Miss me with that Papyrus, James Cameron.

How to Write a Resume so You Actually Have a Prayer of Getting Hired

Resume writing is one of the clearest markers of the generational divide. My dad insists on having a fucking dissertation of a resume, complete with hyperlinks, an “objective” (shudder), and paragraphs of description on every task, no matter how insignificant.

The strategy seems to be “Shock and Awe”: Shock that anyone would think such a cumbersome resume is acceptable, and awe that they made it so far in their career with that kind of overkill.

But as with everything from breastaurants to paper napkins, we millennials have opted to kill the lengthy and dry resume market. Like arrogant, disrespectful kids on the lawn of traditional careerist wisdom, we’re ignoring the advice of our elders and doing our own thing!

So let’s talk about resumes for the modern age. Having sat on both sides of the hiring table, I understand a thing or two about the art of condensing applicable experience into a written document. And it’s time I imparted that wisdom to you.

One. Fucking. Page.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if you’re lurking around Bitches Get Riches, you’re under forty. And I know for a fact that most of you are under thirty. My point is: there is absolutely no reason why the entirety of your life experience can’t fit onto a single page.

(HEY YOU. YES, YOU, WISE ASS GOING DOWN TO THE COMMENTS TO EXPLAIN WHY I’M WRONG. STOP IT RIGHT NOW WITH YOUR FUCKING TEN-PAGE TREATISE OF A RESUME. Trust me, I know there are exceptions to the one-page rule. We’ll get to that.)

Do not make the mistake of believing a potential employer will pore over your resume with a microscope, carefully weighing your experience and education against their needs for as long as it takes to read the document in full. According to the inestimable Ask a Manager, most people scan a resume in under twenty seconds before making a decision about whether to call the candidate in for an interview.

If you’re a fresh-faced young thang, you don’t want to waste that twenty seconds with distracting information about your summer job at Coldstone Creamery! Brevity is the soul of wit! And it’s the only thing that will ensure the hiring manager is focusing on your most important experience.

Keep it short and neat. When I was my company’s internship coordinator, I found lengthy resumes baffling. After all, I was hiring interns. By very definition, they were people with little experience seeking to gain experience. How much could they possibly have on their resume besides their education, a part time job or two, and a work study? Some had done previous internships, but again: that shit barely fills a page.

A second page was just annoying. It soured me against the bearers of lengthy resumes. Don’t make me turn a page or so help me

Know your industry

Kitty is a graphic designer. Her resume reflects that through its sleek ‘n chic design. In her industry, a resume written in Microsoft Word screams “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

(Quick Kitty aside: Can’t stress how true this is. I once was in a position to interview candidates to become my new manager. And I vetoed a candidate with great credentials based solely on the ugliness of her three-page, Times New Roman concoction. “Mon Dieu,” I cried as I waved it aloft, “shall the head chef serve us Kraft Easy Mac!?”)

My resume is also sleek ‘n chic… because Kitty designed it. More to the point, though, I work in publishing, where people have very firm opinions about kerning and fonts (miss me with that Papyrus, James Cameron) and even the lowliest editorial assistant can spot a dangling participle a mile away.

In my field, a resume isn’t simply an account of a job candidate’s career—it’s the first test.

To include a typo in a publishing industry resume is career suicide. Similarly, marketing and advertising firms expect creativity in job applications as an indication of the applicant’s abilities. Actors are expected to include a head shot, academics to include a lengthy CV of their published research (yes, that means more than one page).

Understand what is expected of your particular field. And don’t mix them up. Including a head shot—or any kind of photograph—with your resume when applying to a job in a white collar company is just weird. Don’t do it.

Cycle off irrelevant experience

When you’re fresh out of school and trying to get your foot in the door, any and all experience counts. Your time as a sales associate at Target? Résuméed. Life guarding at the local lake? Résuméed. Your college work study? Résuméed. That time you traveled as a back-up singer for the Genesis residency in Las Vegas? Any port in a storm, kid! Slap it on that resume!

But once you’ve been in the workforce for a while, you should cycle irrelevant experience off your resume. Banish it to the trash bins of time like every photo from high school of your braces and bowl cut.

Not all experience is equal, so the idea is that you want to replace less valuable experience with more valuable experience as you progress in your career. Along the same lines, you should be drawing attention to the most relevant, important experience on your resume. This means that once you have a big kid job in your chosen profession, it should take pride of place on your resume… and your education should move to the bottom of the page (the single page, you philistines).

When I applied to my first job in publishing, I included my undergrad degree and graduate certificate at the top of the page, followed by three internships, my time volunteering at a library and teaching a summer writing class for middle school kids, and my job on the factory floor of a book bindery at the bottom. My work as a nanny didn’t even make it onto the resume. After I got my first job, the factory job and volunteer work left the resume, replaced by the most important facet of my career: that I was gainfully employed in the publishing industry.

Rinse and repeat as you gain experience. By the time you’re at the mid-levels of your industry, your resume should contain only relevant experience. And for fuck’s sake if you haven’t already removed your college GPA, no amount of interview poise can save you from looking like an insufferable Hermione Granger circa Chamber of Secrets.

Save something for the cover letter and interview

Think of your resume as a teaser trailer to the movie of your career. You don’t want to include all the best jokes nor reveal the twists. But you do want to leave your audience wanting more.

More of your accomplishments, more of your creative problem-solving, more examples of how you kick ass and take names like the boss-ass bitch you are. Hint at these skills in your resume. Keep it dry and factual to pique your interviewer’s interest. They’ll take the bait and ask you to expand on your resume within the interview, giving you much more than a single page (YES A SINGLE GODDAMN PAGE) to elaborate on how awesome you are.

If you blow your load in the resume, so to speak, they’ll have nothing to ask you about in the interview and you won’t be provided the chance to wow them with your mad skillz.

Here’s more Bitch-approved advice on job interviews:

Necessity is the mother of invention

Find a way to spin seemingly unrelated experience into completely legit work experience. Kitty touched on this when counseling a young person who sacrificed their career to take care of a parent.

Being a full-time, unpaid caretaker for a family member is the kind of experience that isn’t respected in the job market. Yet it is valid experience. The lessons learned as a caretaker can transfer to the workplace.

Inserting that ginormous experience into your open and inviting resume is…

… all a matter of phrasing.

My favorite example of this comes from a friend who spent four years in the Marine Corps before getting his undergrad degree and entering the civilian workforce. While his military credentials were impressive… they meant nothing to civilian employers.

He re-phrased his entire stint in the Marine Corps in white collar corporate-speak. His time in Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) school became an “elite professional development course.” His promotion to sergeant became “promotion to head of small department.” And his deployment to Iraq: “member of successful overseas company expansion team.”

Which leads me to my final point: it’s ok to make your experience sound more impressive than reality on your resume. Just don’t outright lie. You will get caught.

I now defer to you, loyal citizens of Bitch Nation. Got a tip for resume writing? Share it with us in a comment!

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8 thoughts on “How to Write a Resume so You Actually Have a Prayer of Getting Hired

  1. On the ‘know your industry’ point, if you are applying for positions at large corporate jobs, you don’t want any formatting in your resume because you’ll be submitting it through a database system. That’s where you need to know what keywords are relevant to match the job you want. Sometimes, you may be copying & pasting your resume content into database fields online. Or the system may be sucking your resume content directly from LInkedIn or DropBox, etc.

  2. Cover letters can also save you ass when your are new to a field. My cover letters got me in the door for every interview I had immediately after college. I got my first big girl job though a sob story cover letter about my relationship with hunger and a 90 day plan. 90 day plans are a pain in the ass to write but early in your career they’ll show that you actually know what you’re doing in the field which is a huge help to getting hired.

  3. I’m well over 40 but I LOVE YOU BITCHES!! I must have been born too soon because I’m a Gen X’er who sees things like a Millenial. One page is enough because most people do have a strong aversion to too much text. And…..if that one page isn’t neat and easy with some bullet points…. it’s in the garbage!

  4. In my experience in today’s day and age submitting a resume is not enough. You need to have that leg of knowing someone to ensure your resume gets past the word screeners, especially in tech. As both an interviewer and interviewee I’ve watched these programs and recruiters filter out viable candidates that a manager would be thrilled by. Which brings me to the resume. If you want success trailor it not only to your job but too the audience.

  5. Also remember to do your homework – look up the company’s values, goals, and challenges. Tailor your resume and cover letter to show how your values are a perfect fit, how your experience can help them achieve their goals, and how your skills will help them overcome their challenges. It’ll show that you care deeply about the company and the role, and make it that much easier for them to justify hiring you.

  6. I’m a hiring manager (Engineering) and have reviewed hundreds of resumes. It shocking how bad some are! Look up examples online, talk to your career center at college, have multiple (qualified!!) people proofread it and spell things correctly!! I’m a bit of an editorial geek (worked on the school newspaper in college), so I notice little mistakes far more often than my engineering peers.

    I once had a candidate tell us that two of her strengths were attention to detail and written communication. My response: “What would you say if I told you that there is a typo on your resume?” “Umm…” Yeah. Exactly. Proofread! Spellcheck! No excuses!

  7. I miss my publishing resume; it was beautiful. I spent two days designing it and it had the perfect balance of white space and type, the column widths were art, everything about it was perfection itself. *wipes away tear*
    Now I work in the corporate world and I was genuinely told that I was hired *despite* my resume design, so now I have a boring ass Word based resume (still a beautiful type though, none of that Times New Roman malarkey for me).

    However, what I actually came to say: know your industry AND your region. Resumes in Anglo-American regions have different standards than, for example, resumes in continental Europe. In most HR departments across the continent, adding a photo (or even a date of birth!) isn’t just not weird, it’s encouraged if not mandatory.

    1. That is so bizarre! I would find a mandatory birth date a little offensive, as it could lead to age discrimination. But this also explains why when I’ve gotten resumes from older Europeans (happens only occasionally) they include things like their birth date, marital status, and children. I thought it was a super weird affectation, because I work for an American company, but it’s good to know it’s normal in Europe.

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