When you think resume rules, what comes to mind? One page, 10-12-point font, printable margins? Great bullets that share results not responsibilities? I can keep going.
But here’s a secret: The truth is, none of these pointers are really “rules.” I’ve seen resumes that land jobs that break every single “rule” I’ve listed above. And, more importantly, I’ve seen resumes follow every single rule out there that don’t get anywhere.
So, what’s the secret behind a successful resume?
Think about it this way: The goal of your resume is to get you in the door to talk to the hiring manager. So the only resume “rule” you should follow is: Do whatever it takes to do just that.
(Well, except for lying or embellishing. That might get you the interview—but it’s not going to land you the job.)
Doing whatever it takes to land the interview, of course, means different things in different situations. It most definitely means tailoring your resume to the job you’re applying for. If, for instance, you know the position requires working in a team and strong communication skills, you might want to start one of your bullets with “collaborated” and another with “presented,” even if those aren’t the skills you would normally highlight. If you were a “social media and public relations coordinator” who’s applying to a social media agency, you might want to drop “public relations” from your job title and focus strictly on the social aspects of your job.
It could also mean getting creative with your resume. Maybe you want to dust off your design skills and try your hand at an infographic resume or a visual resume. Or perhaps you want to show off some of your technical chops and create an interactive web resume or a video resume. Better yet, do it all and house your resume on a kick-ass personal website.
If you do go this route, do some company research and talk to people to figure out if they’re receptive to, or better yet encourage, alternative ways to showcase your experience. The friendly people over at Zappos, for instance, are fans of videos, and it’d be shock to me if hiring mangers at Prezi didn’t prefer an elegant Prezumé over a one-page PDF.
Of course, not all companies welcome this kind of creativity—in fact, the majority of companies don’t even have ways for you to submit a resume that doesn’t conform to the one-page format. (That’s precisely the reason why all those other resume rules exist.)
But that doesn’t mean you can’t stand out. Try adding a summary statement at the top of your resume that clearly highlights why you’re the one for the job or creating a skill- or industry-specific experience section to better emphasize your relevant work. And make sure all of your hard work doesn’t go to waste by making sure your resume is as easy to digest as possible—these 12 tiny changes increase the readability of your resume, making sure the best stuff stands out.
Yes, you should pay attention to the tried-and-true resume advice out there. But if there is that one dream company you know you’d do anything to work for? Spend less time following all those other rules and focus on the only one that matters: Do what you need to do to stand out and get that interview.
Photo of computer courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author