There is certainly a time and a place for a resume overhaul. Taking a couple hours to really clean up your resume is worth doing before you start a job search, or even just once a year as a tune-up.
But sometimes, you don’t have that kind of time. Sometimes, you just have a few minutes, and you want to spend them giving your resume a quick polishing-up. And for those times, we made you this list of resume updates that only take a few minutes, but that can make a big difference in making your resume shine.
Choose how much time you have, pick a (mini) project, and get ready for your resume to be that much more eye-catching.
If You Have 2 Minutes
- If it’s not done already, switch the font of your resume to Helvetica, Arial, or Times New Roman—in other words, make sure it’s not hard to read (or stuck in Word’s standard Calibri). Using a common, clean font may not make your resume the prettiest out there, but it will make it more readable (and less likely to be rejected by applicant tracking systems).
- Remove “References Available Upon Request” (if they want references, they’ll ask for them!), and use the extra space to add a detail about your abilities or accomplishments.
- Delete the career objective. That boring boilerplate “I am a hard working professional who wants to work in [blank] industry” is a bit obvious—why else would you be submitting your resume?—and takes up valuable space.
- Spell check (fo’ serious), and correct any mistakes.
- Save your resume as a PDF if it’s in any other format. That way, the formatting won’t get messed up when your resume is opened on a different computer.
- Change the file name from “Resume” to “[First Name] [Last Name] Resume”—it makes things easier for hiring managers and ensures your resume doesn’t get lost in the crowd.
- Remove your address. If you’re not local, recruiters might not look any further. If you are, recruiters may take your commute time into account and turn you down if they think it would be too long.
- In its place, add a link to your LinkedIn profile, as well as any other relevant social media handles (Twitter if it’s professional, Instagram or Flickr if you’re applying to social media or creative positions). Caveat: Never include Facebook, no matter how clean you keep it.
- Don’t want to drop your whole ugly LinkedIn URL onto your resume? (Hint: You shouldn’t.) Create a custom URL to your public profile using simply /yourname (or some similar, simple variation if somebody already has your name). LinkedIn has instructions on its website.
- Make all of your hyperlinks live. Your resume is most likely going to be read on a computer, so making things like your email address, LinkedIn and other social profiles, and personal websites clickable makes it easier for the recruiter to learn more about you.
- Omit any references to your birthdate, marital status, or religion. Since it’s illegal for employers to consider this when looking at your application (at least in the U.S.), they can’t request it (and offering it makes you look a little clueless).
- If you’re more than three years out of college, remove your graduation year. Recruiters only really want to know that you got a degree, and you don’t want them to inadvertently discriminate based on your age.
- While you’re at it, do a little rearranging, and move education down below your experience. Unless you’re a recent graduate, chances are your last one or two jobs are more important and relevant to you getting the job.
- To improve readability, increase the line spacing (also called leading) to at least 120% of the font size. To do this in Word, go to Format and select Paragraph. In the pulldown under Line Spacing, choose Exactly and set the spacing to two points above the size of your font (so, 12 if your font is 10 point).
- Need a little more space to work with? Reduce your top and bottom margins to 0.5″ and your side margins to no less than 0.75″. This will keep your resume clean and readable but give you more room to talk about what you’ve got.
If You Have 5 Minutes
- Remove anything high school-related unless you’re a year out of college or need to bulk up your resume and did something highly relevant (and awesome) during your high school years.
- Update your skills section. Add any new skills you’ve gained, and remove anything that is a little dated (nobody wants to hear that you have Microsoft Word experience anymore—they expect it).
- If you have lots of skills related to a position—say, foreign language, software, and leadership skills—try breaking out one of those sections and listing it on its own (“Language Skills” or “Software Skills”).
- Double check that formatting is consistent across your resume. You want all headers to be in the same style, all indentations to line up, all bullet points to match, and the like. You don’t want the styling to look sloppy!
- Find any acronyms, and write out the full name of the title, certification, or organization. You should include both, at least the first time, to make sure the recruiter knows what you’re talking about and so an applicant tracking system will pick it up no matter which format it is looking for. For example: Certified Public Accountant (CPA).
- Unless you are a designer or are submitting a (carefully crafted) creative resume, remove any photos or visual elements. On a more traditional resume, they generally just distract from the information at hand (and can confuse applicant tracking systems).
- If you have gaps of a few months in your work history, swap out the usual start and end dates for each position with years only (e.g., 2010-2012).
- Swap out a couple of your boring verbs for some more powerful (and interesting) ones (check out our list if you need inspiration).
- Swap out a couple of generic adjectives or titles (words like “detail-oriented” or “experienced” are overused and don’t tell a recruiter much) with stronger language that better describes your more unique strengths.
- Worked multiple jobs within the same organization? Learn how to list them right on your resume, then update it as such.
- As a rule, you should only show the most recent 10-15 years of your career history and only include the experience relevant to the positions to which you are applying. So if you have anything really dated or random, remove it and use the space to bulk up other sections or add something more relevant.
- Go through line by line and take note of any orphan words (single words left on a line by themselves). See how you can edit the previous line so they can fit—making your resume look cleaner and opening up extra lines for you to do other things with.
- Make your document easier to skim by adding divider lines between sections. Check out section three of this great guide to resume formatting from LifeClever for instructions.
- Include any numbers on your resume? Go through and change them all to numerical form, instead of written out (i.e., 30% instead of thirty percent). Even small numbers that are often spelled out should be written numerically—it makes them pop to the reviewer and saves space.
- Read your resume out loud. This will not only help you catch any spelling or grammar errors, but it will also help you notice any sentences that sound awkward or that are hard to understand.
If You Have 10-15 Minutes
- Look at your resume “above the fold.” In other words, take a close look at the top third of your resume—the part that will show up on the screen when the hiring manager clicks “open” on that PDF. That’s what’s going to make your first impression—so make sure it serves as a hook that makes the hiring manager eager to read more.
- Make sure you have no more than 6-7 bullet points for any given position. If you do? Cut and condense. No matter how long you’ve been in a job or how good your bullets are, the recruiter just isn’t going to get through them.
- Give your resume to someone who doesn’t know you well to look at for 30 seconds. Then ask: What are the three most memorable things? What’s the narrative? Take this feedback and think about how you can adjust your resume to get it closer to where you want.
- Similarly, drop your resume into a word cloud generator and see which keywords are popping out. If the most prominent ones aren’t what you want to be remembered by, or if there are important words that aren’t present, think about how you can tweak your resume to make that more clear.
- Go through your bullet points, and add as many numbers and percentages as you can to quantify your work. How many people were impacted? By what percentage did you exceed your goals? (And, yes, it’s OK to estimate as long as you can roughly prove it.)
- Pick a few statements to take one step further, and add in what the benefit was to your boss or your company. By doing this, you clearly communicate not only what you’re capable of, but also the direct benefit the employer will receive by hiring you.
- Consider adding a qualifications section. (Perhaps in lieu of your now-deleted “Career Objective?”) This should be a six-sentence (or bullet pointed) section that concisely presents the crème of the crop of your achievements, major skills, and important experiences. By doing this, you’re both appeasing any applicant tracking systems with keywords and giving the hiring manager the juicy, important bits right at the top.
- Update your resume header to make it pop. You don’t have to have a ton of design knowledge to make a header that looks sleek and catches a recruiter’s eye—check out this example for some simple, text-based inspiration. (Hint: Use this same header on your resume and cover letter to make your “personal brand” look really put together.)
- Need to fill up more space on your resume, or feel like you’re light on the experience? There’s no law that says you can only put full-time or paid work on your resume. So, if you’ve participated in a major volunteer role, worked part-time, freelanced, or blogged? Add a couple of these things as their own “jobs” within your career chronology.
- If you need more space on your resume, check and see if any of your formatting decisions are taking up unnecessary space. Does your header take up too much at the top? Do you have any extra line breaks that you don’t really need? Tinker around with the formatting and see how much space you can open up (without your resume looking crowded or messy).
- Look at each bullet point and make sure it’s understandable to the average person. Remember that the first person who sees your resume might be a recruiter, an assistant, or even a high-level executive—and you want to be sure that it is readable, relevant, and interesting to all of them.
- Make sure all of the experience on your resume is updated. Add any awards you’ve received, new skills you’ve taken on, articles you’ve published, or anything else awesome you’ve done.
- Hop over to your LinkedIn profile, and make any updates you’ve just made to your resume to your summary and experience sections there.
- Email three of your friends or professional contacts asking (nicely!) for a peek at their resumes. You might be able to get some inspiration for your own (or even help them out).
- Get that baby out there. Find an awesome job to apply to with one of our partner companies, then get started on your cover letter with our easy-to-follow guide.
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