Resume Writing part 1: General Principles and Formatting

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Resume writing is a daunting task. Knowing what recruiters, such as Sharp Decisions, and employers are looking for can be tricky, but sticking to some basic principles can resume building into a welcomed challenge.

Sharp Decisions senior recruiter Eric Wegfahrt urges job seekers to keep their resumes between two and three pages. He says resume should highlight things to impress the target employer, not detail an entire lifetime of events. Recruiters do not want to see personal information including marital status, gender, height, weight and health.

Including a picture with a resume is also strongly discouraged. Despite the fact that the job seeker chose to include this information, it still violates discrimination laws, and can motivate the reader to toss the resume and avoid any further conflict. They are also looking for any reason to toss a resume and make their job a little bit easier.

According to Marty Nemko at, choosing a Microsoft Word (or similar application) resume template is an easy, effective way to begin creating a resume. Templates also ensure formatting consistency throughout the resume.

Consistency is a major game-changer when it comes to resume writing, according to Harvard University’s Office of Career Services Extension School Resource Book. Having consistency with point of view, tense, date and time formatting is key in building a strong resume.

The headings, font type, font size, style and bullets should already be set; confirming these are constant throughout the document can save an ideal candidate’s resume from getting tossed.

Wegfahrt stressed the importance of steering clear of first person language. “Don’t use I, me, we,” he says.

Starting sentences with action words, such as established, analyzed, implemented, created, organized, managed, etc., avoids using the first person and adds power to the descriptions, according to

Tense-consistency is also crucial to resume writing. Switching between past, present and future tense within a section of the resume gives recruiters and hiring managers a reason to toss it. Current jobs and responsibilities should use the present tense (with action verbs to start each sentence) and past roles use the past tense, according to

Dates are a large piece of the resume puzzle. Employers want to see if education was completed in the generally-accepted amount of time, how long each role lasted and if the applicant has a gap between jobs.

There are many different ways to format dates within a resume – writing the full month then year (August 2011 to August 2013), abbreviated month then year (Aug. 2011 – Aug. 2013), numerical month/year (8/2011 – 8/2013), etc. Simply Hired recommends picking one standard format for dates. When documenting dates and times, it doesn’t necessarily matter what format is used, only that it is the same throughout the resume.

This may seem basic and unimportant on the surface, but resumes are all about details and creating the best, most-polished presentation of an individual’s work experience as possible.

To learn how to fill in the Heading, Objective, Experience and Skills sections of a resume, read Resume Writing Part 2.


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