By Pamela Cosel

A rule of thumb for resumes is to keep its length at two pages overall whenever possible. That can be a challenge to edit if the client provides you with a much longer document to work with. Some companies will expect just a simple one-page resume, and the difficulty here will be to get your client to agree to cutting down a lengthy one.

I was recently told by a professional who works in Human Resources that one applicant turned in an 85-page resume! That is a record in my book. One should never, no matter what, apply for a job with such a lengthy document. (I understand he didn’t get an interview for the job for which he applied, but his “book” was tossed aside.)

Creating a one-page resume for a client who has decades of work experience may be hard to do, compared to a young person who seeks a first job after college graduation, and that’s okay. If the resume shows a quality, in-depth work history, even a portion of a third page may be necessary, depending on the layout and fonts used. A trick can be to reduce the size of the font in order to get it to fit onto two pages, but a type size of 10-point or smaller is very hard to read.

Components of a resume

Things to include:

  • Heading – Name, complete address, email, phone number of the client. On occasion, it is acceptable to include any social media links, as well. Use of a larger font for the person’s name is allowed but stick to one or two font sizes larger than the body text (ideally should be 12-point, but not smaller than 11-point).
  • Summary – This is a one-paragraph section beneath the heading which highlights the skills and strengths of the person, and therefore, summarizes who they are as a professional in their field. This should be written to catch hiring managers’ attention if they were to read no further down the document.
  • Core Competencies – The purpose of this section is to highlight the specific skills the person possesses, such as in marketing, sales, communication, and more. Beneath a bolded title, one would be more specific about what the person can do: budget management, market segmentation, board oversight – anything that further defines the title of each listed competency. I prefer to group such in no more than two core competencies.
  • Career Highlights – Here the writer/editor would pick from two to four major accomplishments the person believes to be his or her major career successes. Bold a sentence or phrase that explains it, then in normal type further add to the details of each individual highlight.
  • Professional Experience – This is the section where each individual job and employment dates are to be written in chronological order, with the most current job listed first, followed by the previous job, and so on. I like to bold the job title, then follow it in normal type the name of the company and dates of employment. The month and year can be used, or if preferred, the full date (day, month, year), especially if the client has a short work history. The key here is to show a complete flow of work history, as employers will question gaps in years of employment. Gaps can be explained in an interview, or one may type in reasons why and the dates, such as: Off on maternity leave, returned to school, in the military, etc. Beneath the job title and dates, use bullet points to list from between two to five or six successes or main responsibilities of each job. These sentences do not have to be lengthy, and this is a place where one can cut if there is too much information to get the resume down to two pages.
  • Early Career – Optional! For an older client, they may or may not want to have their early career jobs listed. The rule of thumb ideally says to go back ten years, but if a person has worked for thirty years, that leaves much out. If the work experience applies to the position the client is currently applying for, then I suggest including work history that can go as far back as twenty or thirty years, especially if the person has major accomplishments in those jobs.
  • Technical Proficiencies – List here important software programs the client has a good working knowledge of, such as Adobe products, Microsoft, website content management, video editing and more, even including use of a switchboard or copy machine, depending on the job being applied for.
  • Professional Affiliations – List here the associations or organizations the client belongs to or is a past member of, along with the years he or she may have held officer positions with such.
  • Civic Activities – Optional! Some clients like to show a potential employer how they have given back to the community. This is acceptable and gives insight to a person’s focus and dedication to causes. It may or may not be applicable to the specific job being applied for now, so use good judgment as to whether this is essential.
  • Education – Lastly, list any and all degrees and/or certifications the client has earned. Name the university, city of its location, and year of graduation. Any awards earned can also be named here.

What not to include in a resume:

  • A photo – while years ago this was acceptable, the culture has gotten away from it so that employers look for skills and experience, not whether a person is the right age, sex, or race. Always discourage a client from wanting to add his or her photo! Besides, it takes up too much space which may be necessary for the text. Note that some names can be that of a male or female, but a photo is not required to distinguish the gender. That comes during the interview when the committee meets the candidate.
  • Fancy fonts – The font anywhere on the resume should not be distracting. The resume is not meant to be a poster or designed like an advertisement. Oftentimes I have been on interview committees, and in every case, those who submit a resume that is graphically designed with fancy borders, colors, artistic fonts, logos or similar is negatively perceived by the interviewers, and such a resume can even knock out a candidate from being considered for an interview.
  • Graphic layout – Do not design the resume to appear as anything more than a list of experience and qualification which can be visually scanned in a few minutes, as hiring managers look for specific skills for each job. They do not want to be distracted by a layout which screams like something from a comic book with colors and graphic elements. That simply takes away from the “meat” of the person’s qualifications.

In the end, the goal in editing a client’s resume is to showcase his or her accomplishments as they fit the job for which one is applying. Until I served on a hiring committee, I was unaware of how quickly resumes are reviewed, sometimes read through in less than a minute, then tossed into the “yes” or “no” pile for interview potential. Putting a client’s best foot forward is why a person hires an editor, and it’s your job to best advise them on the format and what a resume should include.

Pamela Cosel is a Silver Member of Christian PEN. She first began work as a journalist in 1980, with a media career in newspapers, magazines and television online news content. She also has fourteen years of work in city government communications, and time on staff with non-profit organizations. She retired in July 2018, and now lives her dream of writing and editing from home in between gardening and making stained glass windows. A book for which she was the co-writer and editor, “Return of Christ: The Second Coming,” published on April 9, 2019. A second book of another title is set to publish on May 9, 2019. View Pam’s website ATXEditing.