The following is an interview with Scott Bennett, author of The Elements of Résumé Style: Essential Rules for Writing Resumes and Cover Letters That Work, Second Edition. Below, you will find clear answers to nagging résumé-writing questions.
Do I absolutely have to keep my résumé to one page?
No. Anyone who tells you there is one hard-and-fast rule on résumé length is making it up. Many people with 20 years’ work experience have a successful one-page résumé. Some people with 10 years’ work experience require 1¼ pages to pitch their skills most effectively. The length of your résumé depends on the nature and number of positions you have held during your unique work life. However, the most effective communicators—senior-level candidates included—tend to create brief résumés.
Which résumé format is more effective: chronological or functional?
Without exception, use reverse-chronological (newest to oldest) format. Most employers prefer it because it’s more direct and easier to read. Plus, employers are already in on the much-touted ‘secret’: Functional résumés are used to disguise a work history the candidate thinks needs disguising. Is this a message you want to send?
How should I deal with employment gaps?
Real people often have gaps in their work histories. Don’t hide gaps by extending exit dates or pushing up start dates on your résumé. People get laid off or fired. We care for children. We recover from illnesses, traumas, or injuries. We do countless other things as we move through life. All such gaps can be explained in an interview. If a hiring manager reads the résumé of an obviously skilled person with a lengthy gap, he or she will simply ask the candidate about it, not shred or burn the résumé. Be kind to yourself on this point.
Should I include interim jobs—that is, work to pay the bills in between career-caliber positions?
This is a personal decision. If interim jobs—temp agency assignments, tending bar, cleaning house—are included on your résumé, some readers will respect your work ethic and honesty. Some may exploit the information by offering a lower salary. Still others may do both. If you decide to omit interim jobs from your résumé, then adhere to the spirit of truth-in-advertising: Change the Work Experience section heading to Relevant Work Experience.
Doesn’t the term ‘Professional Experience’ carry more weight than ‘Work Experience’?
No. Both terms convey the same information, but ‘Professional Experience’ takes longer to read. ‘Work Experience’ says what is needed and respects the reader’s time. When you have a choice between two equally suitable words anywhere in a résumé, shorter is always better. Why write ‘utilize’ when ‘use’ is simpler and more direct?
How should I deal with my solopreneuring attempts?
Include self-employment as you would include any other position. Do not make up inflated titles like ‘Chief Executive Officer’ or ‘Chairman of the Board’ for your role in a solo operation. Many former entrepreneurs fear that prospective employers will view them as failures. On the contrary, the accomplishments of entrepreneurs, especially the lessons learned, add value to their candidacies.
Come back tomorrow for more résumé-writing advice in An Interview with Scott Bennett: Part 2.
Scott Bennett has reviewed more than 100,000 résumés, interviewed thousands of candidates, and hired and developed hundreds of employees at all levels in organizations ranging in size from 3 to 34,000 people.