What should a resume look like in 2020

Jobs have changed so much in recent years. If you’re not up on the latest programs/apps/skills in your field (SEO ability, anyone?), you might not get where you want to go.

Have resumes, too, taken on a new identity? We spoke with two hiring experts to find out what yours should look like now, what not to include, and what traditional advice is still relevant and effective today.

“I have strong feelings about resumes,” says Sandra McCall, operations director at Casamigos Tequila, in White Plains, NY. “I’ve heard that the average resume gets three seconds of attention from an HR person who’s looking at it. I would say I give them at least five seconds. But they are all very different, and the faster I can zoom in on the information I need, the more time I will probably devote to reading.”

What’s she looking for?

“Practical experience is almost always the most important thing,” McCall says. “All the feel-good ‘core competency’ lists and objective statements are really more appropriate in the interview process.”

Some other “don’ts”? “If I’m looking for a salesperson in Virginia, for example,” McCall says, “and someone applies and hasn’t listed their address, I delete them. If they’re in the right geographic area but they don’t have the relevant experience, I delete them. If they have 10 different positions listed but they were at each one for a year or less, I delete them.”

(If in fact you’ve had, for some reason, a variety of recent jobs at which you didn’t stay long, see if a mentor or advisor can help you structure your resume to avoid the impression that you won’t stick around.) 

Mary Grimm, a recruiting manager at Beacon Hill Staffing Group, in New York City, who specializes in temporary and permanent administrative and office-support positions, agrees that your resume and the available job should look like a match made in career heaven.

“I feel like job descriptions are very intentional, and resumes should be too,” she says. “An incoming resume is put against the job description, to see if the responsibilities on the resume line up well with the requirements of the job. If they do, then the resume is picked up on.” Grimm also agrees that your resume is the place for what you’ve done, not who you are.

“Under the ‘skills’ section,” she says, “your resume doesn’t need to have ‘soft skills’ such as ‘strong communicator skills’ or ‘active listener.’ Those should be implied by the bulleted points in your resume.”

What should be on the page? Consider this breakdown:

Heading

“This should be clear and bold, with just your name, your contact info [phone/email], and where you live—either your full address or at least your city and state,” says McCall. 

Summary

“Often, lately, a quick one- or two-sentence summary will explain where your expertise lies—like, ‘10+ years managing sales and marketing in a highly profitable, multistate territory’ or ‘Experienced account manager, knowledgeable in xyz industry,’” McCall notes. “If this more than two sentences, no one is going to read it unless the rest of your resume fulfills all of their requirements.” 

Highlights of Expertise

This is almost always a bulleted list. “It’s always beneficial to look closely at the job description,” notes Grimm, “the requirements and duties it states, and make sure your resume highlights those things. For example, if the job requires Salesforce and you’ve used Salesforce, be sure to have it featured prominently in the version of your resume you send for that opening.”

If you don’t have such specifics to point out here, “it’s better to save the space for more detail in your Career Experience section,” McCall adds. 

Career Experience

“This is the most important section,” says McCall, “and should always start with your most recent employment and work backward.”

As Grimm puts it, “The resume should be able to tell your story chronologically, without you needing to be there to do so.”  

“Focus,” McCall says, “on your most recent and hopefully most advanced jobs. List the dates you were employed, the name of the company, your position, and a description of your primary responsibilities. This is the best place to sell yourself. But don’t lie, of course, and be as specific as possible. Ideally, you want to draw parallels between what you know how to do and what the new employer is looking for.”

Education

“Unless you have some important, industry-specific course experience, be brief,” advises McCall. “Degree, description, school name. You do not have to put dates.

Remember that it is illegal for an employer to ask your age, so you needn’t list anything that’s going to hand them that information.”

Special Skills/Professional Development/Awards

This is the spot for career awards you’ve won, the languages you speak, your pertinent volunteer work, etc. If you don’t have much for this section, “feel free to leave it out,” says McCall. “Chances are good that the decision of whether to look at you more closely has already been made before this section anyway.”  

When you look over your resume, remember that traditional priorities, like detail orientation, do still matter.

For example, Grimm says, “always make sure your LinkedIn profile reflects what your resume says—and make sure the dates are the same on both,” since an interested employer may check you out in a number of ways. She also notes that “the small stuff” isn’t small when it comes to resumes.

“Double-check that your email address and phone numbers are correct on your resume,” she says. (This is important, of course, not just in terms of avoiding typos but because you need the employers who try to contact you to get through.)

“Keep your formatting consistent. Make sure your fonts are correct. Don’t have ‘08’ for August in one spot and then write out ‘August’ somewhere else.” 

“Also be careful with job objectives,” Grimm advises. “These can easily pigeonhole you and lock you out of an opportunity, especially if the jobs you’re applying for are different but your ‘objectives’ section is not.” Grimm says she tends to gloss over cover letters in favor of focusing on a resume. “I think nowadays, more often than not, people are going straight to the resume, and the cover letter doesn’t get as much attention.”

This should serve as a word to the wise if you were planning on spending half a day crafting a cover letter to be your “in” at a job for which you don’t look like the most obvious match.

But then—how to get noticed for a job you’re pretty sure you’d be great at, even though others may have more experience in that exact type of position? This, says Grimm, is where the standard advice about “who you know” really comes into play.

“See if you can find anyone you know, or anyone someone in your circle knows, who works at that organization,” she says. “Reaching out to them personally,  explaining how strongly you feel about the job and why you’re qualified, is still something that can help your cause.” 

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