When you’re trying to land your dream job, sticking to the “rules” of resumes can hinder more than it helps. In fact, many of these rules can be ignored altogether.
Many of these resume myths have buried themselves so far into our understanding of the world that we’re terrified of deviating from them. We think that if our resume spills onto two pages, our application will be an instant write-off. We think that if we leave a work gap, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.
In reality, breaking these rules can often give us the edge we need to secure that all-important interview.
Myth #1: Everything’s About You
When we get down to basics, a resume is a sales pitch. You are trying to sell yourself to a potential employer.
One of the first rules of copywriting is to focus on the customer, and the benefits they will receive if they buy. A potential employer wants to know how you can help the company, much more than where you went on your gap year. This is the difference between telling and selling.
Telling: I worked as a data analyst with E-Corp for six years. I was in charge of a team of six, managing multiple projects.
Selling: As head data analyst, I managed a team of six. Between us we developed over 300 scripts in less than 4 years, which were directly responsible for saving the company over $4,000,000.
Telling people where you worked and what you did are important, sure. But it’s far more important to express what you achieved, and what transferable skills and potential benefits you can bring with you to your next role. In the example above, for instance, a potential employer would be excited at the prospect of having someone on his team who could save the company millions of dollars. This is the importance of including quantifiable results in your resume.
So, for everything you write in your resume, ask yourself “how can the potential employer see my experience as a potential benefit to them and their company?”. If they can’t, reword it so they can.
Myth #2: You Only Have 6 Seconds to Impress
Resume Genius decided to test the methodology of that study with their own survey. It turns out there are plenty of good reason to ignore that 6-second rule. Feel free to read that article for full details. The most prescient section included quotes explaining the approach of actual companies. A couple of these are:
“Initially, an average resume takes 2–3 minutes for me to scan.” Heather Neisen, HR Manager, Technology Advice
“Our hiring managers honestly spend time looking through resumes. They value every application that comes in and want to hire as many people as needed rather than screen through applications and end up with no one.” Michelle Burke, Marketing Supervisor, WyckWyre
In short, there are no rules here. Coming up with an average figure is useless, much as it was for Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour average. If the formatting of your resume looks terrible, it could be discarded in two seconds. But if you have a well-formatted resume, specifically tailored to the kind of job you’re applying for, chances are it’ll be given much more than 6 seconds of attention.
Myth #3: A Resume Should Be One Page
A resume should say what it needs to say. No more, no less. It shouldn’t include fluff, or sections that are irrelevant. But that doesn’t mean it needs to fit neatly onto a single page of A4. In fact, unless you’re just out of school, or applying for an entry level position, fitting everything onto one page will be nearly impossible.
Luckily, this piece of advice comes from an age when resumes were printed, and flicking through stapled pieces of paper was a hassle. Now, pages can be scrolled with the swipe of a finger. Employers just want easy access to the information they’re looking for. So give it to them. To find out even more about this, read about how Ivy League Universities recommend you write your resume.
This means that your resume will most likely run to two-pages, sometimes even three. If it runs onto the last page by only a few lines, play around with the formatting, or trim down some wordy sentences (use the Hemingway App for this) to remove that page. But if your resume takes up a third or more of the last page, leave it as it is. Nobody’s going to punish you for it.
Myth #4: Work Gaps are BAD
Remember that the people deciding whether or not to interview you are people. Yes, you want to get past the company’s Applicant Tracking System (if they use one). Applicant Tracking Systems are pretty good at looking for suggestions that someone will be a good candidate. But they are rarely relied on for finding reasons why someone would be a bad candidate. For that, (luckily) a human touch is needed.
This means that if you were out of work for 6 months looking after a sick child, that’s entirely understandable. If you went on a 4-month road-trip after you were laid off, good for you. These gaps in employment are part of life, and are something employers expect to see.
If you want to draw on the experiences you had during your periods of unemployment, as mentioned previously, make sure you phrase these in a way that sells you for the specific role. Explain why your stint as a volunteer will help you contribute more to the company. Explain that your 4-month down-time has left you hungrier for a challenge than you’ve ever been.
If you find yourself applying for a lot of jobs, use a browser extension like Applied.at to keep track of all the roles you’ve applied for. You can go back to these and copy and paste relevant paragraphs (such as why you didn’t work between 2013–2014) into new applications to save you tons of time.
Myth #5: Word Documents are Better than PDF
If you want to stand out, Stunning PDF resumes that scream out creativity could be what you need. But in the past many people have advised against submitting PDF resumes.
Their reasoning was that PDFs can be difficult for Applicant Tracking Systems to scan for keywords, so your resume could be discarded before it’s even been looked at.
But times have changed. Katharine Hansen, PhD wrote on career blog Quintessential that “more than a third (36.1 percent) of employer respondents in the 2010 Orange County Resume Survey said that when receiving resumes electronically, they prefer them as PDF files” (emphasis mine). This is probably because PDFs keep their formatting, no matter what screen you’re viewing them on. They’re just… a nicer experience.
Six years later, and file formats are an even smaller issue. It’s the content of the resume that’s important. Much more so than how it’s saved. If you want to save your resume as a PDF, go ahead. In the vast majority of cases, this will be be just fine.
That being said, always do your homework. Check on the careers page you found the position on to see if they prefer a certain file format. And if you’re working with an agency, it’s almost always best to use a Word document so they can more easily edit your resume on your behalf.
Landing Your Dream Job
By understanding which rules you’re allowed to break, you should find it much easier to stand out from the crowd. Don’t be afraid to submit a two or three-page resume. Don’t worry about your work gaps.
As long as you keep your resume looking nice, and filled with relevant information that sells you to a prospective employer, you’re doing things right. All you’ll have to worry about then, is overcoming your interview anxiety.
Which other resume myths need to be debunked? And which actually hold some water?