Finding valuable career information can be tough. Oftentimes, the articles you find are trying to sell a book, concept, or class. Getting basic, quick, unbiased information can be a chore. That's why I took the time to sift through a bunch of boring, long-winded resume articles to bring you this definitive list of the top five things you need to do to have a successful resume.
1. Content: Summary, Experience, Education
For most applicants, these three sections are all you should need on your resume. The summary provides a quick, 15-second "elevator speech" for why you are a valuable candidate, because realistically, that's all the time a recruiter spends on the initial look-through. If the summary resonates, then the recruiter will look at your education and experience. Examples of sections some resumes include that you shouldn't bother with: objective (employers only care what's in it for them), skills (you can briefly outline the core skills in your summary and mix them in with your experience), awards (you shouldn't need an awards section, but do include certifications in education), references (don't even bother with a line about how they're available by request).
2. Layout: Order by Importance
This is a basic one, but important. Your resume is a sales pitch for you, so you should use sales logic. One of the most important sales copy tips is to create a slippery slope with your copy that pushes the reader from one line to the next. To do this, include the most important, exciting, and relevant information at the top. Don't worry about blowing your best accomplishments early on--if you wait to bring these up, the recruiter might not even see them.
3. Style: Use Numbers, Data
It can be really frustrating to try to break qualitative information into quantitative data, but it's something you must do whenever possible. Use statistics to your advantage: think, what numbers in my experience are most impressive? Is it the size of the team I managed or users I assisted? The amount of money I saved when guiding the CIO to implement an open-source solution in the company instead? The average amount of user requests I fielded in a given week? Whatever those numbers are, make sure to integrate them into your resume. In similar fashion, be sure to put a positive spin on everything--if the CIO is someone you reported to, emphasize that.
4. Design: Fit the Space Comfortably
There are many schools of thought about how many pages your resume should be, how much copy you should cram in, etc. Here's the bottom line: you should start by listing only the important, relevant information to potential employers in your field. Then, based on the amount of space that content takes up, you can tweak the design to fit snugly in one, two, or three pages. Rules of thumb: make sure there's enough white space that it's easy to read and easy on the eyes, but don't leave gaps of space at the bottom of the last page (that makes your experience appear incomplete and fragmented). If your resume ends at exactly a page and a half for instance, you're going to have to make some tough decisions about adding some content or cutting some content. If you know someone who's skilled in layout, they can probably help you tweak headings, margins, and other specs on the sheet to create a resume that fits the space well, but comfortably.
5. Customize: Alter For Each Application
While your cover letter is your biggest source for customization (I believe you should write a custom cover letter for every position you apply for), you can make some tweaks in your resume for each job you apply for. Tweak your language to align with the requirements requested in the job application--this will make it clear you're qualified and also show the employer you did your homework. Shift the order of various positions or sub-points to focus what is most important to that employer first. Once you've done this, make sure you still save the file name with your name, not the company's name, but just put it in a folder made for that company.