Ask a panel of career counselors, recruiters, and hiring managers to discuss the do’s and don’ts of resume writing and you’ll hear assorted viewpoints and a slew of conflicting advice. Everyone has an opinion, but it’s the lack of consistency and agreement that can leave job seekers feeling frustrated. So rather than adding my two cents on whether or not you need a Professional Summary at the top of your resume or if it’s best to use chronological, functional, or hybrid formatting, let me offer a few tips for discerning whether or not said advice is right for you.
Consider the source.
Advice, by definition, is a practical recommendation given by someone regarded as knowledgeable or authoritative. But when that advice centers on resume best practice, “knowledge” is subjective. It’s shaped and influenced by personal preferences along with industry-specific norms. Before accepting advice from a trusted professional or an online source, ask yourself a few questions.
- Is this person an expert in my field?
- How well does he or she know my target audience?
- From what perspective is he or she coming? (For example, recruiters and hiring managers share a common goal, which is to bring in the best talent. But their hiring perspectives and the lens with which they evaluate candidates on paper is quite different.)
- Is this individual knowledgeable about the most current recruitment trends and practices? Times and technology (e.g., applicant tracking systems) may have changed since his or her last job search.
Determine their rationale.
Best practices are often situational. So it’s important to understand the underlying reason behind someone’s recommendation for your resume. Ask yourself, “is this someone’s opinion based on preference, or is there some practical or logical argument for doing it this way?”
For example, consider the popular one-page resume rule. For a recent college graduate with little professional experience beyond summer internships, leadership roles, and volunteer work, I would agree to no more than one page. At such an early career stage, this is enough to summarize accomplishments in a compelling yet concise manner. Exceeding one page might even be perceived as fluff or, worse, arrogance.
Conversely, a one-page resume is not suitable (nor is it the norm in most fields) for a seasoned professional with years of experience and a substantial list of accomplishments. In this case, a three to four-page document is both reasonable and expected.
So if you don’t understand someone’s resume advice or rationale, don’t be afraid to investigate further. For example, you could say: “That’s an interesting recommendation. Could you tell me a little more about why you suggest I not…?”
In the end
There’s no shortage of advice – some good, some bad, but most a matter of opinion or a personal preference. So take what you hear and read with a grain of salt. Better yet, avoid wasting valuable time mulling over endless opinions. Instead, focus your energy on more important job search activities like networking. You can learn more about networking and other valuable job-search activities in my post, “Time Management and the Job Search: How to Spend Your Time Wisely”.
About the author
Dara Wilson-Grant is a Licensed Professional Counselor and the Associate Director of Postdoctoral Affairs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also the owner of Careers in Bloom. Dara’s focus is on career-related issues, including career change, professional growth, and workplace challenges. Her career management workshops have been presented at universities, government agencies, and research institutions.