A Resume for the 21st Century

When I applied for my first “official” full-time job in 1983 I was careful to draft a resume and cover letter with the intention of making a good first impression. There wasn’t a lot of information included, being that I was only 18, but I felt it necessary to show prospective employers I had the drive and self-discipline to do things correctly. I still believe that’s the proper approach today. At the same time however, an effective resume for the 21st century is far different than what I prepared in 1983.
In the 1980s and ’90s the common thinking for resumes was that more equals better. In other words, we were encouraged to include our entire education record, every job we ever held regardless of duration or full-time/part-time status, and a full list of hobbies and other things we liked to do outside of work. We were told to use everything within our means to sell ourselves to prospective employers.

My how have things changed.

If job seekers submit that type of resume today it will find its way to the circular file faster than campaign donations to a U.S. Senator. With near-record unemployment and thousands of applicants applying for a single job, HR personnel don’t have the time to wade through stacks of resumes that could easily qualify as short stories. They are looking for concise information they can read quickly before deciding which stack a resume goes on.

If you need professional help in preparing your resume that’s one of the services I offer my clients. If you’d like to give it a go on your own, I’ve listed below some helpful tips for you to consider. As you read them keep in mind I have held key management positions in the past wherein I was responsible for hiring and firing. I have some experience in this area; I’m not just writing about something I researched on the net.

  • Relevant Work History – The largest section of information on your resume will be your work history. But don’t bother listing previous employment that is completely irrelevant to the position you’re now seeking. For example, if I were up applying for a job as a technical writer my history as a former pizza maker is not germane to the discussion. I would not include it unless an employer specifically requested details of every job I ever held.
  • Education and Training – The same can be said for your education and training. Of course, you’ll want to list the years you spent in college along with the degree (or degrees) you earned. But there’s no need to get into extra training courses, certifications, and extracurricular activities if they have nothing to do with the type of work you’re looking for.
  • References – It was common 10 years ago to include a statement at the bottom of a resume noting references would be furnished upon request. That’s a statement that should no longer be included. Why? Because it’s something that’s already understood. By including it you’re giving the impression you’re a pretentious snob trying to make yourself look more important than you are.
  • Formatting – Another worn-out strategy from the ’80s and ’90s is to format your resume with bullet points, different font settings, and maybe even a graphic or two. The idea was to use formatting as a way to make your resume stand out. Today that’s a no-no. Excessive formatting just gives reviewers a headache; simple and clean is in. The only acceptable formatting for the 21st century is bold and/or underlined text for headings and subheadings.
  • Contact Information – Your contact information should include your full name, mailing address, e-mail address, and a phone number where you’re easily reached. Remember that the easier you are to reach the better your chances of actually getting to speak with someone.

Cover Letters

One last thing to discuss involves the use of cover letters. They are still important today as a means of introducing yourself to prospective employers. Yet how they are used is slightly different.

The resume of the 21st century no longer includes a heading referring to goals and objectives. If you decide you want to present goals and objectives to prospective employers that information should be included in a cover letter. That said, think long and hard about the goals and objectives idea; it ranks right up there with the “references furnished” statement.

As a general rule your cover letter should be short, concise, and formal. Make sure you pay attention to grammar, spelling, and punctuation as well. If you have trouble communicating using correct English your resume is likely to go right to the bottom of the stack regardless of how much experience and education you have. Poor spelling and grammar is nothing if not a sign of laziness.

If you’re currently looking for a job I wish you well in your endeavors. Feel free to contact me at your convenience if I can help you prepare a professional resume. I offer very reasonable rates and a satisfaction guarantee, though I make no guarantee you’ll actually find a job. That part is up to you.

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