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Consider your resume your personal sales document.  This important collateral piece puts your accomplishments and experiences in words, and establishes your professional first impression. Below we’ve provided pointers to help you prepare a thoughtfully constructed, optimal resume.  Throughout the process, keep a keen eye on the basics. Perform spelling and grammar checks, and thoroughly proofread your resume, as nothing will turn a potential employer off faster than simple errors. Consider letting a friend, family member or other advisor review your resume as well – it’s easy to overlook things as an author.

The optimal resume is one that is well-written, thoughtful and engaging and  presents your personal strengths, results and accolades. It has the power to take you from “job seeker” to “candidate.” Once you’ve secured an interview, make sure to visit our interviewing page to learn how to put your best foot forward.

Resume Content and Order

Do's and Don'ts

Online Resume Submission

In order to prepare your optimal resume, refer to the following list for tips on preferred structure, format, and content to include:

  • Provide a complete work history for the past 10-15 years without omitting jobs during that span.
  • Prepare a reverse-chronological resume, with the most recent employment at the top. For consultants, a functional resume format is preferred.
  • A good place to start is your personal contact information. Most center this information at the top of their resumes.  Make sure it is your current personal, not work contact information.
  • If you include an objective, it must be written specifically for the job you are applying to or you could be ruled out. Tailor it each time, leave it broad or leave it out.  If you’ve created a resume template, be sure you check each version to make sure it matches the right role and company.
  • When listing dates, use months and years. Right- or left-justify all dates on your resume such as:  dates of employment, dates of each position held and dates of education, as this creates a clearer timeline for the reader and is a better use of space.
  • Dates of employment with the company should be more prominent than the dates you held each job within the organization.  Use formatting to differentiate.
  • Provide a one-sentence description of each of your company’s location and size, what it does, and what type of entity it is, such as headquarters, division, plant, etc.
  • For the most recent role at each company, provide your title and a sentence listing your responsibilities and bullet points for accomplishments. For less recent roles, trim to the most salient details.
  • If you’ve been promoted while working for a company, list prior job titles and dates to show the accomplishment implied by your progression.
  • If the company changed ownership while you were there, generally you will show it as one employment entry, noting the name and ownership change.
  • Use action verbs whenever possible to describe the work you’ve done.
  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short. Use bullet point statements, not paragraphs, to describe your job duties and accomplishments. 
  • Explain your jobs using terms that are more widely used and understood by outsiders.
  • Use effective keywords. Most resumes today are entered into a resume database that scans for relevant keywords. A good way to ensure that you’ll show up is to find similar job postings or descriptions online and evaluate your resume against them.  Pinpoint competencies you haven’t listed on your resume and consider adding them. 
  • It is critical to include your software skills.  Software with which you are proficient should be listed in each of your jobs or in a separate section labeled as such.  If you have advanced skills, be sure to note that.  Keyword search specifically check for software, even something as common as Excel.

An optimal resume is both informative and easy to read.  Consider the following list of resume do’s and don’ts when drafting your resume.

  • Do be 100% honest about your responsibilities and accomplishments.  Remember, your references have agreed to vouch for you and being true to your word is your greatest personal asset. 
  • Don’t commit spelling and grammar errors.  Nothing sends a resume to the trash faster than poor writing.  At a minimum, run spelling and grammar checking checks.  Even better, consult reputable writing texts or online guides to make your resume impress.
  • Do spell out words instead of abbreviating.  Keyword scanning software will most likely identify a term like “accountant” but will not always identify expressions like “acct.”.  
  • Don’t use photos and graphics.  Instead, create a clear, succinct picture of your skills, abilities and experience with powerful words.
  • Do keep it simple and reader friendly in terms of fonts.  Arial and Times New Roman are always safe choices.
  • Don’t neglect quantifiable data.  If you’ve made money, cut costs, met goals, etc., give the specifics.
  • Do present employment dates and other information accurately.  You don’t want your first impression to be one of suspicion.
  • Don’t rely on clichés to sell your accomplishments.  Terms like “dynamic” and “self-starter” are overused and don’t do much tell the reviewer what you have specifically done.
  • Do avoid using articles (“a,” “the”) or pronouns (“I”).  These slow the reviewer down, take away from the actual accomplishment and add to resume length. 
  • Don’t sacrifice paper quality when you intend to print.  Use a higher quality white or ivory bond paper and black ink.  Resume paper in the 24-32 lb. range is easily accessible at office supply stores and retailers.  

Prior to the internet, job seekers simply prepared a printed document and presented it for consideration.  Today’s savvy candidates should be well versed in applying for roles on various job boards and websites.  Consider the following:

  • Prepare multiple versions of your resume and save them in the most common document types, which are:. 
    • .doc (MS Word): This is probably the most common document type job seekers are asked for when submitting resumes online.  As the most common word processing software, it’s also likely that this is how you created your resume in to begin with.  Although formatting could appear differently on some screens, if you stick to common fonts and basic bullet-point lists this shouldn’t be problematic.  This format is generally keyword scanable by most job board, company and placement firms’ software.
    • Plain Text: In some instances, job seekers will need to create a resume with no special formatting of any kind, including bulleted lists.  In this case, you’ll need to manually create “bulleted” lists with asterisks (*) or dashes to create order.  This version will sometimes be requested for copying and pasting into online forms that accept only plain text. 
    • .pdf (Portable Document Format): This document type will universally render on the reviewers screen exactly as you see it on yours and is uneditable, meaning once converted to .pdf, it cannot be changed.  Unless specifically requested, this format is not preferable because most keyword scanning software won’t be able to pick up keywords.
  • Regardless of the document type requested, almost all of the guidelines presented in our previous tabs still apply.
  • Tailor your resume to the specific job posting for which you are applying. Be sure to pick out relevant keywords in the job posting and use those terms, if applicable to you, in your optimal resume. The keyword software used by most employers matches keywords in the posted positions to keywords in the resumes they receive.
  • Follow instructions.  If you are told to submit the resume using a specific format and/or document type, do it.  It is unlikely that an employer will reach out to you and ask you to properly submit yourself for consideration. 
  • Research sites where you intend to submit your resume.  Remember, you are submitting personal information such as your address, phone number, email address, etc.  Does the site widely distribute your resume?  Does it sell your personal information? Review the policies before you place submit.  Once you’ve uploaded your document, it’s too late.
  • Once your search is over, we recommend removing your resume from any online sites you may have posted it to, if possible.  Many employers and placement firms purchase resume databases from online job sites.  Why risk having your new employer think that you are still looking at new opportunities.  

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