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How to write a resume now

With so much networking and job-hunting happening online, who still needs a resume? You, at least if you’re hunting for a new job. Write a better one with these expert tips

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In the past couple decades, the way people seek and get jobs has changed radically. (For some of us, that change has transpired right during our careers.) Everybody uses LinkedIn, there are websites devoted to job hunting, and a lot of networking is done remotely. (This was true even before Covid.)

Despite all this, one thing hasn’t changed: Most people still need a resume when looking for a new job. Whatever you’ve done professionally, and whatever you want to do next, you still need a clear, concise way of explaining it to busy people who do not yet care about you. But the art of writing that resume has changed, in part because of technology.

To find out how job seekers should write a resume today (including what you should absolutely not do), we spoke to Edouard Thoumyre, managing partner at Accur Recruiting Services. His hiring agency mostly recruits senior corporate executives, but Thoumyre’s advice works for a wide range of jobs and seniority levels, and a wide variety of job listings and job applications.

Today, record-low unemployment rate means it is very much a worker’s market, so there’s no reason to let a shoddy resume stand between you and the job you want, and dare we say deserve.

Get going with these expert tips on how to write a resume.

In this article:

Calm your inner graphic designer

We understand that it can seem appealing to use a little visual pizzazz to stand out. Thoumyre urges you to resist that temptation, and not to use elaborate graphic design.

“Very often it’s confusing,” he says. “People who read a lot of resumes, like us, we’re used to finding certain types of information in certain locations on a resume. Keeping it standard helps the reader find what they want immediately, and that has a lot more benefits than the benefit of standing out through design.”

Moreover, he adds, that “many people like me, we think that basically if there is too much graphic design, it hides a lack of content.”

While this is subjective, it’s worth remembering that people’s reactions to graphic design are always a little subjective. Why run the risk of alienating a recruiter because they don’t like your font, or they found it challenging to find the information they were looking for?

There is another, bigger, reason to avoid graphic design, says Thoumyre: “The more sophisticated you are in terms of graphic design, the harder it will be for an ATS to read your resume.” And what, you may wonder, is ATS? Keep reading…

Bottom line: No graphic design.

“If there is too much graphic design, it hides a lack of content.”

—Edouard Thoumyre, managing partner at Accur Recruiting Services

Format your resume for ATS

ATS stands for applicant tracking system. It’s a software that reads resumes and enters the details they contain into a database, which can then be searched by recruiters and/or potential employers.

If a recruiter or hiring manager is looking for someone to fill a position, they don’t leaf through pages or comb through files on their computer. Instead, they start with a keyword search in their database, hunting for things like job titles or companies that applicants have worked for in the past.

“If your resume hasn’t been parsed properly, meaning if your resume hasn’t been read properly by an ATS, then you’ll be invisible,” says Thoumyre.

Unfortunately even a good ATS has serious limitations when it comes to reading documents and putting their information into that database, so you need to take that into account. In essence, your average ATS is built to read Microsoft Word documents and Google Docs.

Not only does it struggle with graphic design, “depending on the sophistication of the ATS, it may have trouble reading contact details in the header and footer of a resume,” says Thoumyre. “So instead of creating a header in Google Docs or Microsoft Word, you can reduce the header to nothing, and then put your name and contact details in the main part of the document,” near the top.

An ATS will also have a hard time with “image PDFs.” “If you have a Word document that you turn into a ‘text PDF’ [the default PDF you’ll get if you export from Word to PDF], most of the time, the ATS will read it properly because it will retain the structure of the Word document,” says Thoumyre.

“But if you create your résumé in software that is not Word or Google Docs and you turn it into a PDF in something such as Photoshop [which creates an “image PDF”], the ATS won’t be able to read your resume and you’ll be invisible in the recruiter’s database.”

Bottom line: Keep it simple. Write an ATS-friendly resume in (or export it as) a Word or Google Doc.

Update your resume for SEO

As you might have figured out by now, storing your resume in a searchable database means your resume should be easily searched in that database. In other words, it needs to be written with the concept of SEO (search engine optimization) in mind. That’s the process by which a piece of text on the internet has been optimized to contain relevant keywords that a search engine (like Google or Bing) can find when a user is looking for something.

This means it should contain the right keywords. This might be harder to do if you want to change careers, because your resume describes your past — all the keywords that would naturally be in there refer to what you did, but not necessarily what you want to do.

However, Thoumyre has a solution for that…

Bottom line: Think like a search engine.

Consider the objective paragraph

Some people start their resume with a summary: Thoumyre thinks that’s a terrible idea.

“The word ‘resume’ means ‘summary,’ so making a summary of your summary makes zero sense,” he says. “Also, summaries tend to have a lot of non-distinctive attributes that everybody puts, so it’s a waste of time and space.”

He adds that “at first I spend maybe 30 seconds looking at company names, titles, dates, maybe locations. And immediately I see the seniority level of that person. I see the type of function. I form an opinion on whether that person is good for large companies or good for a more entrepreneurial environment and so on.”

If you have a short summary at the top of your resume, he says, “saying that you’re a smart, dynamic, fast learner or whatever, all of that is just your opinion about yourself that is not necessarily fully backed up.”

Instead, start with what he calls “an Objective paragraph, where you can talk about your plan for the future, whereas the rest of your resume is describing the past.” Talk about what you want to do, and how your experience qualifies you for it.

“This is the place where you say, for example, ‘I’ve had a long career in consumer goods and personal care, and I want to apply those P&G skills to an industry where I am fond of the products — that’s why I want to transition to the beauty and cosmetics industry,’” he says.

“You’re basically explaining your thought process and your career plan by saying, ‘I have transferable skills, I have a personal passion for other products outside of the industries I’ve been working in, and I’d like to combine those two.’”

Crucially, Thoumyre notes, the Objective paragraph is also an opportunity to add keywords for the ATS. This way, recruiters will find your resume when looking for people who want to do what you want to do, even though the rest of your resume will only have keywords related to your past exploits.

Bottom line: Include an Objective paragraph. And remember those keywords.

Describe where you worked (obviously)

Thoumyre advises all resume writers to include a one-line description of each company they’ve worked at, even if (perhaps especially if) it’s a well-known business.

“Let’s say you worked at General Electric or Procter & Gamble,” he says. “They have so many divisions and verticals that if you only ‘General Electric,’ ‘division director,’ and a series of responsibilities, I have no idea whether you were working with light bulbs or medical equipment, so always put a line where you explain the division and its size.”

Also bear in mind that the person reading your resume may not know everything about your line of work. Thoumyre recommends adding a one-line description about each of your past and present employers (including the size of the company), in case the recruiter isn’t deeply familiar with your industry.

Bottom line: Remember your audience knows less about your former workplaces than you do.

Use this format

If writing a resume were like playing music, it would be like playing in a strict classical orchestra, not a free jazz ensemble.

That’s because a resume is a standard document and the people (and machines) that read one have a standard way of dealing with it. The safest thing is to organize the document by using a resume template, listing your employers in reverse chronological order. You want to stand out for your experience and abilities, not your reinvention of the form.

“The very classic way is to have an objective paragraph or not, and then go directly into professional experience – most recent experience first – and then education,” says Thoumyre. “For junior candidates, education may be more important than experience, but for more experienced candidates, we don’t really look at it.” So if you’ve been working for a while, don’t overdo it with the finer details of your undergrad studies in the education section.

It’s standard to put I.T. and language skills at the very bottom of a resume, and you should only mention them if your level of proficiency is adequate for the jobs you’re seeking. (If you can use Excel to manage your household budget and speak enough Spanish to order off-menu at your local Mexican restaurant, these skills — while valuable — don’t need to be on your resume, unless they directly connect to the job you’re applying for.)

Bottom line: Make like a good bar band or a wedding DJ, and stick to the classics.

And keep it to this length

“If you just graduated and you have two internships and a bachelor’s degree, maybe one page is good enough,” says Thoumyre.

“However, often I see people try and fit everything on one page, but then they don’t leave any spaces between positions and it makes it harder to read.” (In other words, don’t use a four-point font size.) So I’d much rather have a two- or even three-page resume where I can very quickly find what I want rather than a cramped up resume where there’s no space and where you skip important information that doesn’t allow me to understand the context.”

In other words, the old rule of thumb that everything should fit on one page might no longer be true, at least for highly experienced candidates conducting a job search.

“Some people skip the one-line company description because they want everything to fit on a page, but if they’d taken maybe a page and a half, they’d have better spaces between positions and enough space to describe each of their jobs with key details,” he says. “So I certainly have no issue with a two-page resume. Of course, if you go into four or five pages, it’s probably a little too much.”

Bottom line: Let it breathe, but don’t ramble.

Use bullets. And brag a little.

Thoumyre advises using bullets (generated with the “bullets” feature in the software you use, because that’s what the ATS understands) because they’re quick and easy to read, and help you divide your work experience into resume sections.

“If you start describing a position with more than, let’s say, 15 bullet points, split the bullet points between responsibilities first and achievements after,” he says.

“Very often when you have a long series of bullet points for one position, everything is kind of mixed up between what you were expected to do and what you’ve actually done,” he continues.

“I’ve always enjoyed when people made a distinction between their typical expectations, what is basically the job description that they were given at the beginning, and their special achievements. They succeeded in launching a new product very well with such and such results. They manage to restructure a division. Those are key achievements.”

Note his use of action verbs (“launching”; “restructure”). Stressing the actions you took that led to those key achievements will help you stand out in a crowded sea of applicants.

Bottom line: Don’t be shy.

Go forth.

With these tips, you’re ready to begin your search for a newer, better job (and maybe a higher salary), in an environment that’s more worker-friendly than it’s been for generations. If you’re interested in joining the team at Haven Life (where we often say “We matter to each other,” because we do), start your journey at Haven Life Careers.

We’re looking for innovative, collaborative, and creative people to join our team. Sound like someone you know?

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About Michael Davis

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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

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