Always be closing. And never, ever, show them your email address from 1998.
For the last decade or so, much ink has been spilled about the impending death of the resume. Yet here we are, well past “the future” as depicted in Back To The Future Part II, and the piece of paper abides.
While it’s true that the rise of your digital presence is important when it comes to applying for a job in many industries, a paper resume still functions largely the way it always has: By providing an organized snapshot of your skills and experience.
What has changed since the days of Xeroxing super generic, boring resumes and hauling them around en masse in a briefcase, is the approach. According to a 2012 study conducted by job-matching service TheLadders, hiring managers and recruiters spend an average of six seconds looking at a resume. In other words, your window to make a good first impression is about the same as the lifespan of a juicy sneeze.
But here’s the good news: With a little attention to detail, context, and brevity—and the below imaginary example we whipped up for you—maximizing your resume real estate can set you lightyears ahead.
Before you even start thinking about making a case for how great you are, there are some very basic red flags to avoid. First up? Get yourself a gosh dang Gmail account, or establish one that connects with your personal website if applicable.
“Hotchix1993@hotmail.com is not professional, and it gives the impression that you are not seriously looking for a job,” says leadership strategist Joyel Crawford. “Remember, this is your brand. You want to stand out in a good way.”
Same goes for your cell phone setup: “I can’t tell you how many times I’d call a candidate and their voicemail box was full. Have an updated phone number with a voicemail that can accept messages, and make sure you have a professional outgoing message on your voicemail.”
You don’t need to be the world’s greatest graphic designer to put together a good resume. In fact, Resume Scripter founder Andrea Gerson points out that going overboard with the visuals can end up being distracting.
“Many candidates hope that infographic elements or photos will help set their resume apart,” she says, “but it’s important to keep the focus of your resume on the content, rather than the design. Be sure any visual elements you incorporate don’t distract readers from your accomplishments.”
That being said, consistency and readability are absolute musts: “A boring format and inconsistent layouts draw the reader’s attention away from the content, leaving them with a negative impression of your work ethic and capabilities,” Gerson says, recommending that applicants pay mind to keeping borders, margins and font sizes consistent across sections.
Every decision you make when it comes to your resume should point back to the following question: Why are you a great fit for the job?
While Alec Baldwin’s famously douchey character in Glengarry GlenRoss is certainly nothing to aspire to, he’s got a good bit of advice that can be applied to every aspect of your resume: Always. Be. Closing.
And in this respect, that means backing up your achievements with numbers. Career coach Angela Copeland points out that quantifiable results are essential for building a strong case for yourself.
“When I work with former members of the military, for example, their resume might say something like ‘I managed people,’ but when you dig in, you learn that they actually managed 250 people. Having numbers makes a big difference,” she says.
Crawford concurs: “Hiring managers and executives and love results. Results equal numbers—numbers that tell a story of success and productivity. And folks don’t have time to read a novel. Quick hits with results is key,” she says.
If you’re tempted to advocate for yourself as a “team player,” with “strong time management skills” and “attention to detail” who is “extremely organized,” don’t. “These boring, overused phrases actually tell the reader that you’re not able to articulate original ideas or communicate in a strong way,” says Gerson. “Whenever possible, give the reader context and measurable details to show them what you’ve done.”
And despite conventional templates that leave room for an “objective statement,” Crawford isn’t a fan: “It’s obvious what you’re looking for, or else you wouldn’t have applied for the job in the first place. Instead, use that space for an ‘executive summary’ of who you are, or simply list out the core competencies you display for that job. What’s the unique milkshake you bring to the yard?”
And hey, if you’ve got Crawford’s skills to slip in a Kelis reference when nobody’s looking, more power to you. But above all else, keep in mind that your resume is part of a bigger package: “It’s not the only tool that will help you land the job,” says Crawford, “but having a strong branded resume that highlights all of your magic that you can bring to the table will definitely set you apart from the rest.