April 10, 2013 at 4:07 PM ET
No matter if you're about to create your first resume or your fifth, you probably have a bunch of questions floating through your mind—Do I have to include an objective? Should I keep it to one page? What about references? And you've probably gotten a lot of answers for each one.
It's enough to make your head spin, which is why iVillage went to the experts and asked them to give it to us straight. Here, recruiters, human resource executives and career experts reveal what really matters on your resume.
Should I include an objective or a summary?
First, it's important to understand the difference between the two. “An objective states what type of position the candidate is looking for and is generally used by recent college graduates or those desiring to change careers,” says Gyutae Park, head of human resources at personal finance website Money Crashers. “A summary section summarizes the work experience and accomplishments sections on the resume,” he says.
If you're established in your career, it's not necessary to include a summary on your resume. “When possible, you should always lead with your experience and nothing else,” says Jaime Petkanics, founder of The Prepary, a company dedicated to helping people with their job search. “Objectives and summaries tend to be more about what you want, what your goals are and what you are trying to do. The person who is screening your resume probably isn't thinking what you want next, they're thinking about how your skill set and your experiences can fit into their organization.”
If you want the hiring manager to know how you fit the company's culture and values, consider adding a short bio, sharing a little about yourself and what you're passionate about in a given career path. “The bio is an incredibly important part of the resume right now,” says Jocelyn McLean, a spokesperson for Sokanu, a website that aims to help people discover their ideal careers. “A bio can be fairly short, around 3 to 5 sentences, because it’s pretty hard to sum up your personality and your experiences in less than that,” she says.
How long should my resume be?
This is likely the most confusing part of crafting a resume since conventional wisdom says a resume shouldn't be longer than one page. But for some of us that should be the case. If you've been on the job for 10 years or more, “It's absolutely fair to have a resume that is more than one page,” says McLean. “You’re applying for the next step on your career path and you need more than one page to emphasize why you’re the right fit for something like that.”
Even so, there is a limit to how much a hiring manager will read or how much time they'll spend reading your resume. “Most recruiters probably spend between 15 and 30 seconds looking at your resume, so you have that amount of time to get them to digest your experience,” Petkanics says. “So if you have a three-page resume, that doesn't mean someone is going to read [all] three pages.” Instead, think about it from the perspective of the reader—if you find yourself drifting by the end of page two, so will the person reviewing your resume.
What should the format be like?
You may have been told to keep your resume formal, but that's no longer a requirement. “It's just not necessary to stick with formal language and facts and nothing more,” says Park. “Throwing a bit of conversational language into the resume is another way to get it to stand out from the rest.”
In fact, the experts iVillage spoke to agreed that your resume should tell a story.
“Read it as if you're reading a story and see if there's something cohesive about it,” advises Kate White, the former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan and author of I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know. "Your resume should have common threads running through it that all point in a certain direction."
White advises taking some time to reflect on your career thus far and decide how to best shape your story—without lying of course. “Think of yourself as a novelist,” she says. “Ask yourself: Should it be shaped differently? What needs to be deleted?”
Can I omit dates?
People of a certain age have begun to wonder if they can remove certain dates from their resumes in order to conceal their age, which some believe acts against them when applying for a job. The unanimous answer: “If it’s a matter of just getting your foot in the door, just include what’s relevant: 'I’m a graduate of X,'” says McLean. “If you think it’s valuable to leave it off, then by all means leave it off and prove yourself when you walk through the door.”
Should I include “References available upon request”?
That language is like an appendix—it's been around for a long time, but it's not really needed.
“My opinion is it's implied that if someone asks you for your references, you'll give them, so it kind of goes without saying,” says Petkanics. “Reference-checking takes a lot of time and effort, so it's not likely that someone is going to need your reference up front.”
Do I need to include my interests?
What used to be seen as a space-filler has become an important asset to a resume, especially now that more companies prefer candidates who are not just qualified, but will fit in with the company's culture, too.
As an example, McLean points to how her father got a job, thanks in part to the personality he displayed in the "Interests" section of his resume. “He’s a diehard Maple Leafs fan and that’s pretty rare because the Maple Leafs are terrible,” she says of the Toronto-based hockey team. “He had written on the bottom of his resume that he is loyal to a fault, and his loyalty to the Leafs was a testament to that. Half of the interview wound up being about that. He really demonstrated his character in that regard.”
Should I use a lot of buzzwords?
In a word: no. “'Problem-solver,' 'team player,' 'forward-thinker'—those words don’t mean anything. Everyone can write that,” says McLean. “The point of a resume should not be to tell people what you do, but show people what you can do.” Instead of saying you’re a problem-solver, include an example of a problem that came up and how you solved it.
Do I have to spend time customizing it?
Though the experts conceded that it's time-consuming, the benefits far outweigh the time it takes to do it. In order to customize your resume, you've got to read the job description and familiarize yourself with the company, its leadership and values. Then tailor your objective and experience on your resume to reflect how you’re qualified for the job. “You have to cater your resume to the type of company and type of role you're applying to,” says Petkanics.
Sure, it's a lot of work, but Park offers this time-saving suggestion: “Create one customized resume for each industry or field that you're applying to,” he says. “That way, you can appropriately and sufficiently tailor your resume without spending an inordinate amount of time.”
Here's another way to ease the pain of customization: “Stop applying to a hundred jobs a day and casting a really wide net,” says Petkanics. “It's a lot more effective to apply to 10 jobs a day and really put effort into the applications and then follow up on them. [Don't] just throw the same generic resume and cover letter at a hundred different places and just seeing what sticks.”
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.