There Is No Such Thing As a Perfect Resume

Hopefully yours looks better formatted than this!

Job seekers spend hours pouring over their resumes, trying to pick the perfect words and add interesting embellishments, like their photo or a bold print of your name splashed across the top. I would argue that this is actually a waste of time. That there is no such thing as one perfect resume. But, there is a best resume for each job you apply for.

Whoever is looking at your resume will probably spend less than 1 minute reading it.

So, how to get that job interview you want without spending every waking minute of your life touching up that single-sheet PDF (yes, you should fit everything on one page; no, I don’t want you to print it out) that no one is going to spend more than a few minutes looking at?

Now I’m just exaggerating…

The Ugly

This is the part where I rant a little. If you don’t like ranting, skip down to The Good.

It’s not that writing meaningful bullet points for what you accomplished is not important because it is (though, I argue you should leave your photo out to reduce biases — why do Europeans do this?). It is, in fact, absolutely atrocious to submit a poorly formatted, 17-page resume that includes a list single-line list of every mundane task you accomplished at your last job (no, no one cares that you “configured a service”).

Here are things that I absolutely abhor seeing (most recruiters would agree):

  • Poor formatting. You’ve literally created this in a Word document, uploaded to a webapp that doesn’t accept this format, and now none of the parsed information is showing up in the right spot (your last name is probably not Google, and your year of graduation probably isn’t 29). Build in whatever program you want but please, for the love that all that is good on this planet, convert your resume into a PDF. This will preserve all that nice formatting you just spent 14 hours fixing.
  • Long AF resumes. I don’t care if you have been working since 1947, your resume absolutely does not need to span more than 1–2 pages. Oh, you think you should list that thing you did 20 years ago? Most likely not. I’m not even going to know what a “Wordpress Engineer” does. It’s not relevant. That’s not the job you’re applying for. Leave it out!
  • Projects listed first. This is for all you new grads or new to market candidates — if you have relevant experience, always, ALWAYS list it first (and I say relevant because me knowing you worked at Panera Bread as a cashier while you were in high school when you’re applying for a role as a Software Engineer only let’s me know that you have had a job and maybe that you paid your way through school but 100% is not going to get you a software engineering job).
  • School listed first when you graduated 10+ years ago (with your low GPA). Again, not dissing that you went to school. It’s actually relevant to know you’ve completed a degree and some companies really care about this! However, if you’ve been out of the academic circuit for a while, just move this to the bottom. It should not take more than 1 line.
Probably your face when you read what we’re about to do.

The Bad

I’m about to give you the ultimate trick that I’ve given many desperate job seekers. I am usually met with: “That sounds like a great idea but it seems like so much work!”

Yes, it is a lot of work. But so is applying to 50 jobs and not getting a single interview. Where would you rather spend your time?

Here it is:

Create one master copy of your resume that includes ALL of your jobs, at least 5–8 bullet points of your top accomplishments and responsibilities for each job, and keep this as one file.

When you go to apply for a job, look at the job description and identify 3–5 bullet points from the most relevant jobs you’ve had to put on a 1-page resume. Send this highly customized version of your resume to that one company, with a short, single-paragraph cover letter or email. (Article on how to write a short and sweet cover letter coming in a future post!)

Why this is smart:

  • You don’t have to keep writing bullet points over and over again.
  • You have customized your resume for exactly what that company is looking for.
  • You have a source of truth for your entire work history saved in one place.
Huge ups for making it this far in this article.

The Good

  • Treat every single line as if it is a precious commodity (because it is). Remember where I said you’re going to fit everything you need in 1-page? That’s because you’re going to treat every line of your resume as if it is real estate in New York City — limited, expensive and valuable.
  • Update your resume every once in a while. Even if you’re not job searching every year, I argue that small updates are easier to tackle than big ones. So, if you don’t already keep a list of all the big and small accomplishments you’ve made at work each year (oh, am I the only one who does this… awks), definitely make an effort to update your resume every year or so.
  • Read the requirements and what the company’s values are. There’s an easy way to shortcut what a company is going to ask you beyond just sneaking around Glassdoor. Go read what the company publishes online, look at the blog, their job descriptions, articles shared on their LinkedIn. Chances are, you can pick up a lot on what the company’s values are and align them with your own. This is not only for your resume, but also great for interview prep! (Coming in a future article as well.)

More Resources:

  • Indeed has resume samples for almost every kind of job imaginable. If you’ll be using a format you found online, my one piece of advice is to leave out the parts that are not relevant.

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Barbara Lee

Barbara Lee

Tech Recruiter @ Stripe, formerly Datadog & HQ Trivia. Podcasting @ Hiring from the Heart. Former nomad, lover of nature and recovering vegan.