Resume: An Overview

A resume is a formal document that a job applicant creates to itemize his or her qualifications for a position. A resume is usually accompanied by a customized cover letter in which the applicant expresses an interest in a specific job or company and draws attention to the most relevant specifics on the resume.

American job coaches insist that a resume should be only one or two pages in length. British job applicants traditionally are expected to produce a somewhat more detailed document, called a CV (curriculum vitae).

1:19

How Long Should My Resume Be?

Understanding the Resume

A resume is almost always required for applicants to white-collar positions. They are the first step taken by corporate recruiters and hiring managers to identify candidates who might be invited to interview for a position.

Successful resumes highlight specific accomplishments applicants have achieved in former positions, such as cutting costs, transcending sales goals, increasing profits, and building out teams. 

Key Takeaways

  • Resumes are now sent by email, not snail mail.
  • The traditional one- to two-page limit stands, but nothing prevents you from attaching a brief video introduction or other illustration if it is relevant and enhances your presentation.
  • It's smart to rewrite your resume to tailor it to a specific job you're seeking.

The most determined applicants rewrite their resumes to suit the occasion, concentrating on skills and experience that fit the job for which they're applying.

There are many formats for resumes, with many variations for particular professions such as investment banking and the fashion trade.

Whatever the format, most resumes include a brief summary of skills and experience, followed by a bullet list of previous jobs in reverse chronological order and a list of degrees earned. A final section might be added to highlight specific skills, such as fluency in a foreign language, knowledge of computer languages, professionally useful hobbies, professional affiliations, and any honors achieved.

Brevity, a clean layout, and succinct language all are prized. People who have to sort through hundreds of resumes have short attention spans.

Resume Trouble Spots

Recruiters examine job histories for significant employment gaps or a pattern of job-hopping. Be prepared to explain either, in a cover letter or in an interview. An applicant with a history of shortlived jobs might consider omitting a few of the oldest ones, especially if they aren't relevant to the current job opening.

For example, if you spent years working behind a counter in food service, then went back to school to earn physical therapy credentials, forget some of those early jobs in food service. Flesh out the sections that report your skills, training, and experience in the health field. You can mention those other jobs in the interview while explaining what a reliable professional you are.

The past can be particularly dangerous for applicants to new technology companies seeking to assemble cutting edge teams. Legacy skills may imply obsolescence. The most powerful resumes underline how an applicant can thrive in the job that's open right now.

Changing Times for Resumes

It goes without saying that resumes these days are delivered as email attachments, not printed out and mailed.

Although the two-page maximum still stands, many applicants use the web to the max when it comes to attachments. Video introductions, charts, graphs, and other illustrations can make you stand out, as long as they're relevant and slickly made.

The Resume Heading

The heading on the resume should include not only your name, email address, and mobile phone number but your address on LinkedIn or another professional community and the address of your website or blog if you have one.

Be aware that any hiring manager will, as a matter of course, enter your name in the Google search field. Do a search on your own and see if you can optimize your own results or at least decently bury any youthful faux pas.