Optimize That Resume

Optimize That Resume

New year, new job?  If one of your goals is a new job or change in career, now is a great time to start your search.  While your competition is busy with the holidays, you can get a leg up and potentially fill an open spot before they even have a chance to apply.  You have less than 20 seconds of a hiring manager’s time, so here’s how to make them count and get that interview.

Remember: If your resume gets you an interview with the hiring manager, then it was a success.

**This post is long, but I broke it out into clear sections with headers.  Feel free to read it all or jump around to the pieces you need.**

Your resume is not about you.

I already hear your doubts, but it’s true.  A resume is for recruiters, hiring managers, interviewers, and (unfortunately) Applicant Tracking Systems.  A resume is all about what you can do to add value to their team and their company, so make sure that’s the story your resume tells.  Be thinking: “If I was a recruiter, what would I care about?”



As long as it looks professional and is easily readable, any format is okay.  It must be easy to skim.  Overall, focus on less clutter and a comfortable amount of white space.  There’s no one-size-fits-all.  Just stand out in a good way.

For creative fields, feel free to take more creative liberties with modern formats.  You can add in dark readable colors, like gray or blue.  It’s often expected that resumes in certain fields will have a more creative format, and even traditional fields welcome a more modern format now.  I recommend a google search of “Sample Resume *field*” to get ideas for both format and content.

You can use narrow margins to create more text space, but make sure the text stays within the printable area.


A resume is meant to be a concise easy-to-scan summary of qualifications (ideally a bulleted list) that will result in an invitation for an interview.  A resume is NOT a summary of your entire working career.  Choose quality over quantity.  I always encourage exactly one page, especially for millennials, knowing that the top third of that page is make-or-break and that recruiters rarely flip to page 2.  As you advance in your career or take on executive level positions, your resume might grow.  As long as it’s all relevant to the position and shows the value you’d add, that’s fine.  Additionally, you can include more details or more positions in your LinkedIn profile, since anyone who wants more information will go there.


The size should generally be either 11 or 12.  Any smaller, and you risk a recruiter squinting to read.  Font type should be clean, readable, and consistent throughout.  As a millennial, I prefer Calibri or Arial, but Times New Roman is definitely a standard.


You should include your name, a phone number, a professional email address (like YourName@gmail.com) and a LinkedIn profile if you have one.  Make the email address and LinkedIn profile clickable.  The header shouldn’t be too big or take up too much room because it’s taking up the most valuable real estate of your resume.

You can exclude your physical address if you know it will be going to a recruiter.  It’s an outdated tradition that wastes a precious line.  If for some reason they want to mail you something, they will ask for your address.  The expectation is that if you are applying for a job, you will be able to do the work, whether you are commuting to the office or working remotely.  Including your address up front could potentially hurt your chances of securing an interview if you live far away and are hoping to negotiate a relocation package.  Let them want you first. Exception: Applicant Tracking Systems.  They sometimes filter by city or zip codes, looking for locals and giving them priority.

Another outdated line is “References available upon request.”  Obviously you’re going to provide references if asked (include 3-5 with name, title, company, email address and phone number).  However, in the current digital age, most recruiters would rather look you up in search engines and on your social media than call your references.  If it’s an internal position or if they’re good at networking, they probably have people they trust who they’d rather call.  (I’ve had interviewers call my mentor without me realizing it.)


Make sure all dates are in a consistent format.

Regardless of your chosen resume style, all included dates should be aligned on the right for two reasons.

  1. Many recruiters don’t care about dates at all. Including dates in the main text forces the recruiter to waste precious time on them and could clutter up what they’re really interested in.  The moment they lose interest is the moment you’ve lost your chance for an interview.
  2. The people who do care about dates usually want a clear picture of the time line, which is much harder to see when they have to pick out the dates from a body of text and wastes their precious time.


The top third of your resume will be the deciding factor in whether or not the recruiter continues reading your resume.  Make it count by putting your strongest section first.  For me (and most people early in their career), this is my education section.

You don’t need to rewrite your resume for every position you apply for as long as you are making the benefits of hiring you and where you want to go clear.  You should focus on applying for jobs that align with your career goals.  However, it’s still worth looking over your resume each time you send it out.

If your resume makes your goals and direction clear, a recruiter can advise if you wouldn’t be a good fit for a position you are applying for, and they can pass your resume on to a different area you might not have considered.  They’ll only do that if your resume is worth passing on though, so make your content the best it can be.

An Objective Statement

In most cases, scratch the section entirely.  The reader is likely to skip the section.  It’s obvious you want the position because you are applying for it.  Every single bullet you list in your experiences should tell whoever is reading your resume exactly why you are valuable or a good fit for the position and make it clear where you want to go.  If your direction or the reason you’d be a good fit is not clear from your bullets, take some time to rewrite them.  An Objective Statement is NOT the place for clarification.  That leaves this entire section a pointless repeat, and makes it a waste of precious real estate.  Additionally, it’s harder to pass a resume on for other opportunities when it starts with a job-specific objective statement.

If you are including an objective statement, make sure that it adds value.  The only time you may need an objective statement is when you are making a huge career change.  In this case, be as specific as possible about your goals, the value you bring to the company, and the type of role you are looking for.

Professional Experience

This section should NOT be a list of your duties or responsibilities.  People can usually infer certain things from the job title.  Instead, focus each bullet on your skills, achievements, and interests that (1) align with where you want your career to go and (2) show the value you would add to the company you are applying for.

If you don’t want to keep doing something, don’t tell people you’re great at it!  In one of my positions, I established a filing system and organized over 400 folders that contained important bank documentation in addition to creating electronic copies filed on a shared drive, but I would never list it on my resume since I don’t want to do that as a job.  I can always use it as a talking point in an interview, but that’s not my end game.

Look over the job posting and use any buzzwords or keywords in your resume.  You can also Google industry buzzwords and include them where appropriate.  These are different for each field.  Applicant tracking systems often filter for these buzzwords before pushing your resume on, so it’s great to include as many as possible as long as they are all relevant.

Be mindful of your word choice, and say more with less.  Analyzed, achieved, improved, trained, mentored, managed, created, resolved, volunteered, and influenced are all far more powerful than vague or cliche words.  Aim to use words that show leadership.

Quantify everywhere you can to help create concrete examples.  Use dollar amounts and numbers.  “Documented over 30 procedures” sounds more impressive than “Documented procedures.”

Generally it’s easier to go in chronological order, with the most recent position listed first.  Consider a “Career Highlights” section instead of a “Professional Experience” section if you’ve had many various and not-necessarily-related jobs or are changing fields.  You can pick and choose which positions are expanded on.  In this case, it’s important to make dates clear to make it obvious that you aren’t hiding any gaps in work history.

Be selective.  Scrap older positions if they aren’t relevant to your current career goals.  Remember, aim for one great page instead of two+ good pages.

Gaps in work history?  Try filling them in with volunteer work, part time work, a side hustle, consulting, starting a business, travels, parenting, household management, etc.  Be honest in your interviews about any gaps.  Talk about experiences and things you learned.  If you’ve been unemployed, it’s OK to express you simply wanted a break before looking for new opportunities or needed a change of pace.

Volunteer Work

If it’s related to your career path, consider including it in your professional experience, especially if it’s not as recent.  “Professional Experience” does not necessarily have to be paid.  For example, if you volunteered to help underprivileged people with tax returns and are applying to a tax preparation company, that’s important to include in the “Professional Experience” section.

If it’s not related to your career, you can break it out in a separate section.  However, you should first consider whether it’s necessary and whether it adds to your resume.  Also consider your volunteer dates.  If you helped at a soup kitchen 3 years ago, that likely isn’t important for the recruiter to know and would probably look like fluff or make them wonder why you haven’t volunteered lately.  However, if you have been a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters for the last three years, that can show a current commitment to local youth and might be impressive to a company that regularly volunteers in the community.


List your highest degree first, and don’t include your high school if you have an associate’s degree or higher.  List your degrees and majors in the most space-efficient and relevant way (Examples and comprehensive guide here).  GPA should only be included if it’s above 3.5.  You can also specify “3.5 in *your major* courses” if your overall wasn’t as high.  Include any honors societies, awards, or other relevant activities.

If you graduated 15+ years ago and have various positions and professional experience, feel free to exclude the date of graduation.  This can help prevent age discrimination.  If you are a recent grad with limited experience, include the date of graduation.

Certifications can go here or they can go in the skills section.  It depends on what the certifications are, whether they are relevant to your career, how important they are, and where your Education section is on your resume.  It’s personal preference.  (For example, if your Education section is first on your resume and the certification isn’t career related, put it in the skills section.)


Generally stick to tangible learned skills like technology, scientific methods, procedures, industry, tools and techniques.  Include foreign languages here!  They’re only worth breaking out if you’re applying for a position where knowing the foreign language is necessary and bilingual candidates are given priority.  Otherwise, they take up valuable real estate.

Your soft skills (attitude, behavior, people-related, etc.) aren’t able to be “proven” on a resume so you should save them for the interview.

The Final Resume Test

Print out your resume and cover the bottom two thirds.  Always assume this is the only thing a recruiter will see when they open up your resume. This portion of your resume should grab your reader and encourage them to continue.

Then look over the whole thing and confirm the following:

  • Everything is spelled correctly. (Read it backwards.)
  • Everything is in a consistent tense.
  • All the columns/formats are correctly lined up.
  • It looks professional, and doesn’t look cluttered.  There is a comfortable amount of white space.


Always send your resume as a .pdf document.  Formatting can be messed up when you send it to another computer, even if it’s opened in the same program.  It would be a shame if you had the perfect resume and it was passed over due to formatting problems.

Update Your LinkedIn Profile

Your last step in the resume update process is to look over your LinkedIn profile and make sure it’s all up to date.  Everything on your resume should be included in your profile.  Some people think your LinkedIn should perfectly match your resume, but this is personal preference.  It’s OK to include extra items in your LinkedIn that don’t make the cut for your resume (like volunteering in that soup kitchen or other organizations), although you should still make sure everything on your profile has value to a potential recruiter.

You might also consider a quick audit of all your online profiles (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to make sure any details match and to confirm there isn’t anything that would turn a recruiter off before they even have a chance to meet you.

Cover Letters

When should I include a cover letter?  Answer: Never.  Your resume should speak for itself.  If it doesn’t, keep editing your resume until it does.  A cover letter is meant to get a recruiter to read your resume.  If they look at the cover letter first and aren’t intrigued, why would they read your resume?  You’ve added unnecessary risk into your job search.  Put the resume in front of them instead.

Some Application Tracking Systems require a cover letter when submitting, but that’s no excuse for short-changing your resume.  In these cases, consider a two-paragraph format.  Paragraph 1 should be 3 concise sentences about the value you would bring to the company and how you can help them meet their need.  Paragraph 2 should be something like “I appreciate your time, and I look forward to speaking with you further to discuss your company’s needs.”  Make sure you include your name, email address, and phone number on the cover letter.  The same format rules apply.  Your goal is to get them to look at your resume and bring you in for an interview.  Do NOT simply restate your resume/qualifications, or there will be no reason for them to turn the page.


Best of luck with your resume updates!


More Career

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Know Your Worth: Negotiate Your Salary

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2 Replies to “Optimize That Resume”

    1. I’m so glad you found it helpful! The irony of 2,500 words about how to write one page is not lost on me. I was honestly worried it was too long and no one would even read it 🙂

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