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Your Resume is Terrible

  After two weeks in a row of offering constructive criticism to the Internet, I thought I would give you the long-awaited advice column on being a corporate barista: “So You Want to Die Penniless and Alone While Wasting Your Youth Waiting on People Who Actively Hate You.” But then I thought there was something slightly more pressing which I needed to address in order to be a fully functioning member of this great community of humanity that we are. Yes, I am going to address the issue of resumes, an issue that many people have but few can provide a straight answer on.

  You see, I worked at a writing center for a fair while and, while I do not represent them in any way with this post, one of my most frequent session types was the resume. People would come in with their single page (or a small pamphlet’s worth) of background and we would work together to try and make them seem employable. Some were definitely easier than others. And those that remain are the ones I’m going to be addressing here.

  You might ask yourself, “Why should I trust this person?” Well, I have no reason to lie to you. I have a job that I love and my future employment is hinged less on a resume and more on my academic potential. Besides, I give advice because I care about you, my readers. Your presence on this site validates my existence in absence of human contact.

  For the sake of professionalism, I will replace all my typical vulgarity with something else. For some reason, people think that it’s “unprofessional” when I call a rambling idiot a fishstick turkey gobbler.

Keep it to One Page, You Long-Winded Mother Badger

  A resume, ideally, is one page long and no more. You concisely list everything you need on one page and make decisions on what to keep off in order to save room for the big stuff. Unlike school, where margin sizes can and will make me hate you for deviating from the norm, you can make the margins as narrow as you need to fit everything you want to say on one page. I wouldn’t recommend going less than half an inch, though, as this will make your resume appear either cluttered or empty, depending on its contents.

  A good thing to remember is that an employer will typically spend less than one minute on your resume, so anything beyond the first page is not only a waste of your time, but results in the unnecessary murder of a tree who did nothing to do.

  Do you want to be a tree murderer? Do you? DO YOU!?

Your Contact Information Should Be Current, Praise Humanity’s Potential

  The people you’re trying to impress need to be able to find you, and they need your contact information. Look, I don’t care if you’re always moving or you constantly switch providers, there needs to be at least one place – email, address, PO Box, or phone number – that someone can contact you. And, please, make sure this information is accurate. Sure, you may have entered your phone number a million times in a million different fields, but a wrong digit will lead to someone else getting the call.

Your Objective Should ONLY Be One Sentence

  Your objective is basically your mission statement – it states what you intend to do at your next position as well as outlines your mid-to-long term career goals. If you don’t know what a mission statement is, look up a few companies you know and look at them. They will point you in the right direction. Just a warning, though: it is perfectly alright to utilize their influence, but do not plagiarize them. You are not a corporation, you are a person, and the second you start using their too-flowery marketing speak to sell yourself is the second you reveal yourself to be a filthy liar capable only of deceit and shame.

  Also, do not take the opportunity to tell us of your dreams, hopes, and fears. We don’t care about your interests, your favorite pass time, or if you are a cat or dog person. We also don’t care if you like Lady Gaga or Metallica or that you prefer J. K. Rowling over Stephanie Meyer. These tidbits do not in any way have an effect on your ability to work, so shut the Nome, Alaska up about it.

Only Pleasant, Misguided People Put Pictures on Their Resumes

  Something that I came across in my time at the center was the occasional person who had been, for whatever reason, instructed to put their photograph on their resume. Let me make this abundantly clear:


  There is absolutely no reason to put your photo on your resume unless it is requested by an employer. And if it is requested by a potential employer, I sincerely doubt you want to actually work for them anyway. Think about it – if part of the justification that they use to determine whether or not they call you hinges on a picture of you, that position and employer is suspicious.

  This, of course, is totally irrelevant for people who are auditioning for an acting position, but they have head shots for that. Also, get out of here, actors. This isn’t about you.

  Further, I’m sure there are websites that also instruct you to pretty up your resume with images – something about resumes being boring and you need to draw attention to yours. Here’s the thing: there is positive attention and negative attention. Putting clip art or cutesy .gifs on your resume is definitely a bad, bad, bad, lovingly terrible form of attention. It makes you look like an eight year old, on top of the fact that there’s a good chance you stole those images from the Internet, which now makes you a thieving unemployable child.

  And while we’re on the subject:

Different Fonts and Colors Are Unquestionably Your Enemy

  You are to stick with one color scheme – preferably black ink on a white page – and one font – preferably Times New Roman, Arial, or anything boring. This is not the time to experiment. Unless you are a graphic design prodigy, keep your page neat and clean.

  “But then it’s boring!” you cry. “I want my resume to be fun!”

  You are not applying to Highlights magazine or writing an article for the Zany Home Journal: Clown and Floral Print Edition. You are applying for a serious job, and the second someone sees Comic Sans is the second that resume ends up in the trash.

  As kind of a corollary, your font size must be consistent, but it can be smaller than the standard 12 point size. But, for the sake of readability, do not go under 10.5, and use that only if you have something super amazing to say and you need to keep it on one line.

Your Schooling Is Important, but Keep it Short

  Keep it to the name of the institution, your GPA, indented major, the degree level, and dates of attendance. No one needs to know your report card, which classes you took, if you liked the classes, the professor’s name, what the person in front of you was wearing during the final (pajamas – for it is always pajamas), favorite books, least favorite assignment, semester, your choice of antiperspirant during discussion sections, or whether or not you would voluntarily sleep with anyone involved in the class.

  A resume, in the United States, is not a curriculum vitae – it is a quick rundown of your employment history. Your education is – and will always be – important, but more for the fact that you dedicated yourself to something long enough to see it through to the end. There are a lot of people who have jobs outside of their field of study because of that accomplishment.

Your Job History Should Be Listed in Descending – NOT Pickling ASCENDING – Order

  You want to know what employers like? Being able to find your most recent position without a lot of hassle. Why? Because that’s going to be what they want to talk about – your most recent experience at the place you either just left or work at right now. Just like when someone asks what you did for your birthday and you don’t tell them “sat around in a high chair while the rest of my family smashed cake into my food hole” over the more recent “binge drinking until crying myself to sleep,” you don’t start with your first job.

  Also, it’s probably for the best if you leave the binge drinking thing out of any potential workplace conversation.

Pick a Style and Stick to It

  Do not, do not, do not experiment with where you put certain information. If you have the dates of employment in one section, followed by your employer, you follow that until the end, or I will slap a flounder. If you keep everything in order, an employer will be able to ascertain your strengths and weaknesses much faster, which means that they have less time to grow to hate you for your inability to write in discrete sections.

Be Honest About Your Skills

  I firmly believe that if you think hard enough about most positions, you can find applicable skills in another job you may be applying for. That being said, do not take this as an invitation to fabricate anything.

  Some people say you can gently embellish on your resume, but they are liars who hunger for your failure so they can mock your misery. Be proud of your accomplishments and write with confidence, but you will be hired on your qualifications. If you talk yourself into position you are ill-suited for, being fired is the least of your worries. That will be an entire job that you have no references for because no one will be willing to speak on your behalf.

  Or they will be, and they will call you out on the skim-milk liar that you are.

You Don’t Have to Explain Yourself on Your Resume

  There is a good chance that, if you get an interview, the person speaking to you will ask you about gaps in employment and why you left certain positions. Real estate you spend on a resume trying to explain yourself is precious space where you’re not selling yourself. It can be difficult not addressing a sizable gap in employment when it comes to your resume, but remember you’re trying to get an interview, not apologize for wanting one in the first place.

Tailor Your Resume to the Position You Are Applying for

  Depending on what you’re applying for, you may need to switch some things around for the sake of making yourself more appealing. If you are going for an internship and you don’t have a lot of work history that bolsters your chances, you can put your education first. If you want to highlight your experience over your schooling, list your college experience after work experience. Nothing is set in stone, and you want to give yourself the best chance to get a job.

  This also goes for your work history. You can move around certain bullet points of specific responsibilities and add in or remove others to tailor it so that you are more attractive for the role you are applying to. Just make sure you are honest.


  Typos happen – I’m certainly not immune. But you’re selling yourself to someone who you want to get money from in exchange for services rendered. You will only have a limited number of mistakes before your resume is formally introduced to Madam Shredder. Read what you have out loud, slowly. Come on, if you don’t have time for that, do you really think you’re going to get the time to explain yourself to a potential employer?

  It’s only one concise page, you wonderful individual.

Addendum – 9/29/2013
Keep Relevant Material On Hand

  As pointed out by a reader, it is always a good thing to keep a reference file for information that you may be called upon to discuss in the application process. As silly as it may sound, addresses of employers, schools, and previous addresses will save you a boatload of time before, during, and after the hiring process. It’s much easier to copy and paste something from a relevant file than it is to go digging through reams of paper or even hunting through Google.

Follow Directions and Think

  This is less relevant for resumes and more so for application forms, but follow the directions. For instance, when asked for other names you are known as, we aren’t asking for your nicknames, we are asking for other names you were or are legally known as. That legalese at the bottom of the page that you sign is basically asking if you represented yourself accurately and honestly on the application. Take your time and read the thing that you are filling in. That way, when you commit your signature on that line saying you’re a responsible adult capable of being held legally responsible for stupidity-induced errors, you have the paperwork to prove it.

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