The Six Cardinal Rules of Résumé Writing

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

Electronic résumé are “Plain Janes” that don’t need boldface, underlining or other type enhancements. In fact, using such embellishments may make an e-résumé harder to read once it’s transmitted. If you need to emphasize a word, use capital letters to make it stand out, says Tracy Bumpus, executive director of Career and Resume Services in Austin, Texas. Also use a simple typestyle and lots of white space for readability.

2. Format

Format shouldn’t be your primary consideration when preparing a résumé. When Mr. Runyan saw a format he liked, he tried to manipulate his information to fit it. Other job hunters make the same mistake, says Don Orlando, owner of the McLean Group, a Montgomery, Ala., resume-writing firm. “You can’t take an existing format and push your life into it,” he says. “It simply won’t work.”

Decide on a résumé format after your text is prepared. Since each person’s career history, achievements and academic credentials are unique, their resume format should be as well. Review other résumé for ideas, but craft your document to “sell” only you.

When you start writing, concentrate on marketing yourself and don’t worry about the format. It’s likely that when you’re finished, the format you should use will become obvious. You’ll just need to change headings or margins, insert rules, bold or italic type or edit sections to fit your information more comfortably onto a page.

If possible, adhere to these formatting guidelines:

  • Don’t expect readers to struggle through 10- to 15-line paragraphs. Substitute two or three shorter paragraphs or use bullets to offset new sentences and sections.
  • Don’t overdo bold and italic type. Excessive use of either defeats the purpose of these enhancements. For example, if half the type on a page is bold, nothing will stand out.
  • Use nothing smaller than 10-point type. If you want employers to review your résumé, make sure they don’t need a magnifying glass!
  • Don’t clutter your résumé. Everything you’ve heard about “white space” is true. Let your document “breathe” so readers won’t have to struggle through it.
  • Use an excellent printer. Smudged, faint, heavy or otherwise poor quality print will discourage red-eyed readers.

When preparing your electronic résumé, use these formatting rules:

  • Type all your information starting on the left-hand side of the page. Don’t center or justify any text. These formatting commands don’t transmit well electronically.
  • Length isn’t as critical for electronic résumé as it is for electronic documents. Instead of typing your technical skills in paragraph form, cite them in a list. Also type your key words in a list instead of in column format. They will be easier to read.

3. Spelling, Grammar and Syntax

Typographical errors signal job-search death, which may be why Mr. Runyan’s did so poorly. It contained three typographical and two syntax errors, as well as unpolished wording.


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