork on your resume. However, using horizontal rules to separate sections can give it an upscale look.

Your choice of paper color isn’t important, as long as it’s conservative–white, ivory or light gray. However, a little creativity is permitted. For instance, consider using light gray paper with a white border or light ivory with a darker ivory border. This is a classy treatment that attracts favorable notice.


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