Can anyone improve on the resume?

Recently, a fair number of my friends have given me their resumes for review. They were seeking feedback on how they can improve their resume.

In the course of these conversations, the topic of resume structure inevitably comes up – especially for designers.

While there are several variations on it, the resume template used in this country is fairly established:

  • Name, email, phone, etc. (Interestingly, I’ve observed many are no longer including their home address.)
  • Objective or summary (I’ve heard varying opinions on the merit of either)
  • Past experience, which includes company, title, time served and bullets of accomplishments (There’s always some debate around if it should be paragraphs or bullets. And if bullets, should they be allowed to be two lines.)
  • Other awards, honors or accomplishments
  • Education (I think conventional wisdom is that recently out of college people should put this on top, and everyone else puts it at the bottom.)

A quick review of resume history shows that the current incarnation dates back to the 1950’s. Over the years, the core structure and information included has pretty much stayed the same.

Our delivery methods have changed a bit, mail, email, website, etc., but the order and contents have not. The problem is, if you’re highly independent-minded and feel like your individuality is a strength, you’re always looking for a new way to improve on what is otherwise a set structure.

After years of trying to find a way to crack the resume code and make it something that screams what’s unique and unusual about me and my skills, I’ve come to realize that the resume is one of those rare cases where it may be the right thing to play it straight.

Being cautious or conservative in my approach to things is not something for which I’m known. I like to boldly try new things and take chances, and I always wanted my own resume to quickly indicate what it is about me that stands out.

However, in an age in which programs crawl our resumes and seek out keywords, structuring your resume as a kind of personal scantron for these programs is probably the way to go.

I mentioned designers earlier because they feel the extra burden of trying to show off their design skills within the resume. Having looked at a lot of these, I’ve found that the problem ends up being I can’t easily skim the resume because everything seems a bit out of order.

As much as I look for people who can stand out, breaking my resume reviewing flow when I’m trying to get through dozens of them can sometimes work against a person. Unless it’s done well. And that’s why the temptation to change it will always be there.

If you can crack the code and both show me a format I’ve never seen and one that is easier to follow, I’m all yours. But I’ve only seen it once on a designer’s resume. And while I lost that candidate to Amazon, I still remember her name.

I never give up trying to make things better or more personalized, but I have to admit, given the way resumes are processed and reviewed, I may be leaning toward making a concession to traditional resume structure.

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