Expert Answers to the Most Common Questions on What Makes an Effective Resume
How long should my resume be?
Your resume should be as long as it needs to be to convey your responsibilities and achievements effectively.
That said, your resume is meant to serve as a highlight reel of your career.
You should avoid the temptation to list every little thing you have done in your previous roles.
Your aim is to pique the interest of recruiters enough to get them to want to learn more about you during the interview - not to initially overwhelm them with too much information.
Generally speaking, the length of your resume should be based on your level of experience.
If you are a student or have under ten years of experience, you should try to limit yourself to a one-page resume.
If you are a more seasoned executive, you can stretch it to two to three pages at a maximum.
What is the most common resume mistake you see?
The most common mistake we see is sloppiness (in its many forms).
From a recruiter's perspective, you have all the time in the world to perfect your resume and ensure it is neat, concise, and grammatically correct.
Your resume is, in effect, your first impression.
As such, details matter more than you might imagine - especially when you're competing against several other applicants.
Make sure that you avoid any sloppiness whatsoever, which includes but is not limited to:
- Different fonts, font colors, or sizes
- Inconsistent spacing in between sections
- Inconsistent alignment (such as dates that aren't indented consistently or bullet points that don't line up)
- Incorrect grammar or punctuation
- Spelling errors
What is the best resume format to use?
When putting together your resume, you can use either a chronological or functional layout.
A chronological resume presents your experience in reverse chronological order. This is the format we use most often and the one recruiters expect to see.
A functional resume, on the other hand, emphasizes your skills and abilities instead of outlining your experience by company.
Unless you are a student, have little experience, or have a significant career gap, we generally don't recommend using a functional resume format.
The most effective way to present your skills and achievements is to provide concrete examples of them in the context of your work experience. A chronological resume allows you to do so most effectively.
Do I need multiple versions of my resume for different jobs?
You should tailor your resume and cover letter to individual roles.
However, most clients we work with tend to target similar roles at different companies (such as Vice President of Digital Marketing or Vice President of Acquisitions). Their experience also tends to align with their target roles.
In such cases, it can be appropriate to have one resume that is accompanied by custom cover letters explaining why you are interested in a particular company.
If you are applying for roles in two different sectors (such as marketing and finance), you'll want two versions of your resume that highlight your experience in the respective fields.
How do I make sure my resume is ATS friendly?
You can make sure your resume is ATS friendly by tailoring your content and formatting.
When working with clients, we make sure to incorporate relevant keywords in their resumes and cover letters by closely analyzing the job descriptions of their target roles.
We also format our documents in a way that allows applicant tracking systems to pull information from them accurately (you should avoid resume formats that incorporate multiple columns or graphics, for example).
What should I eliminate from my resume to condense it?
It can be tempting to err on the side of putting as much information on your resume as possible to ensure that it is comprehensive and you don't accidentally miss anything that a recruiter would consider valuable.
That's not the best strategy, however.
By being intentional and targeted with what you include and presenting a clean and concise resume, you will leave a stronger impact on recruiters and display your effective business communication skills.
If you're running out of room, you can start by eliminating or condensing your:
- Professional summary
- Objective statement
- Bullet points for positions older than ten years
- Internships or positions in unrelated sectors
- High school information
- Irrelevant certifications
- Personal details such birthday, nationality, marital status (these should never be listed, anyway)
How far back should my resume go?
In general, recruiters will expect to see the last ten years of your employment history outlined in detail.
For positions you held over ten years ago, you can list the company names, positions, and dates in an Early Career section instead.
You can also consider eliminating roles or internships you held over ten years ago altogether - especially if they were unrelated to the positions you are currently pursuing.
How do I address a resume gap?
A resume is a fact-based document, so you should address your employment gap head-on by being honest and transparent.
We don't recommend falsifying dates of employment, for example.
If you weren't working, consider filling in the gap with other experiences such as volunteer work or professional development.
Alternatively, consider only listing the years you held each position (if your gap is short).
About Resume Pilots
Resume Pilots is an award-winning executive resume writing, career coaching, and outplacement firm. Our previous clients include CEOs and senior executives at the world's leading companies.
Here's how we can help you:
Resume, Cover Letter, and LinkedIn Writing: After a one-hour phone consultation, one of our expert writers will prepare your top-quality personal marketing materials from scratch.
Career Transitions: A powerful combination of our document writing and career coaching services helps position you to secure a new role.
We're a proud member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches. All of our writers have studied in the Ivy League and other top-tier universities and have solid industry experience.